[Kentucky Space visitors: the series of posts from a one-day conference held yesterday in Lexington, Kentucky are grouped under Kentucky Space Conference '08 in the category cloud on the blog.]
Does Kentucky have a space brand? Not yet, but perhaps in the future it will.
Jeffrey Manber is a space entrepreneur speaking at Kentucky Space '08, a one-day conference focused on doing space in Kentucky.
Putting a spin on popular designations for the Internet, Kentucky, he says, is participating in Space 3.0, which along with SpacePort New Mexico and the Google X Prize, are pioneering a new way of doing space.
He contrasts these efforts to commercialize space with his work in an earlier era, and specifically his work with Payload Systems. He describes, for example, the difficulty of getting export licenses to do pharmaceutical research aboard "special Soviet space hardware located 200 miles from Moscow." The grammatical subterfuge was necessary because using spacecraft not made in the U.S.A., was unthinkable.
Success on that project was achieved in 1988, when a story came out on the front page of the New York Times that business was being done with the Soviets. The matter taught him an early and important lesson. Winning a policy battle in Washington means making sure the losing side knows they've lost. Get ahead of the story.
Manber also tells the story of PanAmSat, which put geostationary satellites in orbit. It meant going head to head with communications monopolies. It was another effort he was involved with, and one the government fought effort every step of the way - only governments do space, after all. To his astonishment the United States, which had a monopoly via Intelsat on international communications, didn't want competition!
The founder of PanAmSat eventually launched his satellite with no permission to actually use it.
That taught Manber a second important lesson - apologize later. West Germany, Great Britain and, finally, the U.S., worked with PanAmSat to break the international communications monopoly.
Manber emphasizes that because they were open to commercialization under Gorbachev, it was the Russians who actually led the world into the preceding era, which he dubs Space 2.0. The irony is that they believed in commercialization of space. And as president of MirCorp, which followed his stint at Payload Systems, he helped the Russians, adding "If you wanted to work with the socialists, you worked with NASA. If you wanted to work with the capitalists, you worked with the Soviets."
He recounts Pespi-Cola wanting to put its iconic brand in space to take a picture of it with the Earth in the background for its annual report. Again, NASA was opposed. "NASA didn't know stock options."
Citing another example of bureaucratic inertia, Manber says it took three months for the State Department to decide who would press the launch button for Sea Launch, which used Norwegian, Russian and Ukrainian equipment. Eventually the solution was for the American and Soviet personal to alternate languages during the count down!
Again, he emphasizes that it was the Russians who embraced space capitalism in the 1990's.
The point is that this hard-won effort to decentralize who gets to do space will make efforts like Kentucky Space attractive and doable.
"Attractive," because sound business principles can apply. The commercial industry with capital being put at risk will be serious about that capital. At Virgin Galactic, he says, marketers are selling tickets. If, hearkening back to the earlier days of commercial space business, old space business practices had been applied to aviation, transatlantic flights would cost millions, there would be only five flights a week and those flights would carry just a handful of passengers.
What's more, all the economic studies would "prove" that the market couldn't be expanded.
There is an opportunity with Kentucky Space. "We decide when and where to fly." Because Kentucky is not traditionally associate with space, there is great freedom in that.
Throwing out some possibilities, he says that perhaps a standardized bus could be used for high altitude balloons. Perhaps that bus could be associated with Kentucky Space.
Put enough of these successes together, and "you get a brand."
Saying that he met last week with Chinese space officials, Manber concludes by saying that he told those officials that "Kentucky might want to work with you," that it was interested in collaborative educational opportunities.
Having provided ample evidence from his own career, he rhetorically asks, "Why wait?"