Category Archives: Economics

SpaceX

This could be a momentous week for them. It looks like the number of flights this year will be 18. But a pad that can do a launch a week can do fifty flights a year, all by itself.

[Update a while later]

It’s also a big week for Rocket Lab, and Blue Origin. While I’m sure they’d like to get into business as soon as possible, I can’t help but think there’s a little extra pressure for Blue to fly the new New Shepard ahead of the suborbital conference next week in Colorado. They’re clearly now the leader in that market.

[Update a few minutes later]

Rocket Lab has scrubbed, and Doug Messier (who could use some financial support) has that and other stories, including a solution to the mystery of who Space Adventures was going to fly around the moon.

[Noon PST update]

Blue has scrubbed for the day as well, no word why yet.

The Mars Race

This is hilarious. Muilenburg thinks (or at least claims to think) that Boeing is going to beat SpaceX to Mars. With SLS.

[Update a while later]

Eric Berger’s take:

Boeing also isn’t going to land a rocket on Mars without near total funding from NASA, which has already paid more than $10 billion for development of the SLS and has no actual funding to implement a humans-to-Mars exploration plan. SpaceX will also need some government funding if it is to develop its “Big Falcon Rocket” to reach Mars, but Musk has laid out plans for commercial applications of his launch system that could offset some of its cost. (The SLS rocket has no known customers aside from NASA).

What is particularly puzzling to us is why Boeing and SpaceX are arguing about Mars. These two companies, who compete directly for NASA and other government contracts, are in a far more immediate and real race to reach the launch pad in the commercial crew competition. NASA has had to rely on Russia to get its astronauts to the International Space Station since the space shuttle’s retirement in 2011. Both Boeing and SpaceX are building capsules that will launch crews from Florida.

The companies have both seen slips in their schedules for the first crewed flights. They have launch dates now set for 2018, but there is a general expectation that further delays are likely—both due to development problems and changing requirements from NASA. Regardless, the company that eventually breaks NASA’s Russian dependence will win a public relations boon beyond compare for an aerospace company.

“Do it,” we say to Dennis and Elon.

Indeed.

Out Of Town

I was driving up to San Francisco yesterday, and today I’m at the Foresight Vision Weekend. There was a session on longevity (including cryonics) this morning, and now there’s a panel on blockchain and it’s potential applications. One of the panelists says that one app he’s woring is with a company that wants gas stations in space. I’ll have to talk to him later.

Space Jobs

Donald Robertson has a crazy idea: Find something useful for people working SLS/Orion to do:

Presidents answer to the nation, not to local job concerns. Two presidents in a row — Bush and Obama — have tried in varying degrees to redirect NASA away from the Apollo model, only to be blocked by institutions and senators who are answerable to local NASA employees. This time, we cannot repeat Mr. Obama’s mistake of canceling the SLS without finding a future for the people who work on it.

The new “constellation” work needs to be planned and distributed in a way that will keep the traditional NASA workforce, and those who represent them, on board. Where is it written that engineers in Alabama cannot be employed building space-based tugs and modules for a lunar base? To have any chance of killing the SLS and replacing it with a useful space program, opponents need to come up with something that fulfills SLS’s political and economic purpose at least as well, while endeavoring to achieve something useful in space at the same time. That is beginning to occur, as NewSpace companies like SpaceX slowly expand beyond California and the Seattle area and increasingly employ people in Texas, Florida, and other traditional NASA states.

Encouraging this change will take a great deal of political capital and skill —the Bush administration did not deploy the former, and the Obama administration failed at the latter. So far, the Trump administration has shown little aptitude for any kind of positive relationship with Congress.

If someone does not come forward to invest the political and financial capital needed to end this conflict and move on to a more constructive vision, the United States will continue to drift in space. Resources will remain split between an increasingly successful but underfunded NewSpace industry unable to fulfill its potential, and the SLS and Orion, which the nation cannot afford to actually use. Our future in space will increasingly rely on largely self-funded efforts by people like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.

He says that like it’s a bad thing.

Meanwhile, NASA has incorporated its next planned boondoggle into human exploration plans.

A Veneer Of Certainty

How dependable is climate science?

Not enough to base energy policy on.

[Update a few minutes later]

A vigorous fisking of what Judith Curry calls “the stupidest [peer-reviewed] paper ever written.” With all respect to Professor Curry, that’s a pretty high bar, even in this field.

[Update a couple minutes later]

OK, I slightly misquoted her.

[Update a while later]

Link is fixed, sorry!

The SLS Mess

Jason Davis has a good rundown on it, and the implications for Europa Clipper. I don’t know how he knows this, though:

Any other rocket besides SLS—including SpaceX’s upcoming Falcon Heavy—lacks the power to blast Clipper directly from Earth to Jupiter. A conventional rocket would rely on three gravity assists from Earth and one from Venus, increasing the transit time from about 2.7 years to 7.5 years.

How does he know that? Has he run the numbers, or is he just taking NASA’s word for it? He’s also not considering the possibility of New Glenn, New Armstrong, Vulcan/ACES with a distributed launch, or BFR, all of which could be ready by 2022.