Venture capital firms specialise in this kind of investment, spreading their
risks over a "portfolio" of high-risk investments. Typically, out of 10 (20)
new company investments, 5 (15) fail, 4 stay small, and 1 may pay for all the
others (you get different figures from different organizations, according to
their success rate).
All business investment has a negative cash-flow phase followed (if successful)
by a positive cash-flow phase, which is (hopefully) large enough to enrich the
risk-takers - and is occasionally huge. Most new companies go bust, and some
are bought up cheap by later investors, who are then able to make a reasonable
rate of return on their lower initial investment. (A trivial example, Clive
Sinclair's "three-wheeler car" project went bust, and the stock of vehicles
were bought by someone (Arthur Daley?) who reputedly sold them to a golf course
Charisma is important for new businesses. If you look at the syllabuses of
Business Schools, Leadership and New Venture Management are currently
fashionable topics. But beyond a certain point, "charisma" can be an obstacle
to good business judgement, and plenty of money has been lost by space
engineering companies in being too ambitious - being swayed by someone who was
very persuasive, charismatic even - but wrong about the business potential.
Werner Von Braun is said to have been very charismatic - but all his projects
used vast quantities of taxes and have not made a profit. Richard Branson is
charismatic (at least the media say so) and is very successful at business
innovation. So charisma can be very useful in business, specially in
innovative fields, but it's not always a good thing!
A particular feature of a frontier is the geographical separation from the
investors, which has the implication that in order to earn the profits to repay
the investors, there have to be exports back to the source of the investment.
Historically, the US east coast pioneers exported back to Europe; the west
coast pioneers sold exports to the east coast, and so on.
What are the major exports from the space frontier going to be? Government
space agencies' view has been " political prestige", scientific knowledge and,
Since the end of the cold war "prestige" has been devalued.
The scientific knowledge is very limited, and of no urgence. (Certainly not so
urgent that it's better to keep spending $25 billion of taxes per year for the
tiny amounts of "new knowledge" being gleaned through present-day space
activities, rather than develop low cost launch systems first.....)
The prospects of zero-G manufacturing making a lot of money are very small - at
least until there are large markets in Earth orbit or beyond - which require
investment of their own.
Of course there's already information - in the form of telecommunications,
broadcasting, navigation and remote sensing - but that too is limited (the
space industry part is a few $billions per year (= nothing in the world
economy), and of course it doesn't involve people in space at all.
There are two other possible exports from space to Earth! Unfortunately - and
amazingly - the space agencies are still not facing up to them.
But the tide is starting to flow firmly in our direction, and commercial
money's beginning to flow too. As the media interest grows, there will be
growing scope for "charismatic" characters to help build the momentum - both
good business leaders, and what should we call it? "socially charismatic"
people. EG media figures who carry
the flag. To date, Buzz Aldrin and John Denver have done this a bit, but it's
yet to get real momentum. If Rotary Rocket get flying according to schedule
(next year!) the media would really start to take notice :->