China is “sputniking” the USA with military technology surprises. Technologies like hypersonic missiles, railguns, electromagnetic launchers and metamaterials. It is not that China got fast. It is that the USA got slow.
The US rocket developers (Lockheed and Boeing) have been the same companies developing a lot of fighter planes and other military systems.
The traditional US rocket development has failed to develop new rockets for decades. Elon Musk and SpaceX have shown that rapid technology development and implementation is possible. This will be discussed further in the next article.
Elon and SpaceX were able to develop the Falcon 1, Falcon 9, Dragon capsule, and the Falcon Heavy in about ten years while also developing commercial launch dominance.
SpaceX’s achievements include:
* the first privately funded liquid-propellant rocket to reach orbit (Falcon 1 in 2008)
* the first privately funded company to successfully launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft (Dragon in 2010)
* the first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station (Dragon in 2012),
* the first propulsive landing for an orbital rocket (Falcon 9 in 2015)
* the first reuse of an orbital rocket (Falcon 9 in 2017),
* the first privately funded space company to launch an object into solar orbit (Falcon Heavy’s payload of a Tesla Roadster in 2018).
SpaceX has flown thirteen missions to the International Space Station (ISS) under a partnership with NASA. NASA also awarded SpaceX a further development contract in 2011 to develop and demonstrate a human-rated Dragon, which would be used to transport astronauts to the ISS and return them safely to Earth.
SpaceX announced in 2011 that it was beginning a funded reusable launch system technology development program. In December 2015, the first Falcon 9 was flown back to a landing pad near the launch site, where it successfully accomplished a propulsive vertical landing. This was the first such achievement by a rocket for orbital spaceflight. In April 2016, with the launch of CRS-8, SpaceX successfully vertically landed a first stage on an ocean drone ship landing platform. In May 2016, in another first, SpaceX again landed a first stage, but during a significantly more energetic geostationary transfer orbit mission. In March 2017, SpaceX became the first to successfully re-launch and land the first stage of an orbital rocket.
In September 2016, CEO Elon Musk unveiled the mission architecture of the Interplanetary Transport System program, an ambitious privately funded initiative to develop spaceflight technology for use in crewed interplanetary spaceflight. In 2017, Musk unveiled an updated configuration of the system, now named the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), which will be the largest rocket in history and will be fully reusable when it debuts in the early 2020s
Meanwhile Lockheed and Boeing have been at a virtual development standstill in rocket development for over two decades, since the retirement of the Space Shuttle. The Space shuttle was an overpriced failure. The Space shuttle was successfully able to launch 135 times over a few decades but it failed to deliver on low cost and fast reusable launch. Splitting the cost of the Space Shuttle program over the number of launches works out to about $1.5 billion per launch.
The US has to spread the development and factory innovations that Elon Musk and SpaceX implemented throughout military procurement.
The US is currently not trying to spread SpaceX style research and development methods. Instead the US will continue to fund the United Launch Alliance Space Launch System for more than ten times the money that is put into funding SpaceX.
Ars Technica reported that Bill Gerstenmaier, chief of human spaceflight for NASA is still supporting the wasteful development of the multi-billion per year Space Launch System. The justification is that the SpaceX Falcon Heavy can deliver 18-22 tons to lunar orbit while Space Launch System could deliver a bit more. There are currently no payloads or missions that require the extra payload capacity to lunar orbit. Increasing the number of side-boosters from two sets of side boosters to four sets on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy would create a 100-ton payload capacity Falcon Super Heavy with two more side boosters can be created that would match any planned Space Launch System that could fly for the next ten years.
All planned version of the Space Launch System will be vastly inferior to SpaceX BFR.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.