today I want to talk about how private companies like SpaceX ,which I already talked about few times and Blue Origin for example, influence the space industry.
For many years there was NASA and only NASA. Now these days you could have noticed that SpaceX appeared, self-funded company with priority of making space cheap. Same interest has also Blue Origin, space company founded by Jeff Bezos, the owner and CEO of Amazon. (billionare as well as Elon Musk of SpaceX)
These two guys and others are aiming for cheap space which is something that NASA was never able to do. After Apollo 11 they wanted to start to use reusable rockets but it never went to perfection. The primary goal of 25 dollars per pound on the orbit of Earth, changed more into something like 25,000 dollars per one pound.
Now NASA wants to make Space Launch System and Orion capsule to get us to Mars. Noble goal it is. There is one “minor” problem. Look at NASA budget over years:
The peak is when we were trying to get to Moon
Right now NASA has about 0.5% of federal budget compared to 4.5 that got us to Moon. Estimates are that the whole Space Launch System (SLS), which is basically huge rocket, will cost in the matters of tens of billions of dollars (this is just development, see later for launch price)! (0.5% is something like 19 billions of dollars).
The thing is that there are other players, like SpaceX who can do this much easily. SLS will be using boosters RS-25 that are from 70s and throw them away after every launch while we have New Shepard of the company Blue Origin that has already been used 5 times over!
From what I have read from Phil Plait and others, SLS will probably be one huge fail. Already now it is behind schedule for its first unmanned launch, not talking about the approximation of mission to Mars (something like 2030-40) where as SpaceX is investing huge amount of money to Falcon Heavy that should be able to carry over time enough stuff to build a base on Mars. Falcon H. payload capacity is over one third of SLS though it should be able to fly several times for the same price as SLS. (I found that it would be able to make more than 5 flights for the same price on the Low Earth Orbit, thats some difference!)
The thing is that NASA is underfunded and right now it even spends money on something that may not ever be working while there are smaller players but with clear and cheaper mission.
Mind you that SpaceX is planning to design Interplanetary Transport System and Blue Origin’s New Armstrong (they are working on New Glenn right now which is one of these huge rockets anyway).
From what I have understood, the key in the future of space exploration is reusability.
Check out these pages for more info: 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) 6)
Btw. NASA does not plan to use SLS more than 3 time per year because otherwise they would have to build up huge facilities. Also the first version of SLS will have payload capacity of almost half the one that I counted in this post. They will have to change it a bit and add some things over time to get to the final capacity.