August 6, 2010

Game-Changer: Elon Musk, Space-X and Private Heavy Lift?

The players in private orbital rockets have largely focused on smaller rockets to ferry crew and cargo to the space station and launch satellites. Now, Elon Musk's Space X has discussed developing heavy lift rockets (Falcon X and XX) in the Saturn V class with an eye to running cargo to Mars!
Space X's site:

Courtesy Space X
F9 Rocket
Beyond the advantages of having heavy lift for human space exploration, there are sound business reasons to invest in heavy lift. Space X could offer satellite manufacturers greater payload capacity than NASA, Russian, China and Ariane can currently offer, resulting, for example, in a new generations of larger and more powerful communications satellites, or for launching multiple satellites from one launch.

For Mars, this would be a gamechanger, for it would strip one key weapon from those who seek to kill the space program--never building the rockets. No rockets--no missions. The charade worked for decades, but now the gig may be up.

In analysing this, the danger is in reading too little into it. For if the White House and Congress continue to drag their feet and pretend Mars can wait, then Mr. Musk and other wealthy space supporters could just pool their money, sell sponsorships for the rest, paint "Just Do It!" on the spaceship (for $100 million in advertising) and put together an entirely privately financed mission to Mars!

So how might NASA react? To prove their relevance, they may feel greater pressure to push for funding to actually go to the Moon and Mars. And the White House, robbed of their lie that Mars is only possible in 2035, may be forced to have a change of heart. Congress may also see the light and get serious. None would want to not be part of this! Yes, they can try to regulate-to-death private spaceflight and go back to planning missions to nowhere, so we must keep up the pressure on Congress.

So maybe we can indeed re-cast JFK's vision, and go to the Moon and the asteroids in THIS decade and to Mars very soon afterwards--NASA, Space-X and other private companies could put together a more exciting space program over the next decade than would be possible with either singly. I'll bet we'll see more private ventures developing technology for space exploration.

Now more than ever do we need to put the pressure on Congress to adopt a bold space progam.

Private heavy lift: any more proof needed that America is still great?

Update 8/10/10: Space X backtracked after this announcement, stating this concept was more of an idea discussed at Space X than an planned or actual project. Perhaps the mere discussion of private heavy lift will create sufficient interest from satellite manufacturers to make it worth building. Go ahead and do it, build real heavy lift and step up the pressure to go to the Moon and Mars.

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