Jeff Thornburg


In this episode, Jeff Thornburg, founder of Portal Space Systems, shares insights on revolutionizing the space industry. From the shift towards commercial space companies like SpaceX to the importance of aligning with customer needs, Thornburg emphasizes the value of strong relationships and operational efficiency. He discusses the need for maneuverable spacecraft in a crowded space environment and delves into the unique propulsion system being developed by Portal Space Systems to address challenges like orbital congestion and debris while supporting military operations in space. Thornburg’s discussion on the changing landscape of the space industry, strategic planning, and embracing technology like 3D printing offers a glimpse into the future of aerospace innovation.
The transition from government-dominated space activities to commercial enterprises like SpaceX and Blue Origin has spurred significant innovation and advancements in the industry. Portal Space Systems is at the forefront of this shift. These solutions address challenges such as orbital congestion and debris, enabling longer satellite life and enhanced maneuverability. Technological advancements and private sector investments have played a crucial role in this revolution.
Jeff Thornburg brings an extensive background in the aerospace industry, having worked with organizations such as SpaceX, Amazon, and the Air Force. His career journey, from the Air Force to the founding of Portal Space Systems, provides a unique perspective on the space industry’s transformation and the challenges it faces. The interview highlights Thornburg’s expertise in developing propulsion systems that enhance spacecraft mobility, catering to the growing needs of both commercial and military sectors.
A key point in the discussion is the increasing congestion in space and the potential for collisions between objects in orbit. Thornburg emphasizes the importance of developing propulsion capabilities that allow for better maneuverability, particularly in light of the growing number of satellites in low Earth orbit. He also discusses the relevance of space mobility in addressing issues such as orbital debris and the protection of commercial interests in space.
Additionally, Thornburg touches on significant changes in the space industry, particularly in the way technology and innovation have disrupted the traditional government-dominated approach. He underscores the importance of aligning with customer needs and adopting a metric-driven, lean management approach to ensure operational efficiency and customer satisfaction. Thornburg’s insights into the future of the space industry, the impact of technology, and the challenges in managing capital-intensive endeavors provide a thought-provoking perspective on the evolving landscape of space technology.


(00:00:51) – The Journey of Jeff Thornburg: From Aerospace to Entrepreneurship
(00:04:18) – From the Air Force to founding Portal Space Systems
(00:08:53) – The transformation of the space industry: From the government sector to commercial companies
(00:11:43) – The future of space technology with logjam of technology adoption and lower satellite costs
(00:14:42) – The growing need in space commerce
(00:17:33) – Space Commerce and Military Protection on Orbit
(00:20:15) – Meeting the Needs of the Space Force: A Path to Successful Economics
(00:25:19) – Capital-intensive space technology: Experiences from SpaceX and Amazon
(00:29:15) – Structuring a democratized organizational model
(00:32:38) – The power of lean approach
(00:34:38) – Scaling problems in startups: The key factors

Books Mentioned
Power and Prediction: The Disruptive Economics of Artificial Intelligence by Ajay Agrawal, Joshua Gans and Avi Goldfarb

Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity by Daron Acemoglu and Simon Johnson



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