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Space industry entrepreneurs discuss the business of space

June 27, 2014, Montreal - The business of space is undergoing a radical transformation. After more than a half-century of massive undertakings led by national space agencies and funded by public monies, the past few years have seen a significant shift toward developing new ideas and approaches to space activities by large and small start-ups using private funding.


June 27, 2014
By Adrienne Cornwall

“The space world right now is in a very interesting period. It’s really going through a transformation from a very conservative, government-controlled world to something that is much more commercially focused,” said Christian Sallaberger, founder of Canadensys Aerospace Corporation.

Sallaberger was one of four young entrepreneurs who discussed this transformation in a recent panel hosted by the International Space University’s (ISU) Space Studies Program at the École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS) in Montreal. A video of the discussion can be found at the ISU YouTube channel.

The evening’s panelists, all ISU alumni, have launched ventures that capitalize on this paradigm shift by providing government and commercial clients with technical and consulting services including engineering, research, and product and application development for satellites and other space systems.

Panelist Wade Larson co-founded Vancouver-based UrtheCast (pronounced “earth-cast”) after an 18-year career at the Canadian Space Agency and Macdonald Dettwiler and Associates (MDA). He said that large industry players often choose to bypass business opportunities that are deemed too risky. UrtheCast, which will stream near realtime video of earth from the International Space Station, was spun out of MDA when MDA decided to pass on a potential joint venture with Russia’s RSC Energia Corp. Working with his brother Scott Larson and another MDA colleague, Larson took the plunge and decided to develop the idea with private capital.

At the outset, when the idea for the company was still in its earliest stages of development, “failure was the probable outcome,” said Larson, whose company has since raised more than $70 million in private funding and now has offices worldwide in Moscow, St. Louis, Mo., Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. “It was a highly risky venture. Ultimately, you have to take a bit of a leap of faith. You cannot retire all risk.”

All the panelists agreed that the balance between workflow, growth and capital is delicate, but it is also accompanied by the exhilaration of building a business.

In describing the genesis of his company Odyssey Space Research, based in Houston, Brian Rishikof credited the combination of his experience at McDonnell Douglas and his ISU alumni network for Odyssey’s successful participation in four spacecraft projects in the last 10 years.