Adventures In Deep Space

A blog about turning our "crazy" big idea to transform deep space exploration into a real company (click on header above to view this blog's home page)

Brief Update: New Logo Prototype, 'Getting to Wow!', networking, development, patience is a virtue

September 29, 2021 — Thomas Leavitt

Check out the new logo! Vast improvement over the DIY via SaaS thing I came up with earlier. Still more to do, I think, but very cool. Ironically, and this wasn't at all planned, it's based on the same image that my partner and I used in my first startup at Web Communications, LLC (aka WebCom): NASA's "Earthrise" image.

Not a lot of blogging, because my energy has been focused on other things. Watched Bill Reichert of Pegasus Ventures do an online keynote for the Santa Cruz Founders Institute on the topic of 'Getting to Wow!' on Your Pitch, which is also a title of a book he has on sale at Amazon, Getting to Wow! Silicon Valley Pitch Secrets for Entrepreneurs. Lots of good stuff in it, I took notes. Core concept: every time you open your mouth to talk about your company, you're "pitching". In this age of distraction, you've got 20 seconds to cut through the noise and get someone's attention.

Did a bit of networking this week, trying to set up a couple of more "informational interviews" with folks in the industry. Now that we're a bit farther along (see below), this should be even more interesting and illuminating.

Speaking of "farther along". I've teamed up with a very smart and experienced engineeer / entreprenuer who has a good grasp of the technical aspects of designing and manufacturing satellites and satellite components. He's been working on putting together a draft design in Solidworks (the industry standard for manufacturing oriented 3D CAD) over the past few days. We share the same excitement over the potential this idea has.

One of the things I've (re)learned over the course of the past year and a half, on another project, is that engineering takes time, and happens on it's own schedule (especially in a sweat equity funded startup). Whether it's designing and writing software and systems automation, or hardware design and modeling, it takes time to do it right (and avoid creating more work for your company and engineers down the line).

Tags: logo, reading, thepitch, incubators, design, development, process

PowerPoint Pitch Decks

September 01, 2021 — Thomas Leavitt

One of the incubators that I'm in the early stage of talking with gave me a "Slide Deck" PowerPoint template, which I spent a chunk of tonight working through. Had to create a "McKinsey Matrix", among other "entertaining" tasks.

"Decks", and everything that goes into them, are all part of the "price of entry", "table money", for playing the startup game, at least when you're pursing a project (like this one) that is clearly going to require "real money" to get take flight (at some point). External investment is always a last resort, due to the constraints (aka "golden handcuffs") it puts on you, and the pressure to generate immediate financial returns or otherwise justify further investment it imposes. You want to take it on the most favorable terms possible, which means as late in the game as possible, but not at the price of stunting your growth or your ability respond to unexpected developments in a timely fashion.

The people you'll be presenting your deck to are sophisticated professional investors; in many cases, they've started more than one company in this area themselves. They know that, especially early on, most numbers are highly speculative (though where they can be solid, they'd better be accurate and reasonable). The numbers are there to demonstrate that the company's founders have done their due diligence, thought through the problem in detail, and understand the market.

Everyone understands that the numbers in your multi-year financial and sales forecast are a bunch of hooey, but at the same time, they serve a real and valid purpose: making the case that, should the chips fall right, there's money to be made by investing in your project. That there's a pony in there somewhere. "Brilliant ideas" are a dime a dozen. Ones that can make money, well, they're a bit more rare.

Tags: thepitch, incubators, startups, decks, powerpoint, presentations, thegame

Ultra Low Cost Satellite Bus (ULCSB)

August 28, 2021 — Thomas Leavitt

The payload of any one satellite, while still benefiting from low cost instrumentation built in volume, is still likely to be highly customized. However, as NASA Ames identified with the Modular Common Spacecraft Bus (MCSB) and Rocket Labs is exploring with its Earth orbit based "Photon" system, there should be significant savings to be had with using a common set of "infrastructure" among multiple satellites.

The Ultra Low Cost Satellite Bus (ULCSB) is intended to take this benefit, and then vastly enhance it by transforming the satellite manufacturing process from hand-built one-offs to a "production line" approach in which these elements are built in volume.

Tags: satellite-bus, payload, thepitch

Pitch Deck

August 25, 2021 — Thomas Leavitt

I'm talking with someone at a prominent incubator in this space on Tuesday [edit: Monday] morning, so I went ahead and created a "deck" using Google Slides and a template. Not my area of expertise, per se, but I think it'll be good enough for a test run. Edit: I've updated the deck based on feedback from one of my advisors.

Tags: bizdev, thepitch, fundraising, incubator

Why Space.Org? Why Thomas Leavitt?

August 24, 2021 — Thomas Leavitt

This is a very basic question that I expect to answer many times over the next few years.

There's an easy enough series of conventional answers: I've been through the start up rodeo before, both bootstrapping, and obtaining venture capital; I have a wealth of first and second hand experience from working with startups and other companies as an IT consultant over the last two decades; I have contacts, both business and technical, that I can leverage and bring to the table. I also have the ability to understand both business and technical people when they talk to me in their own language. I can handle pretty much everything short of designing and building the actual devices themselves (and I'm busy educating myself on that process, so that I can at least speak somewhat intelligently about it). I own space.org, and have done so since 1995, which is at least a modestly valueable piece of IP to contribute.

Less conventionally, I'm driven by a vision that I've had since I was a kid: of humanity exploring the stars. It's time, way past time, for us to return to space and stay there. To do so, we need to put "feet on the ground", at least virtually, in the form of satellites and other robotic explorers. Visiting other planets (and objects of interest) needs to be more than a once in a generation, once in a lifetime, event.

The last (and only time) that we visited Neptune and Uranus, two of the biggest planets in the solar system, I was 7 years old (Voyager 2, 1979)! I wasn't even a year old, the last time a human being walked on the face of the Moon (Apollo 17, 5:40:56 a.m., Dec. 14, 1972). For many of you reading this, that means these aren't even once in a lifetime events! Only four out of twelve Moonwalkers remain alive as of the time I write this, and there's more than a fair chance that they'll all have passed on before humanity returns to the Moon, perhaps even before we venture beyond Earth orbit again. That would've shocked my teenaged, science fiction obssessed self to the core.

Space.Org's part in this grand adventure will be to build the fundamental infrastructure necessary for humanity to explore and occupy every part of the solar system, to access and exploit the vast, vast, vast wealth of species transforming resources lying on our galactic doorstep, to make humanity, ultimately, not just a multi-planetary, but multi-stellar species. I firmly believe that the future of humanity lies in space. As a teenager in Jr. High School, I told my beamused parents that I would "lead humanity to the stars". Well, maybe I won't get there myself, but if I can help lay the groundwork for doing so, I'll be satisfied. There's no point in being anything less than utterly audacious. Let a thousand flowers (or satellites) bloom, let every object of interest in the solar system be documented and analyzed from top to bottom.

There are companies building production lines for flying cars. There are companies building production lines for spaceships, ones designed to land and take off from other planets, with humans inside them! What is a humble satellite probe, even a thousand such, beside these things? We can do it. The journey of a thousand miles, or a thousand light years, begins with a first step--come take it with me. I'm looking for a few good people who share this vision, who are equally obsessed with the idea that we belong among the stars, not trapped in the mud.

Tags: thepitch, background, whoami, vision

Elevator Pitch

August 20, 2021 — Thomas Leavitt

We are going to take the "production line" approach that Elon Musk and SpaceX are using for Starship and Starlink, and apply it to building and launching deep space probes. We are confident that launch costs for these devices are going to plunge through the floor in the next 3-5 years (or so) as Starship comes online and Musk starts sending stuff off to the Moon and Mars in volume, much the same way that vastly lowered launch costs to LEO resulted in a paradigmatic change in what and who launched there.

Our intent is to transform the process from handbuilt one-off design and builds to manufacturing in volume: hundreds, even thousands (over time) of units, send multiple/redundant probes to every object of interest in the solar system from Mercury out to the Kuiper Belt, and to transform visiting these objects from a once in a generation / once in a lifetime (Neptune, Uranus, Pluto, etc.) event to a routine, ongoing event.

Our founder, Thomas Leavitt, is an experienced startup veteran, a year plus into his latest venture, with connections to venture capital and technical resources, and has owned Space.Org since the mid-1990s when his first company, Web Communications, LLC (the world's first self-service web hosting company, founded in May of 1994) started testing out its DNS registration service. We're in the earliest stages of discussion with a prominent space focused accelerator, and one of his current business partners in another venture is a deeply networked, very high visibility VC, so we're confident that in combination with other resources, we can get this off the ground and funded.

On a personal note, Thomas is motivated by a deeply felt frustration at the relative paucity of deep space missions... he finds it unbelievable that Neptune and Uranus (for instance) havent't been visited since Voyager 2, when he was 7 years old! It is our mission as a company to fix this.

Tags: bizdev, thepitch, marketing, fundraising