The Lexington Institute’s Loren Thompson takes a look at the SpaceX/Elon Musk story and is underwhelmed.
While I’m wondering myself how SpaceX can underbid India and China (and the Chinese are asking the same thing. Think two words, loss leader), Thompson misses a few major points:
Space launch is an inherently and hugely risky business and offers few rewards to the bold. The fact Falcon 1 had several failures is little different than, let’s say, the Corona program which went thirteen missions before it delivered space-capability. And after the one successful mission, there were another three unsuccessful missions.
Or the Atlas program which had five acknowledged failures in thirteen months.
Thompson notes a planned “family” of launch vehicles, Falcon 5, never did launch. The reality is there have been plenty of launch vehicles which have had minimal or no launches due to market forces, financing, technology, sizing (payload to orbit issues) and the likes, and consider the Delta III as a case-in-point. While it’s easy to mock paper rockets, all rockets start as paper projects and SpaceX has moved well beyond that. They have real rockets.
So no matter what, I’m willing to give SpaceX a chance for the fundamental reason that competition is useful (begin sarcasm font now: unless you’re talking about the second engine for the F-35; then of course, it’s wasteful). Otherwise, U.S. space launch becomes an issue of keep doing what you’re doing, keep getting what you got.
Of course, Thompson still hits the nail on the head in one regard: the way to really make money in, to, through, and from space is to sell space hardware and services to the government. Providing launch services to Iridium Next is not likely to be the real target when you ponder the taxpayer-provided monies of NASA, the Air Force, and the NRO.