ITEM: Is there any start-up too weird for venture capitalists to throw money at? If so, it’s not Inversion Space, which this week raised $10 million in seed money for its plan to build space capsules that can store stuff in space and deliver everything from artificial organs to pizza.
Which sounds silly when you put it like that, as Futurism did this week, and Inversion Space is already getting a lot of mockery on Twitter for it. But the core idea – a reusable capsule to conduct round trips to space to deliver stuff into orbit and bring stuff back – isn’t quite as far-fetched as it sounds.
Inversion Space – started by two propulsion engineers (Justin Fiaschetti, formerly of SpaceX and Relativity Space, and Austin Briggs, formerly of ABL Space Systems) – has designed a reusable capsule that can deliver cargo to space stations, store it in space and bring stuff back to Earth “at about 25 times as fast as the speed of sound” before deploying a parachute to land safely, according to the New York Times.
Currently, getting cargo into space is relatively easy – but the process is only really designed for one application (space stations), delivery times take several months, and you need a re-entry vehicle to bring anything back.
Potential customers for the company’s capsule would be both commercial and government, he said. The US military, for example, could store supplies in orbit and use the capsule to deliver them anywhere in the world.
Another application would be to resupply future commercial space stations. “The current model is up and down once every three or four months. But as we start to move to a more commercialized industry, you need that high cadence of once a week,” Fiaschetti said
As business proposals go, that sounds reasonably sensible. The online mockery is more to do with other potential applications Inversion Space described to the NYT:
The company’s founders imagine the capsules could store artificial organs that are delivered to an operating room within a few hours or serve as mobile field hospitals floating in orbit that would be dispatched to remote areas of the planet. And one day, a shortcut through space could allow for unimaginably fast deliveries — like delivering a New York pizza to San Francisco in 45 minutes.
The pizza delivery pitch is perhaps taking it too far, although my impression is that Fiaschetti and Briggs were just offering an easy-to-grasp conceptual example rather making a serious business proposal. Others have pointed out that artificial organs don’t exist yet, but again, it’s just an example – Inversion Space’s business model doesn’t seem to depend on delivering things that have to be invented first.
A perhaps more formidable challenge is that while space flight is getting cheaper, it’s still way more expensive than DHL. You might be able to whisk organs from New York to Singapore in a couple of hours, but you can make the same trip on a commercial airline in 18 hours at a fraction of the price.
Still, the concept has enough merit that Spark Capital decided to invest in it, with help from Y Combinator, Embedded Ventures, Funders Club, Liquid 2 Ventures and some angel investors. So Inversion Space must be on to something.