An investment opportunity – but not as we know it. Justin Harper investigates an out of this world business idea that looks set for lift off.
Former astronaut Leroy Chiao has come up with an investment opportunity that is quite literally out of this world.
He is part of a start-up company called Black Moon Corporation, which is a commercial space flight programme that doesn’t rely solely on tourism, unlike Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. Instead, Black Moon Corporation will use robotic landers that will place objects of value on the moon on behalf of wealthy clients as part of their legacy. These may include strands of hair or their DNA. The former astronaut is looking to raise about US$5 million from investors for the unique start-up. The venture may well move into space tourism, but for now the main focus will be on leaving objects on the moon.
“We think we have created something that should appeal to investors. It’s enough for us to get the core team in place, do the studies and to buy the space craft and rockets being developed by the government.”
Dr Chiao and his team hope to fly their first mission within four years of raising the capital, and believe they can make a US$100 million profit by the fourth year of operations. He is no stranger to space and what its capabilities are having worked for NASA for 15 years and lived aboard the space station for seven months.
The idea behind Black Moon Corporation is based on the Royal Library of Alexandria, circa 300 BC, which was the ultimate collection of knowledge of ancient civilisation. Chiao and Black Moon will build a repository on the moon of the rich genetic heritage and knowledge of Earth. This commercial library will be located in a black crater at the Lunar South Pole, where the natural temperature allows DNA to remain clone-able indefinitely. Dr Chiao adds: “Being on the moon means security. Within a few hundred years, the ancient Alexandrian library was destroyed by human conflict. The Black Moon facility will be immune to war, power failure, human indifference and natural disaster.”
During his time at the US government’s space agency, Dr Chiao took part in three shuttle flights. Having left in 2005 he moved into the private sector, as one of an exclusive group of people who have flown in space. The 53-year-old American is now a consultant to a handful of companies involved in space exploration including SpaceX, owned by South African business tycoon Elon Musk, while he continues to advise NASA.
Few people have such knowledge of space missions or as are capable of launching such an ambitious investment opportunity as this highly experienced astronaut. Dr Chiao adds: “Black Moon will be extremely profitable. The US$5 million investment will enable sales and a partial IPO in two years, which will return the initial investment and fund the development of the library, spaceflight infrastructure and operations. Today, large sums are being spent on the Earth for preservation. Black Moon will do it better, for less, and permanently. In the process, Black Moon will create sustainable human spaceflight research and transportation revenue streams.”
Black Moon will use state-of-the-art spaceflight hardware and processes developed by SpaceX, along with technologies and track records of NASA, and other international space programmes. The company will be located alongside NASA at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Dr Chiao says this will allow Black Moon to borrow under-used NASA engineering and operations expertise at no cost, through unfunded Space Act Agreements (SAA). Such agreements allow NASA to partner with external organisations when it doesn’t have the relevant skills in-house.
“We will develop two extremely profitable business lines – the creation of a universal library of life and knowledge, and a sustainable commercial lunar human spaceflight programme.”
The commercial race into space, however, looks likely to be won by Virgin Galactic, which is expected to make its first flight later this year. Seats onboard SpaceShipTwo are going for US$250,00 a pop, but of course Branson won’t be flying to the moon.
However, the business plan for Black Moon will be to sell library positions for permanent preservation. “There is a very strong innate human desire and willingness to commit significant capital to the conservation and preservation of life on Earth. The market already exists – cryo-preservation is done on Earth, but it is inadequate.”
Each lunar mission will deposit 100,000 samples on the moon. Given the price of one library position is pitched at $10,000, then each mission will generate US$1 billion. This results in a per-mission profit of about $100 million – not a bad return on your $5 million. The game plan is for ten missions over a period of ten years. Additional revenue streams are predicted to come from research, transporting cargo and space flight passengers. But of course there are some pretty big risks involved so this isn’t one for the faint-hearted investor. Black Moon isn’t that fussed about where the money comes from, although it has been targeting wealthy American investors who have shown a fascination with space. Not a bad starting point.
“This company is my next big adventure,” Dr Chiao concludes.