Friday, July 21, 2006

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Document View: "NASA is launching its own venture fund to reach out to entrepreneurs and investors who can create technologies to advance the agency's mission of space exploration. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced in February its venture, called Red Planet Capital Fund, and posted online a request for information to find someone to take charge of the vehicle.

The fund will start by making investments totaling $11 million in 2006 and grow to $20 million annually thereafter, with NASA providing strategic direction. The government agency said the fund will operate much like In-Q-Tel, the venture arm of the Central Intelligence Agency, and OnPoint Funds, the investment vehicle of the U.S. Army. Proceeds from the exits of any portfolio companies will be put back into the fund to support future investments.

NASA says it intends to make investments as part of a syndicate, alongside private-sector investors or other VC funds. Though the name Red Planet is inspired by the agency's ongoing exploration of Mars, investment areas will include human-machine interaction; water recycling, re-use and reduction; technology to fix things in space; environmental monitoring; and biomedical support for exploration missions. Lisa Lockyer, acting deputy director for NASA's innovative partnerships program, says it's still too early to talk about the fund in detail, but she says the agency has talked to a number of established venture firms to operate the fund. She added that the aim of the fund is to get off the ground and begin making investments before the end of the year."