Written by Jason Andrews and Nicolas Gaume, Co-Founders of Orbite
FROM SEA TO SPACE
Orbite (french for Orbit) was founded on July 11, 2019, exactly 24 hours before the start of the 2019 Transpac (Trans Pacific) ocean sailing race from Los Angeles to Hawaii. Jason was excitedly pacing the dock in San Pedro Harbor in California next to Hamachi, his 12.5 meter racing sailboat, talking on the phone to Nicolas in Seattle when they made the final decision to tell the attorneys to incorporate what is now Orbite Inc. Seagulls were circling loudly overhead and both laughed at the significance of the decision and the informality of the moment. We were simultaneously setting off on multiple epic adventures!
Jason and Nicolas met in 2016 after SpaceX introduced them in hopes of transporting a payload to space. Nicolas’ company, Space Cargo Unlimited, was looking to launch a unique payload (a case of Petrus 2000 wine) and since SpaceX had just passed on the opportunity, they referred Space Cargo to Jason’s launch services company Spaceflight instead. Both Nicolas and Jason began work to accommodate the mission – including the ability to store a case of wine on orbit for a year in a temperature-controlled environment. The two entrepreneurs became fast friends, even though in the end, Spaceflight did not have the infrastructure to meet all mission requirements.
In the years that followed, Jason and Nicolas would continue to get together to talk about the space industry and possible areas of collaboration in their respective passions of hospitality (Nicolas) and space (Jason and Nicolas).
THE BIRTH OF ORBITE
One night at dinner in 2019, they met up again and during dinner, birthed the idea to build Orbite. The vision was to create a company that could prepare, inspire, and equip the next generation of explorers for their off-world journey, and to offer this amazing and unique experience to the public. They vowed to tackle this difficult endeavor together: Jason steering the space operations area, and Nicolas behind the real estate development and hospitality area.
The core tenants they drew up for Orbite were to provide:
- Best in class commercial astronaut training leveraging 60 years of pioneering work done by space agencies to prepare individuals physically, mentally, and spiritually for spaceflight.
- Unique Spaceflight Gateway campuses that intuitively combine astronaut training and space experiences with luxury amenities.
- A recognition that the space training journey is a family experience and that there should be something for everyone involved to learn from and to share in the adventure.
- A core belief that Orbite is preparing humanity for a permanent presence off-world while focusing on the preservation of this home we call Spaceship Earth.
A month or so later, the Orbite vision was further reinforced during their visit to SpaceX where Starship was just presented. Starship’s revolutionary capabilities could dramatically reduce the per seat cost and provided significant advances in crew accommodations and comfort, thereby enabling more people and businesses to travel and operate in space than ever before.
The time had come. A few months later, Jason found himself talking to Nicolas from the San Pedro Harbor dock to lock in the space training path ahead…the rest is history-in-the-making they say!
TWO PATHS LEAD TO ORBITE – THE STORY OF JASON
The birth of Orbite however, was 20 years in the making. The two founders traveled very different paths, but each led to the same destination.
Jason Andrews’ human spaceflight journey began in 1999 when he co-founded his first company Andrews Space with his (now) wife, Marian Joh. Both had previously worked at Kistler Aerospace Corporation, the SpaceX of the 1990s, which was commercially developing a two stage fully reusable launch system. After Kistler, Marian went on to be part of the financing team for Lockheed Martin’s $5B USD VentureStar program, an effort to develop a reusable single stage to orbit vehicle. Both efforts collapsed along with the emerging LEO constellation market during the financial crisis of 1998/1999. The excitement was met with frustration as it now felt that the future of space transportation had just been set back at least 20 years, and in most respects that was true.
The problem 25 years ago, was developing a viable commercial business case for next generation space transportation systems. The newly formed Andrews Space received a contract from NASA to identify those potential future markets, and in 2000 conducted the Future Space Transportation Study. Their work focused on the unique attributes of space (e.g. zero gravity, radiation, extra-territoriality) and mapped the applicability to existing markets, such as tourism, semiconductor manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, etc. The results that were concluded then are still valid today – namely that there are many industries that can move off-world if the cost and frequency of space transportation was dramatically improved. A quarter of a century later we are on the eve of seeing that happen.
Then, five years later while leading Andrews, Jason attended the first Ansari X-Prize launch conducted by Scaled Composites out of the Mojave Spaceport in late September 2004 – the first of its kind to send a private citizen to space and back two times in two weeks. Jason watched how Richard Branson jumped on the opportunity to launch Virgin Galactic during the second successful flight a few days later. At this time there were other human spaceflight “players” such as XCOR, the newly launched Zero Gravity Corporation and efforts by Bigelow, SpaceHab and others to build commercial orbital infrastructure and destinations. Everyone seemed excited to ‘redesign’ access to space.
Over the next decade Andrews Space would work directly and indirectly with these companies, NASA and other organizations to transition from a government owned and operated low-Earth-orbit infrastructure to a commercial infrastructure. Andrews participated in NASA’s Orion as well as Commercial Cargo and Commercial Crew programs. Jason saw that there was an opportunity to be a pioneer in the transition to commercial human spaceflight. But while Andrews Space had the technical acumen, they only had half of the solution: early human spaceflight was for wealthy individuals, and they knew absolutely nothing about hospitality.
Five more years later in 2009, seeing both a market need as well as having an internal requirement, Jason started his second company Spaceflight Inc. to be a launch services provider for small spacecraft that could not afford to buy a dedicated rocket. Prior to Spaceflight if you wanted to launch a spacecraft, you had to buy a rocket, and the cheapest rocket on the market was around $60M at the time. Spaceflight offered customers the opportunity to procure a small compartment on a rocket for prices as low as $325,000 for a 3U CubeSat. This allowed many small companies to form, raise a few million dollars, and prove their technology on the path to building and launching their own constellations.
As the industry grew, so did Spaceflight, but access to launch capacity was always challenging. Early on Spaceflight would purchase bulk capacity on existing rockets, but in 2015 had so much demand that it purchased a full Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX and in 2018 conducted the world’s largest rideshare mission, deploying 64 small spacecraft at once. Such a mission is commonplace today, but Spaceflight was proud to have pioneered the concept and enabled the “small satellite revolution”. It was while working with SpaceX that Jason made it clear that while he was currently launching satellites, his main vision aspired to launch people into space in the future.
Jason always hung onto the dream of preparing and flying people into space, but knew he also needed a hospitality-focused place to help make that happen. After meeting Nicolas in 2016, he found a partner who shared his passion and goals.
TWO PATHS LEAD TO ORBITE – THE STORY OF NICOLAS
Nicolas’ space journey started at La Co(o)rniche, his family’s hotel on the Bay of Arcachon in the southwest of France. On what is the biggest sand dune in Europe, with no light pollution, he could stargaze and grow his love of space. He grew up the son of a hotelier, supporting the family business by day, and self-teaching himself computer programming at night.
Nicolas started his first venture in 1990 at the young age of 19 and went on to found many successful software, video games, web, mobile and media companies, while continuing to be actively involved in his family hotel business on the side. This could have led to a sort of schizophrenia: technology and stuff that only geeks could understand on the one end, and a people centric service and hospitality company on the other end. Throughout the seven startups he was involved with, his passion became anchored around ‘tech for impact’ – innovations to uplift defining human experiences.
As he progressed in his journey, it became clear that Nicolas wanted to not only impact individuals but also gather people in strong, diverse, open and inspiring communities. This was the underlining spirit of the re-invention of his family hotel with genius creator Philippe Starck. Creating an environment where people could holistically feel connected together, and connected to the stunning nature around them. All this would later become key foundational concepts to Orbite’s core values.
In 2014, Nicolas co-founded Space Cargo Unlimited, where he was CEO. Nicolas had always loved space and as a “space fan boy” this would be his first venture in the space industry. The company focused on unleashing the huge potential of manufacturing in space for Earth. The space environment offers unique conditions, including near zero gravity, to build a variety of very high value product for humans, either very hard or impossible to create on Earth, in various fields of high interest for humanity, such as pharmaceutical solutions, new materials or electronics. Today Space Cargo Unlimited is building an automated pressurized spacecraft, REV1, which will serve as a defining space factory for Earth. The belief that space can offer key solutions for the future of humanity on Earth would also become central to Orbite’s vision.
In support of Space Cargo Nicolas had the opportunity to visit many US space ports, and with each visit he was struck with this paradox: fantastic gateways to space, geared towards the future of humanity reaching for the stars, but with extremely poor hospitality infrastructure. He felt that, while SpaceX, Blue Origin, Axiom and others were starting to offer commercial space services, there was no place to host and prepare humans going to space and more broadly the public willing to see and experience this exciting revolution in space transportation. Specifically, a place with the right level of services and amenities to support and define this new emerging industry. The first customers would be demanding wealthy individuals, just like for the early days of cars or aviation. The Orient Express train, the original trans-Atlantic cruise liners, and Concorde supersonic jet were all pioneering means of transportation which re invented the definition of luxury in their era.
Space Cargo Unlimited’s first missions focused on agriculture and viticulture. It grew space vines on the International Space Station in certain specific conditions, stressing the plants to the point of creating strong natural evolutions forging new varieties more resilient to climate change effects. To fund this mission, Nicolas came up with the creative idea to launch a case of Petrus 2000 wine to space and age it for a year, then sell the bottles. This approach imitated a process demonstrated throughout history – wine sent around the world on sailing vessels would age differently due to the unique environment and rocking motion. Nicolas approached SpaceX to launch his payload, but during the early days of Falcon 9, SpaceX was focused on maturing the vehicle and launching primary customer payloads. They would often refer customers to Spaceflight (Jasons’ company) who were looking for partial or secondary launch capabilities. One day in 2016 SpaceX referred Nicolas to Jason to send his unique payload into space for a year. The (now) co-founders became fast friends and realized their goals and dreams aligned perfectly. The rest is history-in-the-making!
Nicolas and Jason invite all of you on this wonderful space journey by signing up for Orbite’s astronaut training programs and joining our Founders Club at www.orbitespace.com