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Falcon Heavy and Two Bright Futures

When SpaceX announced the Falcon Heavy yesterday, they solved at least one problem in space-faring development, while simultaneously opening two possible streams of users / revenue, two possible bright futures.

Falcon-HeavyThe problem ‘solved’ is the classic “Chicken or the egg” case. Why develop a heavy lifter when the number of heavy payloads is limited? Why develop a heavy payload when heavy lifters are rare and extremely expensive? Falcon Heavy is proposed to deliver heavy loads at light cost (being based on Falcon-9, development cost of Falcon-Heavy was surely minimized), which could drive development of heavy payloads at an affordable cost like never before. For instance, what does having a launch vehicle of this size and cost do to the feasibility of Space-Based Solar?

That’s good news for everyone, whether they know it or not (in the sense that space-based infrastructure can benefit nations and even humanity in general).

  • The first ‘Bright Future’ is as above, commercial and DoD payloads will doubtless provide a generous flight-rate in the near term onwards, assumingFalcon-Heavy in flight there are no unexpected serious problems.
  • The second ‘Bright Future’ is not stated or suggested, yet, at least not implicitly:
  1. With a heavier lift vehicle coming on-line, development ‘complete’ and ready-to-use, it could potentially weaken the case for the SLS, which could move payloads and vehicles (should they even materialize) intended for SLS to F-H, assuming political obstacles can be overcome.
  2. Even if F-H is not considered large enough to ‘replace’ SLS, it puts SpaceX in an even better position to build a super-heavy-lift vehicle. The efficiency and cost and time-effectiveness of the SpaceX rockets surely weakens the case for SLS dramatically. Frankly, it is unlikely that SLS will ever actually be built, much less fly. Even if it does, it will be so expensive that few if any customers will use it, other than the poor ripped-off US taxpayers. Elon has supported the case for a super-heavy-lift vehicle, even as today it appears to be a pork-project. Perhaps one day, when SLS fails and an affordable alternative is sought, Elon will be there, supportive and ready to provide a real, metal rocket. He has nothing to lose and everything to gain here.

Of course, I could be wrong in any aspect. But I like to be optimistic about the possible future, and I think that success for companies like SpaceX is success for spaceflight, and ultimately mankind.

Categories: aerospace, spacecraft