OCEAN SHIPPING HAS HAD NON VESSEL OWNING COMMON CARRIERS (NVOCC) FOR DECADES PERHAPS A CENTURY OR LONGER.
THERE IS NOW A CRITICAL MASS OF PRIVATE SPACE LAUNCH SERVICES, GOVERNMENT SERVICES SEEKING COMMERCIAL PAY LOADS, AND AVAILABLE PAY LOADS TO SUPPORT AT LEAST ONE NVOCC FOR SPACE CARGO.
The Capital needed to get started are basic living expenses, a phone, an excellent quality computer or two, some sales ability, research ability, and a willingness to study. What a NVOCC does in the world of ocean transportation is to present a "portal" to the world that operates for all practical purposes from the customer's view point as a "virtual" shipping line with departures to all points every day and at most any hour. In fact the NVOCC as the name implies owns no vessels but sells unsold cargo space on as many vessels operating under as many flags, and for as many lines as they can get into their system. The NVOCC tracks and sells available cargo space on both "liners" ( ships operating on regular schedules between set ports) and "Tramps" (ships whose port calls are determined by the available cargoes. The "inventory" of available cargo space and departure / arrival ports, dates and times would change daily. From the cargo owning shipper's experience dealing with a NVOCC is little different from dealing with a liner service directly except that there is an infinitely wider choice of shipping ports departure / arrival times, and choices relative to freight rates. The shipper need not shop around but simply call the NVOCC, tell the agent what he has to ship, where he wants to ship it to, and when it has to be there. The NVOCC sales agent will tell the shipper what is available and the costs. Once the shipper has decided on the carrier represented by the NVOCC he simply proceeds to book the cargo through the NVOCC just as if he was dealing with the carrier directly.
In the space launch business today it is doubtful that the launch services, especially the government launch services would allow that level of agency to a Non (Space)Vehicle Owning Common Carrier for space launch services. This is good and bad news for the would be space launch NVOCC entrepreneur. To the advantage of the entrepreneur there is no need to sign up a bunch of space launch services to an agency contract. The new NVOCC can simply open shop with the publicly available launch schedules of all of the available space launch services, and the publicly available cost estimates per payload weight unit, and the publicly available information for contact points for contracting a launch or a less than full capacity payload aboard a less than "full flight". The Space Shuttle when it was operating carried school experiments and similar private pay loads on a space available basis. For the newly minted space launch NVOCC the revenue source at this stage in history shifts from the transportation provider to the customer. The service rendered is providing the payload owner with information that would ordinarily require weeks of frustrating research. Of course many of the most common pay load providers have existing regular relationships with a launch service. But every day more and more small academic and business entities are evolving things that will need a lift into space both complete satellite launches and small experiments needing transport to the International Space Station or similar destination. These numbers will continue to increase. A space launch NVOCC is basically a web site business that has a potential to grow with the commercialization of space into a real agency model when the commercial launch services become sufficiently competitive. The first space tourism flights are already in the building and flight testing stages. The possibility of becoming the primary web site for space tourist information is there, as well as the probability of eventually becoming a direct ticket agent. Web sites can be supported not only by fee for service activities but also by advertising, and commissioned sales. You might notice that in our series on this subject a frequent advertisement run in conjunction is Amazon's TV service featuring a Star Trek theme.
The day is coming, perhaps less than a generation away when commercial space transportation services will be so competitive that the ocean traditional NVOCC business model as agent for the transportation providers will be viable. There is already a niche for the pay load payee / advertising supported model. Who ever creates the best known and successful pay load payee / advertising supported model that lasts until the traditional transporter agent model or some hybrid organization becomes viable will be viewed as the "old reliable" firm. This will be an advantage in any space service business. Here is another visible similarity between ocean transport and space transport people. While both have certain "pioneering" and daring aspects of character, both populations have a particular "conservative bias. This is especially visible in engineering. Both mariners and astronauts prefer their mechanical engineering to be well tested, filled with redundant, fail safe, and back up systems. They like well tested abandonment and survival systems and damage control systems and they like to have these provided by "tried and true" vendors and contractors.
In maritime law there is little mention of "marine business" or "commerce", often in the case law and older statutes maritime voyages and even businesses are written of as "maritime adventures". The stock owners in the corporations that engage in these "maritime adventures" are often referred to in admiralty law as "backers of the maritime adventure". There is no doubt that space voyaging and ocean voyaging are risky businesses, people with an adventurous spirit are attracted to the games, but these are far from reckless people. When it comes down to purchasing goods and services for the voyage they exhibit a very conservative streak. They like to deal with other "pioneers' with an established record of success. That's why its already time for the first of the space launch NVOCCs to emerge. The best one still standing in twenty years will be the preferred "old line" firm for the next level of development coming in the space launch business.
If we were young people today looking at and interested in space business we'd be looking at space based services provision since for the up coming generation astronaut positions will still be scarce as hen teeth. Where would be the best place to seek a post secondary education for such a career? We recommend one of the Merchant Marine Academies that offer a business major. The more you know about ocean transport business the more directly applicable parallels you will have available in your mental make up for what is coming in the commercial exploitation of space. When you graduate commercial space jobs may be relatively rare, but America and most nations are full of steam ship agencies, freight forwarders, NVOCCs, maritime insurance companies, etc. This gives the new maritime academy graduate a viable parallel job market while awaiting more growth in the commercial space sector, and a fall back market if early opportunities in the commercial space sector bounce the graduate back into the job market.