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posted by cmn32480 on Monday July 25 2016, @11:47PM   Printer-friendly
from the cheaper-is-not-better dept.

From the (Kansas City) Daily Star Albany :

Recent moves in Congress to restrict the use of Russian rocket engines on national security missions sparked a revolution in the U.S. commercial space program. Private businesses such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, as well as Aerojet Rocketdyne, are lining up to offer homegrown rocket engines to NASA. Meanwhile, Russian President Putin just abolished his country's own Federal Space Agency, replacing 'Roscosmos' with a new corporation that "will design new spacecraft and implement new projects by itself."

But before you assume that Russia has been bitten by the Capitalism bug - don't. In contrast to SpaceX, which is a private venture, Russia's new-and-improved Roscosmos will be wholly owned by the Russian state.

Asserting complete control over the space effort is, to Putin's mind, a way to control costs and prevent corruption, such as when certain persons at Roscosmos famously embezzled or wasted as much as $1.8 billion in 2014. Whether the restructuring will also make space travel "cheaper," as [deputy prime minister] Rogozin hopes, remains to be seen.

SpaceX publishes a price of $61.2M USD for a Falcon 9 launch. Can Roscosmos compete with that? The Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture ULA finds that price hard to beat. So do the French and Chinese. From the article:

[...] California Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez described a conversation she had with France's Arianespace a few years ago: "They were telling me that their launch costs about $200 million equivalent. They said they weren't worried about UAL [sic] but could I get rid of SpaceX? Because they were going to drive them out of business!"

And over in China, officials interviewed by Aviation Week recently lamented that "published prices on the SpaceX website [are] very low." So low, in fact, that with China's own Long March rockets costing $70 million per launch, "they could not match them."

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  • (Score: 2, Insightful) by kanweg on Tuesday July 26 2016, @05:29AM

    by kanweg (4737) on Tuesday July 26 2016, @05:29AM (#380197)

    "Can an young, upstart capitalist do better than an established infrastructure supported by the state?
    I though we already answered this with the Cold War. Perhaps this is a refresher lesson."

    While I'm cheering for what SpaceX does, let's not forget a couple of factors.
    - SpaceX is one of the hobbies of a billionaire. It is not your average start-up having a great idea. Blue origin? Same thing. Hey, I'd like to start a company in this arena too. But I know I can't pull it off.
    - Nasa (for which I also cheer) is funded by taxes. You know, the thing Americans complain about all the time not in the least when they think it is being wasted. So, it is not readily available and has to be spent relatively low risk and relatively much money is spent on keeping it low risk. (When high risk endeavours were taken (manned launches) the repercussion of failure was big (also politically), so that leads to safety first don't mind the money too much. Once SpaceX is doing manned launches, they'll find out that people do care about wetware although Elon already knows from the Tesla accident.
    - The SpaceX engineers were not educated by SpaceX. They learned on tax dollars what does and doesn't work. It is valuable knowledge that SpaceX didn't pay for. (Conversely, Nasa suffered a brain drain).
    - SpaceX is supported by the state in the sense that that is where most of their income comes from. It is this money that allows economy of scale, the money that allows them to grow and perhaps start commercial endeavours on their own. If they had to live only of commercial launches the launch price would be different.

    So, don't think of SpaceX (and Blue origin) as a young upstart capitalist like it is typical; it is completely a-typical.

    Who can fight Mike Tyson when Mike is handcuffed and tied to the floor

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  • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Tuesday July 26 2016, @09:14PM

    by Grishnakh (2831) on Tuesday July 26 2016, @09:14PM (#380444)

    - The SpaceX engineers were not educated by SpaceX. They learned on tax dollars what does and doesn't work. It is valuable knowledge that SpaceX didn't pay for. (Conversely, Nasa suffered a brain drain).

    This seems dubious to me.

    For starters, NASA has never built a rocket. That stuff has always been outsourced to private corporations such as Rocketdyne. NASA worked a lot like other government/military stuff where the government side would do a bunch of R&D and the companies would do the production work, and the government would do a lot of the coordination, testing, and final assembly, but still, serious rocket engine engineers aren't going to work for NASA, they're going to work for a company that builds rocket engines. So it's not like NASA had a huge army of people who were experts at building rocket engines and they all went to work at SpaceX.

    Secondly, NASA hasn't even been doing that much rocketry in recent years. All the engineers who worked on Apollo are either dead or close to it, and the Space Shuttle guys aren't far behind them. In the last decade, they've mostly just been sending up space probes and ISS resupply missions, which is great, but they did all that just using engines and even whole launch vehicles bought from other companies like ULA. The ISS crew missions have been sent on Russian Soyuzes.

    NASA's job is not to be a rocket-maker, it's to manage American scientific operations in space, and to do the scientific work involved (planning missions to Saturn/Jupiter/Pluto etc., operating the missions from ground control, analyzing the data returned, etc.). It's not much different than the military: the US military does not build aircraft carriers and jets, it pays other companies to do that for them (though it has a huge hand in working with them in the process), and the idea is to move more towards how the US government handles cars: the US federal government and its agencies has lots of cars and SUVs (visit DC and you'll see a bunch of them driving around), but they don't build cars, they buy from GM or Chrysler or Ford and slap stickers on them that say things like "FBI", "Homeland Security", "Capitol Police", etc. That's where they're going with rockets, and for good reason.