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GLXP Team White Label Space Talk to the Space Fellowship

Published by Rob Goldsmith on Wed Aug 19, 2009 7:01 pm
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The Space Fellowship recently spoke with White Label Space, an organisation competing for the Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP). The team discussed their plans and aspirations with the Space Fellowship.

The White Label Space team’s formal creation was in December 2008 when they registered for the Google Lunar X PRIZE. That was the culmination of many months of preparatory discussions, which included both technical and commercial aspects. The earliest meetings of the group that was to become the White Label Space team were in March 2008. Those meetings were held with the intent of forming a GLXP team, but soon it became clear to many of those involved that the White Label Space concept can be applied to many more challenges beyond the GLXP.

WLS Logo

WLS Logo

I asked the team about launchers and more specifically if they plan on using their own launcher or a launch provider for a GLXP launch.  The team tell me “We plan to use an established and proven commercially available launch service. We are developing our mission to be compatible with a range of low cost launchers. We expect this will increase the robustness of our business case. The selection of our baseline and back-up launchers will be based on many factors, but the most important ones will be cost, reliability, commercial transparency and availability“.

Following on from a recurring theme regarding commercial space flight, I decided to ask the team about how they planned on attracting investors. The team tell me:

Here I would like to make a distinction between the words “investor”, “sponsor” and “partner” since I’ve noticed that some people in the GLXP community mix these words. It is important to make this distinction because we have quite a different approach to appeal to each type.

Firstly, I’ll answer your question in its most direct meaning – relating to pure investors. Investors are people or companies that will see a profitable business case around our GLXP team or its commercial activities. Before you have investors, you need to have customers. Before you get customers you need to have products and or services that are almost ready to sell. Of course, that is a bit black and white. In reality, many start-ups are able to attract significant financial backing from investors based on little more than ideas, but that only works when there is a “Unique Selling Proposition” or USP. Teams competing in X PRIZE competitions are developing systems for domains with no established markets. This means it is impossible to give concrete evidence of what mechanisms they will use to build and protect their USP. Therefore, I see money from pure investors only coming in at a later stage, once we have demonstrated a strong chance of winning the competition. We also plan to develop some new technologies and products along the way in cooperation with our Partners, and there will be investment opportunities, however the potential profits from those products will not be of the same magnitude as the costs of a GLXP mission so we don’t think that is the way to finance our grand vision.

“Partners” are the most important aspect of our plan today. We define Partners as companies or individuals who for whatever reason are interested in contributing to our GLXP mission in their own spare time and using their own internal budget. White Label Space provides its Partners a wide range of commercial, technical and promotional benefits. Essentially, we provide a white label platform on which these partners can develop and promote their capabilities and products.

We define a “Sponsor” as a company or individual who supports our efforts purely based upon the promotional possibilities. A pure Sponsor would not expect to take a cut of our income, nor would they expect any intellectual property. We believe that Sponsorship is the best way to find the money needed to finance a GLXP mission. Only Sponsors will contribute the millions needed to support our mission because they are the ones who can benefit most from the massive level of international recognition that our mission will provide. International competitive events such as Formula 1 and ocean racing are the best examples of this approach.

So to summarise, we plan to appeal to Partners for the benefits that they can receive from providing in-kind support, and Sponsors for the massive brand value recognition we will deliver. We will appeal to Investors by offering them the chance to take a share of the profits of any products and services for which we can build a USP, and these could range from small hardware components that we develop for our mission all the way to the complete turn-key delivery of payloads to the lunar surface“.

We recently spoke to another Google Lunar X PRIZE team “Lunatrex”. We asked Pete Bitar what he thought about teams entering the prize at later dates, Pete told the Space Fellowship that he felt teams should be able to enter the prize at any point but was frustrated by the prize rules.  Looking for a different perspective we put the same question to the White Label Space team who entered the prize at a later date.

Rover Concept

Rover Concept

I think it would have been desirable to enter sooner rather than later. As one of the last teams to join, we have to work extra hard to get our message out and get our name known. However, GLXP is a long hard struggle and we believe the groundwork we have already laid and the strong capabilities of our team will put us in the leader’s pack soon enough“.

I later asked about their rover and if there were any details that could be shared at this point, I was told “Today we are not sharing any details of any of our mission elements and we will not be able to do so until the respective designs have reached sufficient levels of maturity“. Following on however, the team did talk a little about hardware adding “We have recently started conducting tests of rover and lander hardware concepts. This testing will continue until we are confident that the overall approach is technically sound. Today we are in the preliminary design phase, which is most effectively done as a paper study using the engineering experience in the team. After our Preliminary Design Review we will work more with hardware“. The team also added that they would have some high quality multimedia and expect to release it later this year.

A popular theme amongst commercial aerospace companies such as Armadillo Aerospace and Unreasonable Rocket is that of openly sharing progress, I asked if the team had thought about this approach.

We have no policy as such however our general approach is to approve the release of technical information when we are sure that it is best for our overall plan. There are eighteen other teams in the GLXP and it would be quite easy for them to bootstrap on our hard work to enhance their own designs and business cases“.

Talking about their potential goals beyond the GLXP the team added “Beyond the GLXP we want to continue doing similar things. We will leverage our strong brand image to address new challenges in spaceflight, and continue to provide advertising opportunities that can help fill the funding gap that exists in the space industry, namely the development of high-value but technically complex products“. I asked if these goals would remain in place if they fail to win the GLXP, the team add “We expect to win GLXP. That is our primary goal today. After GLXP, we will be in a great position to pursue the goals I mentioned above“.

Finally, I asked the team about their thoughts regarding the current state of commercial space travel.

Outside of a few players in the United States it is very hard to say that there is a true commercial space transportation market. Launch vehicles are so expensive that they are captive to the strategic objectives of the respective governments and military-industrial complexes. This means that there is no level playing field in space transportation today. We applaud Elon Musk and the confident and bold steps he is taking with his own money. As the cost of launch decreases, we expect that a true commercial market for space transportation will emerge. We plan to be in a prime position for at least two segments of that market, namely transportation to and from the lunar surface and transportation across its surface“.

The Space Fellowship would like to thank White Label Space for their time and effort in helping with this article, in particular Andrew Barton.

Keep up to date with the team at their Website

Visit the team’s GLXP page

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"until the respective designs have reached sufficient levels of maturity". Seems like they are in Powerpoint stage and no metal has been bent yet...
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