The private space industry pulsates with wannabes who have launched little more than press releases, but Larson is that rare entrepreneur who has actually sent a rocket into space - and figured out how to make it pay. In 2009,
Larson expects to turn his first profit on revenues of nearly $1 million, a considerable increase from his hobbyist income of $300,000 in 2007.
Larson, 48, saw a potential profit in sending stuff - corporate R&D projects, university research, even memorabilia - on short trips into near space (between 12.3 and 62 miles above sea level). Larson founded Up Aerospace in 2004 with backing from several investors. He currently works out of a warehouse near his Denver home and will expand into New Mexico once Spaceport America is completed.
For Up Aerospace, Larson has built what you might call a freight rocket. The unmanned craft stands 20 feet tall, and half of its volume is reserved for commercial payloads. Several customers can purchase cargo space on each flight, akin to a time-share.
Larson also developed software that allows him to calibrate a rocket launcher's position from his laptop to within one-thousandth of a degree. Each launch requires three days' preparation and a ground staff of three. By contrast, the Air Force and NASA each require a month of preparation and 20 staff members to do the same job. And his service is much cheaper: Larson says he can launch a rocket for $200,000, about a tenth of what it costs the government.