As we discussed in the X Prize section, splashing a little stake money around can generate remarkable ripples, inspiring companies to dedicate time, money and brainpower far beyond initial investments.
Few of the countries eyeing the space sector have the kind of deep pockets or political will needed to fund a national space program, so their governments are leveraging what they do have: namely, the ability to provide monetary incentives, the clout to gather key actors around the negotiating table and the savvy to combine brainpower and resources to good effect.
The European Space Agency, for example, leverages intellectual capital and research facilities from across Europe and encourages prominent, specialized companies and research groups to establish space clusters -- collaborations on space-related R&D projects.
NASA, too, helps bootstrap private enterprises, both through its Centennial Challenges and its collaborations with commercial space companies. Its Commercial Crew Initiative incentivizes space enterprises to design and build cheap space taxi services for astronauts and cargo.
The space agency already entered into billion-dollar contracts in 2008 with SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. to ferry cargo to and from the International Space Station: eight flights from Orbital (valued at about $1.9 billion) and 12 flights from SpaceX (valued at about $1.6 billion) [source: NASA]. Given an economic crunch, and looming political and budgetary battles, will the funding continue, or will private companies have to leg it on their own?
Read on to find out about one NASA-funded company that's taking things one quiet step at a time.