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Science ⚗️ A new space race?

michaelskis

Cyburbian
Messages
20,814
Points
57
Between 1955 and 1975 there was a space race on who could go further for longer, mainly between the United States and the Soviet Union. They were the first with a maned operation into space, we were the first on the moon in response to President Kennedy's promise to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. The competition brought about some of the best and brightest minds on the planet to do what had never been done before.

However, are we going into a new space race, but this time instead of governments competing against each other, it is corporations? Elon Musk and the Space X program has been around for a while now and has shown that they can do it better for cheaper than NASA. Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic has been a around for a little bit, but hasn't really opened it's doors to the public yet. Their goal is to capitalize on space travel for the masses. But now Jeff Bazos and his Blue Origin has gotten into the mix. There is also active planning to Colonize Mars by the Mars One group and with efforts by Elon Musk to make that happen.

What are your thoughts on all of this. 75 years ago, you needed to be a NASA approved astronaut to go into space. But in the next decade, you might be able to buy a ticket to go into space, and in the next 25, you might be able to travel to mars for vacation.
 

ExRocketSci

Cyburbian
Messages
33
Points
2
Between 1955 and 1975 there was a space race on who could go further for longer, mainly between the United States and the Soviet Union. They were the first with a maned operation into space, we were the first on the moon in response to President Kennedy's promise to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. The competition brought about some of the best and brightest minds on the planet to do what had never been done before.

However, are we going into a new space race, but this time instead of governments competing against each other, it is corporations? Elon Musk and the Space X program has been around for a while now and has shown that they can do it better for cheaper than NASA. Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic has been a around for a little bit, but hasn't really opened it's doors to the public yet. Their goal is to capitalize on space travel for the masses. But now Jeff Bazos and his Blue Origin has gotten into the mix. There is also active planning to Colonize Mars by the Mars One group and with efforts by Elon Musk to make that happen.

What are your thoughts on all of this. 75 years ago, you needed to be a NASA approved astronaut to go into space. But in the next decade, you might be able to buy a ticket to go into space, and in the next 25, you might be able to travel to mars for vacation.
I am not yet convinced that there is a viable economic model to support a profitable space business without massive government support, either in services provided (launch facilities, tracking and recovery, engineering assistance) or as a customer (flying government astronauts, government payloads, etc). SpaceX has managed to reduce the costs of launches through greater reusability of components (flyback boosters, etc), greater use of in-house manufacturing (mainly reduction of time in procurement and faster changes), improved pad and turnaround operations for faster launch processing, and having a highly motivated workforce (younger, but lower paid, overworked, longer hours, free yogurt). And, despite taking over the vast majority of space launches worldwide at this point, the launch business is not profitable, per several business news articles last year. SpaceX is pinning its profitability plans on its Starlink satellite system, which is planned to be publicly traded.

Right now the cost of a Falcon 9 launch is $62M. That's just the launch part, not the cost to build a new rocket or payload. Elon says he will bring the cost down, but that would still be $millions regardless. And that's just to get to earth orbit. There will not be a lot of paying passengers at that price.

Private companies have always been partners with NASA and the DoD since the beginning of the space program, and companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin just happen to be the "newer" kids on the block. But my opinion right now is that the private "space race" is only rich people playing out their fantasies, except its by building space ships instead of bigger yachts. That's not to say that some good hasn't come from it as far as technological developments, but it has been government expertise, government facilities, and government money which have built and supported these companies just to get where they are today. And don't forget that many of the customers of these companies are foreign countries, not US government but government nonetheless. For SpaceX, any human-rated lander development is only happening because NASA has the need, requirements, expertise, and money to pay SpaceX to do it.

edited in bold
 
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MD Planner

Cyburbian
Messages
3,058
Points
49
Elon Musk and the Space X program has been around for a while now and has shown that they can do it better for cheaper than NASA.

I guess that depends on how you define "better". I don't know, I'm asking. But what would "better" be? ExRocketSci makes a great point that private industry has always been involved to a large degree in our space exploration.
 

Maister

Chairman of the bored
Staff member
Moderator
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29,915
Points
73
My one concern about allowing private corporations - as opposed to a government regulated agency - cheaply launching thousands of satellites into low earth orbit is we'll lack a registration/tracking system for all that junk flying around up there and the likelihood of space collisions will thereby increase. There's actually a name for this phenomenon the Kessler syndrome. Private corporations have a terrible track record historically of voluntarily doing things that increase safety at the expense of decreasing profits.
 

ExRocketSci

Cyburbian
Messages
33
Points
2
I guess that depends on how you define "better". I don't know, I'm asking. But what would "better" be? ExRocketSci makes a great point that private industry has always been involved to a large degree in our space exploration.
One thing they have done is agree to a fixed-price contract with NASA instead of a traditional cost-plus contract - and AFAIK they never requested a major contract modification requesting more money as their costs have certainly built up due to development delays, which would have been expected. That may be "better" for the taxpayer, maybe not so much "better" for SpaceX, but it hasn't seemed to affect their final products.

They also have done innovative designs that, as I said, have resulted in accelerated vehicle processing and launch readiness, and especially in recoverable/reusable space hardware. They are learning as they go which of these capabilities make the most economic sense for the future. There were some earlier proposed designs that they later scrapped as the cost vs benefit wasn't there, although they were technically innovative. An example was the attempt to catch some falling vehicle parts using large nets on ships, but it proved to be more difficult to be worth the cost and effort to continue. Another was that they had originally proposed to land crew similar to how they land boosters, but the development schedule and the time to prove reliability (there were a lot of misses and crashes early on) would have meant more delays in getting a crew up to the ISS, and as far as NASA (their customer) was concerned schedule was more important, and NASA had no requirement on how the crew was returned other than it had to be safe.

Whether these innovations are "better" is hard to say, though. They are newer and different, they employ Americans, and launch on US soil.

[Soyuz is able to launch crew more reliably, on a provably safe vehicle, with 99% schedule certainty in all weather, with shorter launch-to-docking time, at a lower cost to the US taxpayer than paying for an entire US Crew Vehicle program - but we don't call this "better" even though it technically performs its function of bringing crew to ISS "better" than the US alternatives.]
 

michaelskis

Cyburbian
Messages
20,814
Points
57
[Soyuz is able to launch crew more reliably, on a provably safe vehicle, with 99% schedule certainty in all weather, with shorter launch-to-docking time, at a lower cost to the US taxpayer than paying for an entire US Crew Vehicle program - but we don't call this "better" even though it technically performs its function of bringing crew to ISS "better" than the US alternatives.]
So, I am curious now. Is your screen name an accurate representation of your background?
 

ExRocketSci

Cyburbian
Messages
33
Points
2
So, I am curious now. Is your screen name an accurate representation of your background?
Without getting into too many details, I worked at Johnson Space Center for most of my career and retired a couple of years ago. Not a scientist, technically, but "rocket scientist" sounds cooler than "aerospace engineer" as a screen name.
 

Maister

Chairman of the bored
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
29,915
Points
73
Without getting into too many details, I worked at Johnson Space Center for most of my career and retired a couple of years ago. Not a scientist, technically, but "rocket scientist" sounds cooler than "aerospace engineer" as a screen name.
We'll give you pass.

You're an honorary rocket scientist as far as we're concerned.
 

michaelskis

Cyburbian
Messages
20,814
Points
57
Without getting into too many details, I worked at Johnson Space Center for most of my career and retired a couple of years ago. Not a scientist, technically, but "rocket scientist" sounds cooler than "aerospace engineer" as a screen name.
We'll give you pass.

You're an honorary rocket scientist as far as we're concerned.
I agree!

Besides, Planners and engineers don't always see eye to eye on things, so scientist is a safer approach around here.
 
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