It’s amazing what you can do when the government isn’t helping
I am no great fan of Elon Musk, by far his greatest skills seem to be hucksterism and exploiting the devil out of a government subsidies but give credit where credit is due, he has managed what 60 years of government programs wouldn’t do and upended the space launch industry. Space X is now the low cost supplier for launch services and looks to drive down costs even further with reusable boosters No small accomplishments when it looked like we might be dependent on Russian launchers, until the SLS became operational and even after then due to the billion plus cost to launch it.
Naturally in our world, lowering prices and providing a better product irks people. It especially irks people in charge of jobs programs disguised as space launch providers. Here we have excerpts of an interview with chief executive of Ariane Group, Alain Charmeau, where he is trying to drum up support for increased subsidies for Arianespace not to launch rockets.
When pressed on the price pressure that SpaceX has introduced into the launch market, Charmeau’s central argument is that this has only been possible because, “SpaceX is charging the US government 100 million dollar per launch, but launches for European customers are much cheaper.” Essentially, he says, launches for the US military and NASA are subsidizing SpaceX’s commercial launch business.
ULA executive admits company cannot compete with SpaceX on launch costs
However, the pay-for-service prices that SpaceX offers to the US Department of Defense for spy satellites and cargo and crew launches for NASA are below those of what other launch companies charge. And while $100 million or more for a military launch is significantly higher than a $62 million commercial launch, government contracts come with extra restrictions, reviews, and requirements that drive up this price.
Even as Charmeau decries what he calls subsidies for SpaceX from the US government, he admits that Ariane cannot exist without guaranteed contracts purchased by European governments. To make the Ariane 6 vehicle viable, Charmeau said Ariane needs five launches in total for 2021 and eight guaranteed launches for 2022.
Charmeau said the Ariane rocket does not launch often enough to justify the investment into reusability. (It would need about 30 launches a year to justify these costs, he said). And then Charmeau said something telling about why reusability doesn’t make sense to a government-backed rocket company—jobs.
“Let us say we had ten guaranteed launches per year in Europe and we had a rocket which we can use ten times—we would build exactly one rocket per year,” he said. “That makes no sense. I cannot tell my teams: ‘Goodbye, see you next year!'”
This seems a moment of real irony. Whereas earlier in the interview Charmeau accuses the US government of subsidizing SpaceX, a few minutes later he says the Ariane Group can’t make a reusable rocket because it would be too efficient.
Hey if we solve the problem why will you still need us ?
Drink up That’s it for the Watercooler today. As always it’s an open thread