Nearly 10 months after its first successful rocket launch, aerospace startup Space Exploration Technologies Inc. hit another milestone two weeks ago: It put a satellite into orbit for a paying customer.

On July 13, the Hawthorne-based company, which is better known as SpaceX, put into orbit a land survey satellite paid for by the Malaysian government and carried by one of the company's Falcon 1 rockets.

SpaceX did not disclose how much the Malaysians paid for the launch. But Gwynne Shotwell, company president, said a launch aboard the Falcon 1 typically costs a little less than $10 million. That's about half what a customer might pay to launch a satellite aboard a rocket built by Orbital Sciences Corp., the Dulles, Va.-based company that's SpaceX's closest competitor.

The launch is a big step for SpaceX, which is bankrolled largely by its chief executive, PayPal millionaire Elon Musk. It took the company six years and three failed launches before it finally put its Falcon 1 into orbit in September. That rocket was carrying a test payload, not a real satellite.

Shotwell said that this month's launch proves SpaceX can offer satellite launching services to governments and private companies at significantly lower cost. And she added that it should silence critics who predicted that SpaceX couldn't duplicate the success of its September launch.

"They said that we're one for four, that we got lucky," Shotwell said. "Well, with flight five we have firmly demonstrated we can launch satellites into orbit."

But SpaceX still has plenty of challenges to overcome, said Frank Sietzen, an independent space industry analyst and consultant in Arlington, Va. The company is working on Falcon 9, a larger rocket scheduled for its first launch later this year. If the launch is successful, the company can count on big contracts from the NASA, Sietzen said.

The success of the Falcon 1 has also come at a time when the economy has forced many companies and governments to reconsider satellite launches. Shotwell said SpaceX has no Falcon 1 launches contracted for 2010, though the company is in talks with potential customers.

Game Names

Industry watchers wondered: Would the new version of the popular video game "Call of Duty" maintain the franchise title or morph into a new series called "Modern Warfare"?

Activision Blizzard Inc.'s new game, the sixth in the series, is scheduled for release before the holiday season. Previous versions have all had "Call of Duty" in the title. But when the Santa Monica company debuted footage at a conference in Los Angeles this summer, the game was called "Modern Warfare 2." (The first "Modern Warfare" was the fourth game in the "Call of Duty" series.) The name led many to speculate that Activision Blizzard was trying to spin off "Modern Warfare" into an independent franchise.

But when the company unveiled cover art for the game this month, the name had been tweaked to "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2."

Why the apparent reversal? The company has declined to address it directly, insisting "Modern Warfare 2" was always part of the "Call of Duty" franchise.

But brand recognition likely had something to do with it. New York-based OTX Research, which tracks and projects upcoming entertainment titles, found that consumer awareness of the game doubled when its title was changed from "Modern Warfare 2" to "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2." That could significantly boost sales for a game that analysts predict will be the best-selling title of the year.

"Gamers of all types love the 'Call of Duty' games and know it means they'll get a return on their investment," said Nick Williams, director of the GamePlan Insights division at OTX. "Without that in the title, our data shows there's a risk that holiday gift buyers and nonhardcore gamers might just see it as another war game."

Funds for GumGum

GumGum Inc., a Santa Monica startup that licenses photos to publishers on the Web, announced earlier this month that it had secured $2.6 million in funding.

GumGum contracts with photographers and photo agencies to track use of their photos on Web sites. The company then helps ensure the owner of the photograph gets a license fee.

Company executives said the new money would be used to develop technology and licensing methods online.


Staff reporter Charles Proctor can be reached at cproctor@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 230.

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