US government should support Spacex and quickly develop moon bases

Spacex expects they will receive additional funding from the U.S. government for the BFR and Raptor engine. Spacex would still build the BFR even without government money.

The US Air Force is supporting the Raptor engine development with about $74 million. The US government is spending $536 million>a on the AR1 replacement rocket for the Russian RD-180 engine. Ten billion has gone into Spacelaunch which has not launched after 7 years of funding.

The $406 million that helped support part of the costs for Falcon 9 and Dragon was money for the most productive and successful launch systems.

Spacex has more wealthy paying customers interested in the lunar orbiting mission.

The expectation is that when the BFR is developed it will be used to land missions on the moon and create permanent moon bases.

26 thoughts on “US government should support Spacex and quickly develop moon bases”

  1. WHY does the government need to establish & operate a moon base? If there is a compelling rational need to do so, then private NGOs will do it.

    • It’s perfectly possible for there to be a compelling rational need for one party to do something without there being a compelling rational need for another party, one with different structure, resources and motivations, to do it.

      eg. I would be FAR more efficient, cheap and fast to get a haircut than my wife is. But if she wants a haircut that doesn’t mean that it would be better if I got one instead.

  2. The Moon has very little gravity and would be twice the effort to transport people and resources than a space station. Let’s shoot for Mars and develop technology for that planet. At least it has gravity and water.

    • “At least it has gravity and water.” – as does the Moon; the difference being that round trip delta-v from Geostationary transfer orbit is 6.5 km/s vice 14.3 km/s. That means that getting to/from Mars (given the time/distance) costs at least 3 times that of the Moon. And solar energy at the Moon South pole is 5 times (assuming 24 hours) the available solar energy on the surface of Mars.
      Mars is a dead end this side of 50 years of space infrastructure development.

      • DeltaV charts I’ve seen show full propulsive to Mars from GTO as 7.7km/s, Moon as low as ~3km/s ??

        And Mars trips can use aerobraking to reduce dV as low as 1.3km/s – though I doubt the theoretical min will ever be hit.

  3. I see no problem with government investing in the right companies and efforts. They need money for building Raptor and more for BFR and BFS. And what’s “right” in this context? easy: those that show commitment with the goal and results, and not just with profiteering from the government’s munificence.

    And given SpaceX’s proven track of deliveries from every dollar of government investment (because that’s what it is), they should definitely invest in it. Let’s remember they are dealing with a company led by a believer. He isn’t there (just) for the money.

    Even a tenth of what has been spent so far in SLS would go a long way to allow SpaceX to deliver BFR/BFS sooner.

    And with it, UHLVs that launch more than once a year for a billion dollars a piece, thus a real push towards returning to the Moon early next decade.

  4. What the US government _should_ do is require launch service providers to include, in their bids, the cost of insurance for payload and reflight — and require government customers of launch services to go with the low bid — no discretion to “pick winners” in launch services, let alone “pick winners” in terms of who gets direct support for some “technology”.

    • Good idea. Of course NASA would just make payloads that only fit on SLS.

      I don’t think the Air Force cares. They just want cheap, reliable access to LEO and GEO. Basically they want what EELV was supposed to be.

      • Actually the whole issue of “payloads that fit only on…” goes back to the original intent of the Launch Services Purchase Act of 1990 — which was that there be public standards established for payload integration with launch services. This was actually to be handled by the Office of Commercial Space Transportation and is one of the few things the US government does that the the Constitution plausibly enumerates as a power granted the US Government.

    • All you really need to do is get NASA out of the launcher business. Insurers and payload operators are in a better position to price payload risk than the launch providers.

      That said, there are good strategic reasons to keep multiple launch providers healthy in the market. If price is the only metric you use for selecting a launcher, then you’re pretty much guaranteed a winner-take-all scenario, which isn’t what you want. The government isn’t a monopsony buyer of launch services, but it’s certainly the 500-lb gorilla. Until it’s not, launcher selection isn’t as straightforward as you’re making it out to be.

      Much though I loathe SLS, NASA does need to know when a vehicle with a certain performance will be available, because it takes years to plan and execute the payloads for a particular architecture. SLS is currently serving that role. It’s serving that role extremely poorly, but at this point it’s more a known quantity than either BFR or New Glenn. When that stops being true, my guess is that it’ll turn out that the Space Shuttle was the last launch system that NASA ever designed and flew. But we’re not quite there yet–mostly because of the need for political pork, but also because there’s still a legitimate risk management case to be made that SLS is more of sure thing.

      This is one of the reasons I’d like to see a Raptor upper stage for Falcon Heavy. As SpaceX gets flight time on the Raptor, the risk in the BFR schedule goes down. The RS-25 is certainly guilty of many sins, but its flight reliability isn’t one of them.

      • A minor and then a major problem with your post: Minor — It’s kind of silly to read what I said as though the launch service provider is required to be its own insurance company — especially given the history of launch service insurance. There are standard business practices here going back to the Dutch East India Company. Major — The risks posed by “years to plan and execute the payloads for a particular architecture” are handled in transportation all the time without there being a National Truck System or whatever. The architecture of system deployed by businesses routinely handle adapt to these risks. Yes, sometimes a business wants to do something that doesn’t fit any of the transportation modes and it must change its architecture. This is the real world and people figure out what is economic and what is not to adapt.

        • “It’s kind of silly to read what I said as though the launch service provider is required to be its own insurance company.”

          If the insurance is included as part of the launch contract, then the launch provider is the insurance company, even if it’s buying re-insurance. If all you’re advocating is that the launch provider include the “full price to operate” as part of its bid, kinda like the energy sticker on a new appliance, I’d say that the launch provider’s customers were sophisticated enough to handle those complexities themselves.

          Note also that most operators don’t just insure against the launch: they buy a package that insures the payload over its entire life cycle.

          “The risks posed by ‘years to plan and execute the payloads for a particular architecture’ are handled in transportation all the time without there being a National Truck System or whatever.”

          If I were planning a product in 1955 that had to be shipped by truck in 1965, I sure wouldn’t have wanted to count on a private solution to the Interstate Highway System. Immature markets (and the heavy lift payload market definitely counts as immature) require a level of certainty that the launchers are going to be available if you want to plan architectures and payloads that take 5-10 years to develop.

          Note: This doesn’t require SLS. What it does require is NASA committing to a particular launch architecture and sticking with it.

          Unfortunately, the architecture that they committed to is SLS. Could that commitment be changed? Yes, certainly, and I would hope that it would be changed. But in order to make that change, NASA would have to have a degree of schedule certainty about BFR or New Glenn or New Armstrong that was comparable to that of SLS.

          SLS has been a horrible project wrt hitting its schedule milestones (although a lot of that has more to do with funding than technical issues), but it’s now an extremely well-understood system that even its detractors admit will do what its specs say it will do, in more-or-less the time frame it says. That can’t be said–yet!–about BFR or New Glenn. This isn’t a criticism of those architectures; it’s merely an acknowledgement that they aren’t as far along as SLS is. In a couple of years, it’ll be obvious that the privately-funded launchers will actually make it to deployment, and their specs will be well enough defined and understood that payload planners will be able to design stuff to stable sets of specifications.

  5. Getting the US government to support technology development, as opposed to purchases of goods and services, is playing by communist rather than capitalist rules. This is exactly what the Chinese need in order to catch up.

    • In general I completely agree. In this case I suspect the Air Force wants to point SpaceX in a direction that aligns with the Air Force. Somewhere I get the feeling that the Air Force wants a Raptor upper stage for a F9/F9H.

      • The military is an exception. It is a command structure that entails all manner of economies: A command economy. The State of War commandeers all manner of rights, including property rights. The real problem is the existence of a standing military. It should not come into existence until a formal Declaration of War characterized by an operatinally defined objective, the achievement of which is objectively measurable by its operational definition and, when obtained, terminates the State of War hence the military and its command economy.

    • “as opposed to purchases of goods and services, is playing by communist rather than capitalist rules”

      Please get off of your computer it was made by communist rules.

      Look that type of thinking is simply BS. There is no reason someone would spend billions of dollars for instance to develop something when there is no demand UNLESS someone thinks it could lead to something better. The US government for almost a decade was the sole buyer and supporter of the microchip. Many other things NASA developed for other programs are now found in everything from pillows to semi trucks to your very body in some cases.

      The fact is that your statement is simply wrong. Basically, your extending your political obsessions and thinking into a completely different area.

      But hey if you can back up your statement that the government is harmful to the advance of technological research OK.

      PS. As a American I understand that Communism maybe the most destructive (no I don’t care Luca I know your obsession just like his) ideology of the 20th century and a front runner of all time. However that doesn’t mean that all things in it are evil.

      Its like saying that we can’t have a government funded military or highway system because the communist and socialist do. Its stupid.

      • You sound like the guys on that were upset that we were all upset at us for endangering “Shuttle” by getting Congress to pass the Launch Services Purchase Act of 1990. You might want to ask Elon Musk about that.

  6. Won’t Bezos want an equal crack at funding? It’s strange that he isn’t pushing harder and faster on space, given his market-dominating strategies through Amazon. He seems to know how to push hard in the retail space, but not in space space. If he wants to keep from being totally sidelined by SpaceX, Bezos will have to be less Gradatim and more Ferociter.

    • BO doesn’t want government money (yet). They are well funded and don’t want government strings attached to what they are doing.

      • So when bad guys come to take their stuff and rule their world, they are definitely in a crossfire. Of course, I presume if the US is in a fit position to be a bad guy, it won’t matter then if Mars is a state or not.

        • That’s actually the chief advantage of being on Mars, rather than Earth: The bad guys have a long, expensive trip to get to Mars, and must attack at the end of a long logistics chain.

          But that reasoning says that, for independence, you really want to colonize further away than Mars, maybe a long cycle comet on it’s way out.

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