[FPSPACE] reflections on the great Boeing vs. SpaceX debate

Keith Gottschalk kgottschalk at uwc.ac.za
Wed Sep 24 10:56:00 EDT 2014

thanks, Chris

   for reminding me of further potential contractors for US access to space.

    Arianespace-ESA would certainly be delighted with any cargo  supply contracts for the ISS. Talking from memory, Ariane 5 has not yet been man-rated; this would take at least a few months before a CST, Dragon, or Orion capsule could be fitted to the top.  Antrix-ISRO can also perform the same job as Orbital Sciences in delivering cargo with its PSLV - & would certainly rejoice to get US contracts. However, its GSLV Mk 3 would need to perform at least three consecutive flawless flights before it could step up to the plate to deliver the quantity of cargo per flight that Ariane 5 has delivered to ISS.  And inspectors would need to be convinced that it has been debugged totally before the start of man-rating; that will be a few years ahead at best.

    The dark horse in the pack is Skylon. The market will not take it seriously until we have drop-tests with a full-scale aerofoil, and test flights under full power from a scale model. If Skylon eventually reaches the point where the same spaceplane performs more than sixteen flights to orbit and back to runway within one year, the brave team will finally have the technology to deliver what the shuttle promoters promised: one order of magnitude reduction in the costs of access to orbit. Those who can afford to attend next month's IAC in Toronto, please give us feedback from Skylon presentations or the staff at their stand on their latest estimate of by which year Skylon will be flying. Is there slippage from the year previously announced?

    David: no wonder there is a tone of anger in your voice if your blog has been abused by corporate paid PR staff, or even if it is merely SpaceX fans or off-duty staff mindlessly raving away repetitively, and unsupported by evidence. Most of us will just wait & see if their manifest of paying customers remains big, and watch how their launches go.

    On your argument that their business model requires, if I understand you, half plus one of all satellite launches per year? Confession: I am the most innumerate member of FPSPACE. But if SpaceX is stretching, spreading, or transferring their NASA grant & contracts to partly subsidize third party launches, then the more such launches they get, surely the tinier & tinier the NASA money they can allocate per 3rd party flight?

    What we can agree is that many have failed in the aerospace business - & few succeeded. I imagine their have been years when even Boeing & Lockmart have had to carry their space divisions from their aviation & other profits. I do not know to what extent Elon Musk is subsidizing his Falcon rockets from his Tesla cars & his SolarCity; a diversified conglomeration gives him more financial stability & security than, for example, I imagine Skylon has.

    Last, congratulations to both the USA & India on their latest space probes reaching Mars orbit. We are soon going to need traffic control for Mars orbits! On Mars settlements, I think the radiation levels will require both Mars & Moon bases to house their modules & trailers in lava tubes or caves, or under a bulldozed sand dune, & confine strolling around the surface in a spacesuit or electric rover to not more than one hour per day.  But all that lies decades away. More immediately, I am interested in whether SpaceX will actually fly a LOX-methane engine.

warm regards, Keith.

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