A new report from The Tauri Group has declared 2015 a record-breaking year for venture capital investment in space-related startups. Last year, over 50 venture capital firms invested $1.8 billion in startups focused on outer space - that's more than was invested in the past 15 years combined.

The report explained that investment in space startups began to take off throughout the past 5 years, with 2/3 of space-related venture capital investment since 2000 taking place within this time period. In the past 15 years, 80 space-related companies backed by venture capitalists and angel investors have been founded, eight of which have been acquired. Notable acquisitions include:

  • A $930 million acquisition of Climate Corporation by Monsanto in 2013 
  • A $568 million acquisition of WildBlue by ViaSat in 2009
  • A $478 million acquisition of Skybox by Google in 2014 

Why now?
Fortune spoke with Carissa Christensen, managing partner of The Tauri Group, to find out why investor interest in space has increased so dramatically in recent years. She said in many ways the famous SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, has paved the way. SpaceX is a manufacturer and launcher of advanced rockets, and its success has sparked investor interest in the space arena.

The Tauri report interviewed many investors in the space industry, though their names were kept anonymous. One discussed the significance of SpaceX:

"Space used to be the domain of NASA and large military contractors, and SpaceX showed that it is possible to build a purely commercial enterprise doing launches," the interviewee said.  

Now, however, when it comes to space startups, investors are less focused on space travel and more focused on data. 

Christensen explained that space startups once only attracted investors who were fascinated by space travel or corporations like satellite television providers who stood to benefit from a greater understanding of space. Nowadays, investors are looking for space-related startups that are structured in a more traditional sense, meaning they are offering a product that will quickly earn them money. She mentioned companies like Planet Labs, Orbital Insight and BlackSky Global, all of which are designed to offer data in the form of space-related concepts like constellation management or management of data collected by satellites. 

The Tauri report explained that all of this information regarding the state of venture capital investment in the space industry is key in helping NASA plan its future operations. When NASA understands how investors think and what they prioritize, it is in a better position to create partnerships to educate others and develop new technology. 

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