There is little or no doubt in my mind that Elon Musk is a genius, especially when it comes to keeping his companies afloat using government contracts, grants, subsidies, and tax breaks. It also appears that Musk is both agnostic and apolitical when it comes to lobbying and contributions – everyone with influence can get a piece of the action, no doubt scientifically managed so that the campaign contribution correlates with and is proportional to the amount of influence you wield as a candidate.
How many people know that Musk’s SpaceX Corporation could be given a virtual monopoly over space launches?
It appears that hidden in the bowels of House Resolution H.R.2810, known as the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, is Sec. 1615. Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle modernization and sustainment of assured access to space.
What Section (2) appears to do is to prevent the United States Air Force and other entities from developing any “new launch vehicles” for ten years by curtailing its funding for such development.
I can understand the government’s distaste for the optics of using Russian RD-180 engines in Atlas V launch vehicles as well as relying on a hostile foreign power to meet national defense needs. But, I also understand that it would not be cost-effective to re-design and re-fit a brand new engine into the aging Atlas V launch vehicle.
Which apparently leaves Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 as the single alternative to a more expensive engine design and refit of the Atlas 5. Hence, an implied monopoly for ten years – and a disastrous limitation of our national defense posture. For those who point out that SpaceX’s competition, the United Launch Alliance, may also represent a viable solution, consider that their Delta IV launch vehicle is obsolete and may not be upgradable.
Musk, crony capitalism and government favoritism? …
From the Daily Caller …
Since 2003, political chameleon Musk has contributed $258,350 to Democrats and $261,300 to Republicans, public records show. Musk was a contributor this past election season to Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham, besides contributing to Hillary to the max.
But crony capitalist political favoritism can involve more than taxpayer-funded grants, special interest tax breaks, discounted loans, and tax credits and rebates to customers of the favorites.
On June 28, 2015, one of Musk’s SpaceX rockets blew up two minutes after take-off, destroying millions in cargo payload headed for orbit.
When an Antares rocket launched in October, 2014 by Musk competitor Orbital, it experienced a catastrophic failure causing destruction of a NASA payload worth $51 million, NASA conducted an investigation into the cause of the failure, and issued an executive summary report within one year.
But after the June 28 failure of the SpaceX flight, NASA announced that it “is not required to complete a formal final report or public summary” of [of the Space X failure] since the rocket was on “an FAA licensed flight.”
But the Antares launch failure also involved an FAA-licensed flight. It was also part of the same NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program as the failed 2015 SpaceX launch.
Bottom line …
It would be insane for our government to restrict the development of space vehicles and propulsion systems in favor of a restrictive so-called public-private partnership with any company that appears to be built on the basis of political favoritism.
Elon Musk is the quintessential chameleon, using his lobbyists and consultants to conger up new, wonderful, and magical things with fanciful predictions and projections. Considering that Musk’s Tesla outfit never returned a profit – with the exception of selling government pollution indulgences, and bailed out his cousin who ran SolarCity, I see nothing that would recommend giving Musk and SpaceX a virtual monopoly on space launches for the next ten years.
Pentagon contracting and program management is riddled with waste, fraud, and abuse – but in the end, they represent the only viable alternative to Musk’s operation. I say remove this restrictive section from this appropriations bill and let all military and civilian contractors compete for the business.
We are so screwed.
"The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane." -- Marcus Aurelius