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How to Buy a Launch Vehicle
by Launchspace Staff
Bethesda MD (SPX) Apr 17, 2012

SpaceX has made the launch vehicle a commodity and the Air Force has made EELV an extension of the government. The market for Falcons is worldwide and huge.

Everyone in the space community knows that the single biggest hurdle to space commerce is the cost of launching satellites into orbit. This has been true from the dawn of the space age, and continues to be true, even today.

As one of the most advanced technological societies on Earth, and with the high potential for commercial, civil and national security space applications one would think that the high cost of space access should be resolved by this time.

Not only has this issue not been resolved, but it seems that launch costs have gone up over the decades. And, there is no solution in sight.

We are still depending on expendable launch systems, even after 30 years of experience with the Space Shuttle. One wonders if we have learned anything from that program.

NASA is pursuing a "new" launch system that seems to be a 21st century version of a 1960s launch vehicle, and it will cost billions to develop. The Air Force is buying EELVs for its space launches, and each of these costs hundreds of millions.

In the meantime, SpaceX is offering performance similar to EELV at a fraction of the cost. How can this be possible? The answer is simple. One launch provider has taken an entrepreneurial approach and the other has taken a government contractor approach.

In other words SpaceX has made the launch vehicle a commodity and the Air Force has made EELV an extension of the government. The market for Falcons is worldwide and huge.

The market for EELVs is restricted to US customers where the government is the primary driver of launch allocations and operations. As a result SpaceX has bookings beyond the horizon and EELV has a few launches a year.

How are we to resolve the high cost of government launches? Or, a better question may be: Does the government really want to resolve this? The answer seems to be: No. In order to fix it someone has to want to change the system.

In every Air Force space launch forum the discussion invariably turns to the cost of space access. It is a great subject for complaints and hand ringing, but the hard decisions needed for change are just not coming.

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