SpaceX was the first company to launch a privately funded rocket, Falcon 1, into orbit in late 2008. Other rockets being used by the defense industry are privately manufactured, of course, but they are the product of taxpayer funding. The Falcon is the first orbital platform that adheres to what we could consider an effort of free market entrepreneurship.
The new rocket, called Falcon 9, is of a more powerful design, with sufficient thrust to bring passengers into orbit. The payload was an unmanned space capsule, called Dragon. It is a test bed for a future human-rated space vehicle.
SpaceX has pursued a simple, redundant, scalable design for their rockets. Falcon 9, for example, uses the same Merlin engines as the Falcon 1. As its name suggests, Falcon 9’s first stage uses nine Merlins. The second stage also uses a Merlin engine, with modifications for reignition and operation in a vacuum. This reduces the final cost of the launch vehicle.
Having multiple engines also improves reliability for the same reason that multiengined aircraft are safer. The rocket can lose an engine and still make it into space. Since reuse also helps reduce costs, the Dragon capsule is designed to perform many missions. Eventually, SpaceX wants to reuse the first and second stages, as well.
Although many have regretted the cancellation of Constellation, NASA’s future space vehicle program, it might actually prove a catalyst for increased long-term space exploration. Rather than depending on a vast wasteful bureaucracy to design and launch rockets, the U.S. space program contracts out transportation services to more efficient startups like SpaceX. No more mythical $600 toilet seats. Instead of a single platform, a diversity of many smaller players will emerge in the space launch business. This is the sort of environment that cuts costs and improves performance.
With the Space Shuttle winding down as a launch platform, SpaceX has already earned contracts to resupply the International Space Station to the tune of $1.8 billion. Full ISS resupply missions are scheduled for 2011. Following on June’s successful Falcon 9 launch, SpaceX also inked the largest launch contract in history. Iridium Communications plans to put its next-generation communications satellites in space via SpaceX and has signed a $500 billion contract with SpaceX to do so.
I strongly suspect that if space launch costs fall enough, we will be seeing space access put to commercial use in unexpected ways. How many people saw the eventual existence of Google, Facebook or even Musk’s own PayPal back when the Internet was a small government defense network?
Even with more efficient designs and organizational structures, however, rocket technology of the kind being used by SpaceX suffers from the same drawback: propellant. More than 70% of the mass required to get to orbit is fuel. When we consider a possible return to the Moon, this rises to over 95%.
Moving fuel and oxidizer is the single most important logistical component of any space mission. According to Dr. Hunter of Quicklaunch, the space gun technology he pioneered at Lawrence Livermore would reduce launch costs for fuel to 5% of the current price. An orbiting fuel depot would be a crucial piece of infrastructure for future missions to the moon or Mars. Space gun technology, however, can’t be used for humans. The acceleration required to get vehicle to orbital speed is simply too great. This leaves the market for passengers open to companies like SpaceX, which has designed the Falcon for human space launch from the very beginning.
Mark Twain once famously said that history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme. In a sense, access to orbit is taking a path similar to what colonial exploration did in the 15th and 16th centuries. Early expeditions were government-sponsored affairs. Christopher Columbus, for instance, was funded by the Spanish crown. However, over time, private enterprises came to dominate the sea routes to the New World. Like the early venture capitalists looking to get rich in the New World, today’s investors will also grow wealthy.
I trust this post has provided some background and evidence that powerful efforts are underway with breakthroughs for a new access to space. These activities will soon provide alternative wealth creating opportunities and our economy will become significantly stronger around a competitive market of private space taxis that will lower the cost to get to orbit and will open up new vistas for space exploration.
In closing, I favor a quote from Steve Forbes. Forbes says that pursuing additional financial education and the resulting increase in our financial literacy (including the investment potential of breakthrough technology) will open our eyes to alternative wealth creating strategies and this will be the key to resolving our global financial crisis.
To gain the necessary financial education, it is best to obtain association with, access to, and membership in a wealth creation community. As a result, you will learn and have the knowledge to use alternative wealth creating strategies such as Bank on Yourself, debt reduction, and asset protection. You will be exposed to wealth acceleration investments in areas (discussed in this and previous blog posts) such as a new access to space, 3D virtual technology, atomically precise manufacturing, nuclear power generation, commercial space ventures, Carrier Ethernet technologies, nanotech lithography, robotics, nano-based next-generation battery technology, precious metals, water rights, oil, natural gas, potash mines, food commodities, and gold mines. You will have the knowledge to consider investments in assets that are inherently useful like oil rigs, hydropower, or methanol plants; things that are hard to build, difficult to replace, and costly to substitute; definitely not financial stocks, definitely not retail stocks, definitely not commercial property.
Another benefit of membership in a wealth creation community is exposure to entrepreneurial leadership and business opportunities. Many of these leaders suggest that if you don’t focus on being a digital entrepreneur, being self-employed, or being a small business owner, it will be a very tough road in the months and years ahead; actually it will be an uphill battle. As a result, the innovative wealth creation communities provide education and training on B2B, and B2C, eCommerce enabling a new breed of professionals that are creating six figure second incomes.
It is wise to monitor breakthrough technology as there are truly exciting developments underway with a new access to space and related business activities. I will continue to monitor developments and provide updates in future articles and at my blog.
Finally, I want to thank Patrick Cox of Agora Financial as he was the source of some of the materials about the technology advancements mentioned in this post.
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