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Part 1 of the story of CisLunar Industries™

On 24th August 2017, the Astropreneurs presented the Galactic Guide to Space Entrepreneurship and officially launched astropreneurs.space.  As part of that presentation, the audience was told about the intentions of two Astropreneur contributors, along with four other ISU alumni, who were inspired to launch a startup and would compete for the Space Exploration Masters Luxembourg Prize.  With the prize awards ceremony at the NewSpace Europe conference occurring only a few weeks ago, this post will be the first in a series which will follow the progress of this new venture, CisLunar Industries.

An Idea Is Born

CisLunar Industries™ was born during the International Space University’s Space Studies Program (SSP17).  Six of us realised we shared a vision of the potential opportunities emerging in cislunar space and a desire to build a startup to take advantage of them. We sensed a massive opportunity in finding solutions to the many known and unknown challenges inherent in the creation of a cislunar economy.  With that recognition, we knew we had to find a way to get involved in this endeavor, at the outset, to be in a position to solve the key challenges that must be addressed to enable the expansion of humanity beyond planet Earth. But, where to start…?

We knew the first areas of business would focus primarily on the space resource value chain, the fundamental foundation from which all future industrialization of cislunar space will rely. Our ‘eureka! moment came when we realized there was potential in focusing on the process between resource extraction initiatives and in-space manufacturing initiatives. We also wondered why there is no apparent effort to use the thousands of tonnes of space debris already polluting Earth’s orbit as a resource. This line of questioning led us to our conceptualization for the Space Foundry™. Our idea focuses on creating the first space based capability to reprocess on-orbit objects into the raw feedstock needed for in-space manufacturing. This will be a key enabling component of a future industrialized cislunar economy.

Credit: Initiative for Interstellar Studies

Competing for Glory… and Seed Funding

While having an early stage idea is exciting, a specific objective to work towards makes everything far more palpable and exhilarating! That is why we turned to the Space Exploration Masters, namely the Luxembourg Prize, LuxIMPULSE award. Newly initiated by the European Space Agency in 2017, this international competition seeks to identify the best technology transfer business successes, as well as to empower and foster business innovation around space exploration activities.

The stage was set. Our team was gathered in the same place with a specific deadline and significant reward to drive our enthusiasm. We started out very optimistic that we could finish our entry for the Space Exploration Masters while also working hard to complete the Space Studies Program (SSP).  Being constantly surrounded by exceptional space people afforded us the opportunity to obtain a lot of good feedback from experts in the program. However, with the intensity of the SSP, we ultimately did not have enough time to complete our entry before the program ended and we all returned home.

With our team now scattered around the world and only a couple weeks remaining before the submission deadline, crossing the finish line will rely on pure determination and commitment from everyone. What’s it like to co-develop a business plan with a co-founder team distributed across 11 time zones, extending from Denver to India? In two words: fun and tiring! Every point of discussion was either handled in an asynchronous way or during a very limited time window—when it wasn’t too early in Denver or too late in India—and someone’s sleep always seemed to suffer, regardless. This geographic distribution only exacerbated the challenge of coordinating inputs among six co-founders. Nevertheless, we reveled in this challenge. Fun fact: did you know that a Skype call can run continuously for 14 hrs? Well, we can attest to this amazing capability as we pushed through the night to finalize and submit our application in classic startup form. We are all so fully invested and united in this endeavor that there was no way we would let anything stop us from reaching our ultimate goal.

Despite all the effort, on September 18th, as we optimistically prepared for the next round of the competition, we found out that we did not make the top 10 cut. Our first chance to obtain the seed funding we needed to move forward was no longer a possibility. Disappointment was inevitable and we all experienced an emotional dip for a week or so while we considered and evaluated all that we had done and set our sights on the next target.

Belval, Luxembourg. Credit: Gary Calnan

Throughout the first sprint of what is to be a long race, we understood and learned how to manage the challenges of working apart and at such different time zones, tested our ideas and concepts, aimed at goals, progressed, failed, and ultimately strengthened our shared resolve to become a major player in the future cislunar economy.  

Despite this initial setback, we remained committed to our concept for the Space Foundry™ and Luxembourg still beckoned as an ideal potential launchpad.  The story will continue in Part 2 when things start to get real…

Luxembourg Grund Area. Credit: Gary Calnan

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Posted by Gary Calnan