NASA has announced the award of two multibillion dollar contracts for commercial companies to lift cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) in the post-Shuttle era. Deals have been inked with former PayPal kingpin Elon Musk's SpaceX venture, and with Orbital Sciences Corporation of Virginia. SpaceX art of a Dragon cargo …
Just like the early days of commercial aviation
Commercial aviation originally made its first money by carrying mail on government contracts between different locations. It was this that allowed the nascent carriers, both in Europe and the US, to get passenger services off the ground, because they couldn't afford to compete with the railways at that time. This decision is in a similar vein, allowing visionary private sector companies a slice of government money for services rendered.
I think this is a pretty excellent move by NASA, although not without risk. Call it a subsidy, call it a handout, but this is how governments should get high risk industries and markets established in their countries.
87 grand a kilo?
Almost as expensive as excess baggage on a London - Hng Kong flight!
not the way to do it
Points for looking toward private enterprise.
Major loss of points for doing it the Big Contractor way.
Why did it think for a while, pick two companies, and ink huge deals. That's the lazy bureaucratic way. Find a contractor who'll promise to do everything, pay them, and hope for the best.
The market way would be to say, "we'll pay /anyone/ who can put cargo into space." Commit to spending x amount of money in the long run, but leave the doors wide open and scale it up gradually.
For one thing, entrepreneurs can then write up sensible business plans, talk up the market to investors, while knowing that all they have to do is produce the good and NASA will buy it. (Right now the players are those who are so rich they don't need a business plan.) It would be invigorating. Sure, there'd then be a mess of suppliers. Some of them deadbeats. Some launches would fail. But that's what a market is. Dynamic.
But NASA is lazy. It doesn't want to deal with a dozen firms. It doesn't want to deal with the fits and starts. It doesn't want a real market. It just wants to outsource to a couple guys who'll promise to take care of everything. That's how the defense industry works, and it's an overpriced wasteland of bullshit.
This won't get us a cheap private path to space.
"Major loss of points for doing it the Big Contractor way."
But neither of them are big contractors.
SpaceX is a relatively small startup, and Orbital has been flogging small sats into space for a while but they're not that large either.
In fact, the company PlanetSpace which was going to offer Lockheed built capsules got rebuffed.
"But NASA is lazy. It doesn't want to deal with a dozen firms. It doesn't want to deal with the fits and starts."
They actually started with more than a dozen firms. Look at how the COTS program works. They awarded cash based on technological <i>and</i> financial milestones.
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