August 27, 2013
NewSpace Watch
August 27, 2013


Red Gold Rush: Media Events as Financial Instruments for Mars Missions

Real estate investing beyond terrestrial properties is hard for most to take seriously in the near term. Even if we expand the timescale to a decade or longer, NewProperty investing still borders on too wonderful to be true. (Please see “Spaceland” in the June 2012 issue of Thruster.) However, the idea that humans will reach other planets like Mars is becoming far more acceptable in large part to the efforts of NewSpace pioneers like Dennis Tito and SpaceX’s Elon Musk. While Musk and Tito may one day have the capital and the guts to take on such a world-changing adventure, the rest of us can hardly afford an XCOR Lynx to a mere 62 miles. (Please see “SmallCap Review” in the July / August 2013 issue of Thruster.) As evidenced by the media successes of Inspiration Mars and Mars One, there may be other ways to profit from the commercialization of the Red Planet. Enter the media.

Existing major events such as the Olympics Games, the World Cup or Formula 1 races attract corporate sponsors willing to invest hundreds of millions to get their brands and logos before large global audiences. This happens in spite of such events lasting weeks or months at most. History proves that space can also attract numerous eyeballs. In 1969, the moon landing reached a significant audience despite its relatively short timeframe from launch to return of the astronauts. Thus, a major NewSpace event today could be quite remarkable. Red Bull’s Stratos project and the original X PRIZE proved that companies like Red Bull and Scaled Composites could profit from pushing the human evolutionary envelope. Perhaps such attention to a Mars mission, including its preparation of 10 years, would result in significant profit. (Please see “Leaders of NewSpace” in this issue of Thruster.)


Could there be a gold rush on the Red Planet?

Why Mars? Because while neither an asteroid or moon mission may attract a massive audience, Mars, in the collective imagination, is beyond anything we have achieved as a species and could be done within the next decade. The first human mission to Mars will be an historical NewSpace event, and to give audiences the possibility to participate and contribute to such an event is terrific motivation. This concept formed by successive events that represent important progress milestones and at the same time can guarantee audience-direct participation, typically not possible with sports events, may serve as financial instrument for the funding of the first manned mission to Mars. (Please see “NewMedia in NewSpace” in the Premiere issue of Thruster.)

Nowadays, it seems to be that the only entity that is thinking this way is the NSG OTB Interplanetary Media Group, which is behind Mars One, a Dutch non-for-profit foundation. As they have indicated in their press releases and global social media campaign, they are planning to select and to train the volunteers that will establish, with a one-way ticket trip, a human settlement on Mars in 2023 using a world class reality show type of NewMedia event. (Please see “Exit Strategy / Escape Velocity” in the March 2012 issue of Thruster.)

Maybe in the foreseeable future we will have on the NSG 100 new companies intending to achieve ambitious space exploration through media events, not only for coverage, but as feasible means to finance the cost of its missions.

Alongside Mars One is another initiative that could be suitable for a major NewSpace media event: Inspiration Mars. Launched by Dennis Tito, the first customer to pay his way through Space Adventures in 2001 to spend time on the International Space Station (ISS), Inspiration Mars seeks to send a two-person spaceship on a 501 day mission to Mars with free return trajectory. At the 16th Annual Mars Society Convention at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Tito declared that the mission would require a broader support: “We’re going to have to do it with NASA, and probably a certain amount of government funding,” however, he added, that this endeavor is initially backed by private stakeholders including himself. He also added that they have launched a global competition to redesign the mission architecture in an effort to collect new ideas and to set up a crowdfunding type engineering approach.


Dennis Tito (l) and Taber MacCallum (r) at the Mars Society Convention

Several entrepreneurs and private companies may benefit from these trips to Mars. For instance, Paragon Space Development is apparently working with both Mars One and Inspiration Mars. PARA is tasked with developing the design and engineering of life support systems and to conduct thermal protection system and technology testing and evaluation.

Pointing out the importance of potential Spaceland assets like the ISS, Taber McCallum, PARA’s CEO, also present at the Colorado conference, remarked that “this mission would not be possible without the ISS… We’re really taking ISS technology and adapting it to a two-person crew for that duration. We would love to test our systems on the International Space Station. It’d be a crime not to.”

In a recent interview with CNN and in relation to the topic of global audience participation with the Mars One Initiative, CEO Bas Lansdorp commented: “Not unlike the televised events of the Olympic Games, Mars One intends to maintain an ongoing, global media event, from astronaut selection to training, from liftoff to landing.” However, at the moment some key aspects of the mission remain unclear. For instance, if they expect to train astronauts in a simulated Mars environment, it would likely be necessary to build a new Mars analog and supporting facilities in order to film the initial stages of this NewMedia event.

Perhaps the need to construct training facilities like the one Mars One might need presents a Spaceland-type business opportunity. For example, such a facility could be leased to a NewMedia company. And of course, if the Mars One effort or another initiative succeeds in the plan of sending humans to Mars, this could trigger an unprecedented NewSpace “Red Gold Rush” for NewProperties. (Please see “Spaceland” in the July / August 2012 issue of Thruster.)

André Caminoa is a first-time contributor to Thruster and co-founder of UNISPACE, an advanced design organization focused on NewSpace architecture and innovative research.

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