Robert Cringely Attempts an Air-Launching Space Startup

“How does a 67-year-old hack with three minor children recover from going blind, losing his home and business in a horrible fire (like 2,000 others, we are still fighting with insurance companies), while appeasing an angry crowd of Kickstarter supporters armed with pitchforks and shovels?”

That crowd still wants long-time tech pundit Robert X. Cringely to deliver on his Kickstarter-funded project to create custom Minecraft servers. So in a new blog post this week, Cringely writes that “I went looking for venture money to recapitalize MineServer and I simultaneously started a satellite launch company to fund my eventual retirement. I am not making this up…”

He’s now found a Beverly Hills patron who wants to be a co-investor in the Minecraft servers, but “I will have to earn the matching money on my own, which is what I have been trying to do with my other startup, Eldorado Space.” Eldorado will later this year begin launching into low earth orbit CubeSats up to 12 kilograms in weight. Doing a space startup may seem like the stupidest, highest-risk way to go about restarting a career, but I thought it would be fun and it has been. Fortunately, we found a visionary billionaire to be our seed investor. We will shortly close our Series A round with most of that money already committed…

[F]or Eldorado, we (which means my co-founder Tomas Svitek — a real rocket scientist who used to report directly to Jeff Bezos at Blue Origin — seven engineers and me) pledged to invent nothing and to avoid liquid fuels if possible. We took 50-year-old ammonium perchlorate composite propellant (the same solid fuel used in the Space Shuttle’s strap-on boosters) and improved it using modern materials, processes, and some common sense. NO 3D printing! The result is a cheaper rocket that can sit on the shelf for years then be launched as-needed within hours…

[W]e’ve offered to launch on FOUR hours notice and then launch again every TWO hours after that until they tell us to stop. So if Bond villain Ernst Blofeld, for example, figured out a way to take down the GPS system, we could replace the whole constellation in less than a day, then do it all over again as often as needed. That would probably deter Dr. Evil from even trying his trick in the first place…. Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit drops its rocket horizontally from a Boeing 747 flying at 35,000 feet going Mach 0.7. We “toss” our rocket while flying in a 45-degree climb at 78,000 feet going Mach 2.2, which is much more exciting. You can see the curvature of the Earth. Launching higher, faster, and at the proper angle lets us use a smaller cheaper rocket on a smaller cheaper aircraft for a lower launch price. Virgin charges $12 million per launch while we charge $1 million for up to 12U into any orbit….

“But how do you protect your business if you aren’t inventing anything? Where is your intellectual property? Where is your defensive moat?” There’s actually plenty of clever IP inside Eldorado, but what mainly keeps another startup from just copying our work is the required fleet of Mach 2.2+ launch aircraft. We bought all of them, you see… all of them on the planet.