Commercial space exploration is no longer just for billionaires.
Last week, a small Arizona startup closed a $15 million round of funding led by Silicon Valley venture capital firms Canaan Partners and Norwest Ventures. World View, which calls itself a “space balloon” company, was founded with the aim of sending tourists to the edge of space using balloons rather than rockets.
It’s the latest in a string of substantial space investments. Also last week, Spaceflight Industries, a Seattle-based company that organizes launches of small satellites, announced an $18 million round of financing to fund its own constellation of satellites for Earth imaging. The company wants to let anyone with a smartphone request images of any place on Earth in 90 minutes, for $90. Planetary Resources, another startup based in the Seattle area, raised over $20 million in May toward its long-term goal of mining extraterrestrial asteroids.
The private space industry has been dominated in recent years by companies founded and largely financed by a few passionate billionaires, namely Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson. Musk’s SpaceX and Bezos’s Blue Origin have demonstrated reusable commercial rockets that promise to slash the cost of reaching space, while Paul Allen’s Vulcan is developing Stratolaunch, the world’s largest plane, to air-launch rockets on a weekly basis.
And those efforts have now spawned a number of startups backed by entrepreneurs and smaller investors who see the potential for profits in space. “Space is finally being taken seriously by the investment community,” says Jane Poynter, CEO of World View. “We’ve been talking about a vibrant ecosystem of entrepreneurs and investors for decades, and finally it’s actually emerging.”