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Space Research / Earth Observations

Interview with Jeffrey Manber of NanoRacks - December 2012

NanoRacks origins... We approached NASA in 2009 with a unique proposition and that is: if we were to design and develop our own research hardware for on the Station, using our own funding—we asked NASA for no funding - and in return for that bargain, that agreement, could we go ahead and market that hardware commercially? And NASA agreed. It’s an easy date to remember — on 09/09/09, September 9, 2009, we signed the Space Act Agreement...

Our agreement with NASA basically says that we can market to whomever we wish as long as it upholds the honor and the integrity of the U.S. National Lab and we take that very seriously. We’re very proud to be representing the U.S. National Lab and the first U.S. National Lab in space.

Everything at NanoRacks is about standardization, open source, miniaturization, ease of use, low-cost...

We’ve been surprised that the first group that really jumped at the NanoRacks opportunity was education...

We are extremely proud that the first NASA NRA (NASA Research Announcement) has come out that includes the NanoRacks facility...

When we started the company we liked to say that the first investors were Visa and MasterCard... I have been in the business a long time now... We self-financed, out of our pockets to put up the first few research platforms. At that point we did our first round. We haven’t disclosed the amount — it was an adequate amount. We didn’t go to friends, we went directly to angel investors and we worked with Near Earth LLC which raises funds for satellite and other space ventures. And sometimes when we first approached the angel investors, we’d say we were looking for x amount to do a round and they’d say, “Oh you can’t get into space for that money” and we’d reply, “No, we are already in space. We are permanently on the Space Station. We already have customers. We’re looking for these funds to grow and to operate...”

We take full advantage of the international agreements that NASA put in place and yes, we are certainly excited about moving into the other platforms as they become available...

It’s a very exciting time. We are very pleased that we have what we consider the world’s first commercial laboratory in space and it is mostly self-funded. It soon will be four platforms. "Three are inside the Station and one external..." [Update: Q2 2015 - - - KIBO]

[W]e have a multi-year customer pipeline. It’s growing in sophistication. NASA gave us permission five months ago to develop a platform outside the station. This is our external platform program and we are working on it with Astrium of North America. They are manufacturing the platform and the principal customers are very sophisticated users of sensors and advanced electronics and next generation satellite systems...

We were very, very gratified when Virgin Galactic selected NanoRacks to design, develop and build their research hardware on SpaceShip Two. What’s so exciting for the industry about that is it creates a standard—from the leading suborbital platform to the U.S. National Lab...

Congress and NASA have created the non-governmental organization (NGO) CASIS—the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, and we work very closely with CASIS to increase utilization and we think that having a NGO/not for pro!t pathway and having a commercial pathway like NanoRacks is really a good model for moving forward beyond low earth orbit.

We believe at NanoRacks that the creativity comes lower down the pyramid. It’s not just people with PhDs who have the ideas. Like the software marketplace, like the internet business, the first great breakthrough in space research may happen from a college drop-out. It may be somebody whose parents buy a gift of buying a payload with NanoRacks, and they come up with something. "there’s no reason why the breakthroughs and applications in the internet may not be duplicated in space research..."

We’re in the services business... We are customer driven. If there are some ways that NanoRacks is unique, first is our profit does not come from hardware development, it comes from customer use. The second way we we are unique is that we are solely focused on keeping our customers happy.

-- JM

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NanoRacks and Planet Labs

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