$5+-billion-in-government-money welfare king Elon Musk has been in the news a lot of late. For some pretty bad reasons.
We are not even in the slightest making light of Musk having emotional issues.
We are instead asking a rather obvious question:
Shouldn’t our government consider stopping the massive flow of government money to someone who is having emotional issues? His behavior demonstrating he may not be the world’s safest bet.
Unfortunately, government doesn’t seem to view the situation this way. Behold the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) – in particular Section 1603:
“(3) NOTIFICATION OF SOLICITATIONS FOR NON-REUSABLE LAUNCH VEHICLES.- Beginning March 1, 2019, if the Secretary proposes to issue a solicitation for a contract for space launch services for which the use of reusable launch vehicles is not eligible for the award of the contract, the Secretary shall notify in writing the appropriate congressional committees of such proposed solicitation, including justifications for such ineligibility, by not later than 10 days after issuing such solicitation.”
Translation from government-ese: If the Defense Department (DoD) wants to hire a contractor using non-reusable rockets – they have to first ask Congress for permission. Those endless email exchanges and hearings won’t slow things down – at all.
This is at the very least overly restrictive of the DoD. I’m all for general oversight – but this “Mother May I” approach to appropriations is highly counterproductive.
And then there’s the cronyism. Guess how many prospective space contractors are endeavoring to build reusable rockets? Two.
Guess how many claim to be ready (emphasis on “claim”)? One.
Guess who that one is? Elon Musk – and his SpaceX.
So Section 1603 of the NDAA – is pretty much a preemptive mandate that the DoD hire Musk. And only Musk.
“(O)n July 26, the Defense Department issued a request for proposals called JEDI, short for Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure. Whoever winds up landing the winner-take-all contract will be awarded $10 billion – instantly becoming one of America’s biggest federal contractors.
“But when JEDI was issued, on the day Congress recessed for the summer, the deal appeared to be rigged in favor of a single provider: Amazon.
“According to insiders familiar with the 1,375-page request for proposal, the language contains a host of technical stipulations that only Amazon can meet, making it hard for other leading cloud-services providers to win – or even apply for – the contract.”
The NDAA Congressional language – creates the same backdoor crony exclusivity for Musk in rocket contracting.
And oh – the irony: The other company besides Musk’s SpaceX working at all on reusable rockets? Bezos’ Blue Origins – natch. The biggest of the big cronies – rigging the government money wins over and over and over again.
I know it works against decades of DC muscle memory…but I’d like to ask if Musk’s “reusable” rocket – is actually more cost efficient than the one-and-done rockets.
The answer – is awful for Musk and SpaceX. And thereby – Congress and its awful NDAA language. And thereby – for We the Taxpayers.
“If you go through the R&D costs of developing a reusable launch vehicle, the opportunity costs (in terms of fuel used for return and the lost revenue opportunity for more payload to orbit) of returning the launcher to the first stage, and the costs of refurbishment between flights, generally accepted practice shows that you have to re-use the booster or launch the vehicle 5–10 times before you make your money back if you account for all the costs.
“Many papers have been written on this topic and this is a well established ‘rule of thumb’. This doesn’t even account for the price reduction that many customers flying on a ‘used’ first stage will likely demand.
“Thus I am thinking that very few, if any, of the SpaceX Falcon 9 first stages are going to be re-used for more than 3 or so flights and that SpaceX will therefore not break even on the reusability portion of the equation.”
Get that? It costs MUCH MORE to use Musk’s reusable rockets – than it does to use the traditional one-and-done rockets.
So why did Congress all-but-mandate the DoD use reusable rockets?
If it isn’t to provide massive additional cronyism and government money to the emotionally-troubled and chronically-underperforming-and-cost-overruning Musk – since he’s the only reusable rocket game in town?
Asked – and answered.