The Loren Thompson/SpaceX Saga Continues; Thompson Isn’t Winning

Posted: June 11, 2011 in Songs of Space and Nuclear War
Tags: , , , ,

Loren Thompson, writing at Forbes, backtracks a bit and clarifies what he’d earlier said regarding SpaceX vis a vis Old Space.  And then he does after SpaceX once again.

Thompson’s main point is that old space offers mission assurance./mission success, that is, the likelihood of the payload getting to the desired orbit with the ability to then function as desired.

The point Thompson misses is that this is really only essential for manned space flight and even then, as we know, it isn’t achievable.   And manned space flight is really only required for…manned space flight.

In other words, everything that can be done in space can be done cheaper, faster, better, longer, and more accurately with robotic space as opposed to manned space.  Manned space flight has one clear purpose at this point, to awe people.  So if you want to say you’ve been to space, you can catch a ride on one of the SpaceShip vehicles, ride on up to 100 km and say you’ve done it for much less than the cost of really getting to (and staying in) space which accomplishes about as much as you’re going to get.

Only manned space flight can fix the Hubble or the ISS you say?  How about the fact we can replace the Hubble with something cheaper and better than sending people up to fix it or the fact the ISS creates value that approaches zero.

So by extension to Thompson’s logic, for any mission other than manned space flight, all other things being the same, the cheaper ride to space should be the outfit that should capture the mission.

While Thompson says Boeing and Lockheed-Martin kicked in $4 billion of their own money to start up the EELV effort (I’d bet that it’s actually something less than that after a variety of recoupment campaigns against the U.S. government, but regardless), they didn’t do it out of the goodness of their hearts; they did it to make money.  Same as SpaceX.

Remember the acquisition phrase from the 1990s, ‘cost is an independent variable’?  It’s still true.

The Atlas V and Delta IV families of vehicles are marvels but at this point, you can’t just waive away SpaceX with the ‘mission success’ argument.

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