Google’s Technology Moonshots and the Costs of the Apollo Moonshot and Spacex rocket development

Google and its founders have a philosophy of targeting technology moonshots via their Solve for X projects, GoogleX, Google Labs and their other companies and major projects like
* Calico (radical life extension)
* Google Loon global high speed internet via balloons
* global internet satellite and internet drones
* self driving cars
* robotics
* low cost Android smartphones ($50 or less) for the next billion or so people
* low cost smartphone service via wifi and telecom deals
* asteroid mining
* google fiber
* urban internet via wifi from bus stops and other locations

Google have over $10 billion per year in money for research. This is likely to continue growing at 10-18% per year as Google continues to dominate internet advertising and the internet continues to grow at 10-18% per year. Google’s 2015 revenue growth is about 11% per year.

Let us look at the costs of the Apollo Moonshot and Spacex rocket development.

How much was the R and D cost of the actual moonshot?

No comparable scientific project of similar scale and urgency was pursued in the U.S. until the Apollo Program of the 1960s. When President Kennedy vowed in 1961 to land an astronaut on the moon and return him to earth “within the decade,” only one American (Alan Shepard) had traveled into space. The difficulties were daunting, but the number and variety of technical innovations developed for the moon mission were remarkable. To power the instruments and computer on board the spacecraft, the world’s first fuel cells were invented. To fabricate the structural components of the spacecraft with sufficient precision, computer-controlled machining was conceived and implemented for the first time. Insulation barriers to protect delicate instruments from radiation, “cool suits” to keep astronauts safe during space walks, water purification systems, freeze-drying of foods, innovations in integrated-circuit design and robotics, and digital image processing (later incorporated into computer-aided tomography (CAT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)) all were technologies developed by NASA during the Apollo Program.

Presidential Support Crucial Neil Armstrong landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, just a little more than eight years after President Kennedy’s speech. Five more Apollo missions landed on the moon, the only occasions on which human beings have set foot on another heavenly body. The cost: $25 billion (about $135 billion in today’s money), the largest commitment of resources ever made by a nation during peacetime. At its peak, the Apollo Program employed 400,000 people. And they accomplished the impossible.

Note the two paragraphs above came from Bloomberg. FYI – The Manhattan Project began modestly in 1939, but grew to employ more than 130,000 people and cost nearly US$2 billion (about $26 billion in 2015 dollars). Over 90% of the cost was for building factories and producing the fissile materials, with less than 10% for development and production of the weapons. Research and production took place at more than 30 sites across the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada

From 2015-2024, Google’s research budget will exceed the $135 billion of the initial Apollo moon program. Google revenue and research continues to grow in the 10-18% per year range. Even at 10-12% per year growth the research, Google’s research budget should be over $25 billion per year in 2024. If it grows at 15% per year, the research budget would be near $40 billion per year. Global high speed internet via balloon, fiber, drone, satellite, low cost smartphones and urban wifi will help spread Google advertising everywhere.

Elon Musk and his companies and projects (Spacex, Solar City and Tesla Motors) are also accomplishing big things with highly efficient research and development.

In 2014, SpaceX released total combined development costs for both the Falcon 9 and the Dragon capsule. NASA provided US$396 million while SpaceX provided over US$450 million to fund rocket and capsule development efforts. NASA evaluated that development costs would have been $3.6 billion if a traditional cost-plus contract approach had been used.

Spacex is developing fully reusable rocket stages for only about ten million or less per launch attempt. They only attempt it when they have the margin on a customer purchased launch.

The Space Shuttle program cost $209.1 billion (in 2010 dollars)

NASA administrator James Fletcher told Congress in 1972 that the shuttle would cost $5.15 billion to develop and could be operated at a cost of $10.5 (1972 dollars) million per flight.

Actually it was (1972) $278 million per flight ($200 billion with 5.33 times inflation factors and 135 flights so 26 times more than the $10.5 million.)

Google or the Google Founders are making well funded attempts to conquer big technological challenges. Success in these major endeavors will alter the trajectory of the future of humanity.

Here is the list of technologies and technological challenges which Google or the Google Founders are taking on.

Radical Life Extension

Radical life extension via the new startup Calico. Even the announcement has brought more legitimacy to radical life extension. Aubrey de Grey of SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence – repairing the damage of aging) has indicated that it will make his fund raising efforts easier. Art Levinson, x-CEO of Genentech is leading Calico. Genentech was bought by Roche for $47 billion in 2009. Biotech and pharma companies will take notice of goals laid out by Calico.

Robotic Cars

Google made robotic cars legitimate. There was already the University research and the DARPA challenge, but robotic cars were not being seriously pursued by any car company. Anyone might talk about self driving cars but they would be targeting 20 years away, which would basically be never. They would be car show demos forever. Tesla is now pushing for 90% self driving cars within three years. States and countries are making them legal and are working out the regulations. Mostly self driving cars within 5 years only happens because Google made serious efforts to push it into reality and commercialization.

Just in the U.S., self driving cars can generate $2 trillion a year in revenue and even more market cap.

Driverless car technology has the very real potential to save millions from death and injury and eliminate hundreds of billions of dollars of costs. Google’s claims for the car, as described by Sebastian Thrun, its lead developer, are:

* We can reduce traffic accidents by 90%.
* We can reduce wasted commute time and energy by 90%.
* We can reduce the number of cars by 90%.

Planetary Resources – asteroid mining, cheap space telescopes, colonization

Planetary Resources is an asteroid mining company with the backing of the Google Founders. Planetary Resources is making space telescopes one hundred times cheaper. Space industrialization and colonization will get a big boost from what Planetary resources is doing to alter capabilities and costs in space.

Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Quantum computers

Google has bought a DWave 512 qubit quantum annealing system and they have hired Ray Kurzweil to lead efforts in machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Ray Kurzweil, one of the leading scientists in the field of Artificial Intelligence, joined Google late last year. Kurzweil is perhaps the most prominent proponent of “hard AI,” which argues that it is possible to create consciousness in an artificial being. Add to this Google’s revelation that it is using techniques of deep learning to produce an artificial brain, and a subsequent hiring of the godfather of computer neural nets Geoffrey Hinton.

Now we add the Dwave quantum computer which can already accelerate the solution of machine learning algorithms that are useful to Google’s AI efforts.

* producing very compact, efficient recognizers
* improved handling of highly polluted [real world]training data
* the best results not with pure quantum computing, but by mixing quantum and classical computing
* 2000 this year and 8000 qubit systems coming in 2 years will speed up solving nearly all machine learning optimization problems in one second after they are formulated properly for the Dwave system

In a few years, Kurzweil will have the classical computer power of Google’s data centers and quantum computer power that could be beyond the power of all classical computers to drive his solution of greater than human intelligence artificial intelligence.

This is an interesting development in a larger trend that Steve Jurvetson calls Deus Ex Machina — machine learning innervates everything.

Under the covers, just about every new initiative at Google, from Glass to robo-cars, is driven by machine learning — whereby the machine learns patterns in the data without explicit models or traditional solution design. It’s what makes “Big Data” BIG this time around. The approach requires a humble relaxation of the presumption of control, and so it starts with companies like Google and eventually revolutionizes all businesses, even those with a delusion of control, like Investment bankers.

More to Come – Solve for X

Google and the Google founders are continuing to hunt for more great ideas via Solve for X.

Google has about 4 times the research budget of DARPA. In 2013, Nextbigfuture thought it might take until 2017 for Google to get to four times DARPAs research budget. It is happening late in 2015 and definitely in 2016.