When Elon Musk made his $250 Million from Paypal he decided to spend it on several projects. One project was to build rockets and send something to Mars. He wanted to show America space was cool again. So he went to Russia to find some cheap rockets. In the process he had some pretty amazing experiences he says. He also learned that Americans didn’t need to be convinced space travel was cool to Mars they just thought it would be crazy expensive and / or impossible. He had $75 million earmarked for his space experiment.
His friends and relatives told him it was going to fail, that he would waste the money. His reply is kind of shocking. He said that argument wasn’t presuasive not to do it because he had no intention of keeping the money. His goal was to spend the $75 million, to waste it. So, arguing he was going to waste it was exactly what he wanted to do.
So, instead Elon claims he learned that Americans just needed to be shown it could be done. I have a feeling that Elon felt like myself about money. I had never known anyone who made lots of money so I had no aspirations to make lots of money. I was always shocked when I realized I could make as much as I did. I don’t believe Elon has aspirations to be a billionaire but he has goals and these are expensive goals. They are going to take serious amounts of money.
Elon wants to push us to a colony on Mars. I doubt he thinks he can fund the whole thing. I certainly don’t think he should. I hope America gets off its collective “butt” and decides as Elon has demonstrated that we can do this and it is going to be exciting. I think this has to be one of the most positive things for all of humanity possible. Engaging humanity in a goal such as this will keep a lot of people busy and doing things that inspire everyone.
Back to SpaceX.
SpaceX almost failed as the story goes. After 3 failed missions Elon was nearly out of the money from Paypal, not just the $75 million but the whole $250 million. His efforts at Tesla and other projects had brought him near bankruptcy. On a fourth attempt the Falcon rocket rose and went into space. NASA called the following week with a $1.5 billion contract.
NASA was in a bind. They only had one or two other ways to get to the ISS space station. Since the shuttle had been decommissioned the Russians were the only ones who could deliver human passengers to the ISS and they were asking for $80 million / passenger. ULA was another option for non-human supplies and they wanted over $100 million / mission. They used Russian parts. SpaceX is all American parts and all new rocket. It was all NASA had unless they wanted to start building rockets themselves again which would cost many billions.
So, NASA was more than happy to sign a contract with SpaceX. Timing is everything. It saved SpaceX and Elon and Tesla and everything else. Later NASA has signed on to manned missions from SpaceX using a capsule Elon has created called the Dragon 2.
SpaceX did something extremely unusual. On their own nickel they started working on making the Falcon reusable. This was controversial. Nasa wouldn’t pay for it. Nobody else was doing this. Many people said it was impossible. If you have seen the rocket landings you might understand why. These rockets come back from going greater than 5000 miles per hour experiencing massive turbulence and 100 miles in the sky and then come back through the atmosphere at enormous velocities and turbulence.
The SpaceX Falcon rocket is a long 200 foot pole. Landing a pole like that on the ground again seems impossible under almost any circumstances. The small remaining fuel in the SpaceX rocket has to be fired to slow the craft down before it hits the atmosphere so it doesn’t burn up. It has to guide its gangly ridiculously tubular shape through the atmosphere with correct attitude, not start tumbling and guide itself to a landing spot within a couple feet of where it is supposed to. It fires a rocket at the end to slow itself down to practically crash onto the surface of whatever it is landing on.
From the videos it appears the rocket is going 100mph up until the last second. Several times it crashed veering off and tilting as one would expect. What did Elon think would happen? This looks impossible and I have to admit to stunned silence and shock when I saw the first landing.
Really, I am an enthusiast and may think a lot of things are possible that aren’t but this really looks impossible. Yet you see it before your eyes. The damn thing looks like a pole coming down at high velocity and it just slams into the surface and stands there. I know from physics the energy was just enough to get it to land but the fact it is within a couple feet of the landing spot after all this is just … words escape me. I seriously wonder if I am dreaming this.
He’s done it 4 times. Yes, Jeff Bezos did it before but let’s face it, that was a much smaller craft with much slower velocity and wasn’t coming from space back to Earth.
Everybody is in shock including the industry professionals who had discounted this possibility. No other rocket company (except Bezos) had even thought of doing reusable. NASA is building a rocket called the SLS. It is a multi-million pound thrust rocket similar to the Falcon Heavy from SpaceX but is not reusable.
Several months ago, an executive of ULA (one of the competitors to SpaceX) said in a private session that they couldn’t compete with SpaceX pricing for rockets even though they used Russian engines. They needed more than $100 maybe $120 million / flight minimum to break even. SpaceX cost per flight is not known but they typically charge $80 million and are talking about halving their prices. No other rocket company comes even close.
Space Travel is not usually decided entirely by price. The US Military was paying ULA $200 Million or more per mission. When SpaceX sued to be able to take military payloads ULA fought it. Many of these contracts will be decided by politics and country affiliation or other basis, crony capitalism.
Nevertheless, the facts are what they are. SpaceX is already the cheapest rocket on the Earth and with reusability it will be dramatically less expensive. Any other country or company which uses another rocket will be faced with triple quadruple the costs and one has to wonder how you justify wasting hundreds of millions of dollars to your shareholders or fellow citizens.
SpaceX has YEARS advantage. None of these other rockets available to compete are made for reusability. They will have to be designed from scratch to do this. They can’t. It will take years and years to catch up and many will fail. In the meantime SpaceX has a virtual monopoly on the space industry launches.
The total number of launches in 2016 is expected to be 161 of which SpaceX currently gets 15%. The total industry size is thus: $16 billion just for launching. SpaceX should have 75% or more of this in several years. More likely is that declining prices will cause increases in launches. The eventual size of this market is unknown.
SpaceX could be extremely profitable and is probably worth $50 billion today not $11 billion. As the industry expands and SpaceX gains more share the worth of the company could climb to $200 billion or more.
As everyone knows Elon Musk wants America to go to Mars. I suggest we take his advice and put a serious plan to go to Mars on the table. It’s time to get these little robots like below working on Mars big time and getting ready for humans. Read my blogs on how to colonize Mars here.