In case you didn’t notice SpaceX landed the first Stage of their Flacon 9 shipcraft back on land yesterday.
This was of course an incredible engineering feat. An engineer described it as the equivalent of throwing a pencil over the Empire State building it then returning and landing on its end.
But wonderful as the engineering was, the real triumph was the economics.
A Falcon 9 Spacecraft costs $16,000,000 to build and $200,000 to fuel. Until now SpaceX ships have, like all the others ever made (except one The Blue Origin), have been destroyed as they crash into the ocean.By returing the first stage to Earth the cost of launching anything into space is dramatically lower.
Even with the cost of refurbishing the rocket and the lose of the second stage (they hope to be able to recover that too some day) it should be lower the cost of getting stuff into space by a factor of 50x
I write often about Excession Events, points in time when the success criteria in a market change so radically that what was successful before no longer is. What Mr Musk and his team achieved yesterday is one of the most spectacular examples of an Excession Events I’ve witnessed.
SpaceX has effectively put every other satellite launch system out of business. Within a year or two they will have put most of the world’s space agencies out of business.
The European Space Agency (ESA) makes most of its money launching satellites for the commercial world. That business will move to SpaceX.
The vast majority of the revenue for the severely strapped for cash Russian space program comes from ferrying astronauts like Tim Bell and dozens of others to the International Space Station. Once SpaceX gets permission to put passengers on its ships (slated for 2016) the money will dry up and the Russian space program will die.
The Chinese will continue to run their own program but with the Americans (and commercial world) now being able to get into space for 50x less they will struggle to keep up.
All wins are, of course, temporary. The Chinese are almost certainly looking to attain this technology. The Russians and ESA are unlikely to be able to compete, their budgets are simply too small, and they don’t have the generous state funding the Chinese enjoy.
Other different technologies such as launching satellites from aircraft like Virgin Galactic are looking to do might be an Excession Events event for SpaceX.
However you look at it we are an inflection point, the opportunity to explore, communicate and experiment now that the cost of simply getting into orbit is so much less expensive is incredible.
Mr Musk wants to have 80,000 people living on Mars by 2040. This sort of vision is what the world needs. Not just in space exploration but to solve the world’s many problems.
I am so very excited to see how many ideas can now flourish now the economics of space travel have changed this radically.