NASA Blasts Off Into Private Equity Space

Feb 10 2006 | 10:02pm ET

Did you have dreams of becoming an astronaut when you were young? Well, if you are a private equity manager you may still be able to achieve that goal of venturing into the great unknown, sort of. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has issued an RFI for a portfolio manager to pilot its latest project, a private equity investment vehicle, codename, Red Planet Capital.

NASA is making $11 million available for the fund in its first year, and is likely to make follow-on commitments of $20 million per year. The RFI stated that the Red Planet Capital fund "will be an investment vehicle used to support innovative, dual-use technologies which will help NASA achieve its mission, but will also help better position these technologies for future commercial use." This is the first time NASA has explored using a private equity fund to spur the development of technologies. However, Melissa Mathews, a spokeswoman for NASA, said that there is a precedent in the government.

"It is being modeled on In-Q-Tel," she said, explaining that In-Q-Tel is a private equity vehicle funded by the Central Intelligence Agency. "The goal is to help us identify emerging companies that will help us meet our later goals, such as technology for water recycling or the ability to do fixes on hardware while in space," she said.

The new fund will invest primarily in early stage ventures and the government may not necessarily be the primary customer.

More information can be obtained by contacting Lisa Lockyer, acting deputy director of NASA's Innovative Partnerships Program. She can be reached by phone at 202-358-5227 or via e-mail at

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