In light of the recent failure in Florida – the massive explosion of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and the quick destruction of Facebook’s $195-million-dollar satellite as a result – it is important to test the validity and future of Elon Musk’s space program and business model.
Earlier this year, Elon Musk was quoted as saying that the “Falcon 9 rocket costs about $16 million to build… but the cost of propellant… is only about $200,000.” This egregiously wrong estimate raises questions about Musk’s grip on reality — after all, just this year a single launch cost about $62 million dollars.
The reason why costs have skyrocketed from previous estimates is that the Florida failure marks the second failure in fifteen months. This is of no surprise — rocket delays are very common for SpaceX. Critics and fans alike have agreed that Elon Musk can certainly dream big, but then lack on the delivery. It’s why SpaceX is reported to have delayed each of its launches an average of two years each.
But this begs the question: If SpaceX has not been able to deliver on launch times, why should the market expect to see successful and timely launches in the future? How does Musk manage to stay in business?
The answer is that the market isn’t the one to decide, despite the fact that SpaceX is apparently a private company. Out of all of SpaceX’s contracts, NASA is documented to contribute to 85% of SpaceX’s revenue. Additionally, the number of direct governmental subsidies (without accounting for tax credits) climb up to about $5.5 billion dollars and is also peppered with $200 million dollars in varying governmental contracts. These estimates do not even account for the money Musk funnels in from SolarCity and Tesla, his two other ineffective companies which receive $4.9 billion dollars in government support by themselves.
Without the help of the government, SpaceX would not have been able to fail as many times as it has. Private investors would not tolerate Musk’s reckless mismanagement, and the company would’ve went belly-up years ago. But, since SpaceX is essentially a built-for-government company, Capitol Hill will continue to allow Musk to waste taxpayer dollars on futile launches and projects.
Last year’s failed Falcon 9 launch — the one that caused $118 million dollars in taxpayer-funded cargo to be blown to smoke — should have taught the government a lesson about picking “winners and losers.” The winners they think they are picking are actually losers that are stealing American family’s money, and effectively stifling innovation in the market of space flight.
The excuse for the failed Falcon 9 flight fifteen months ago was, according to Elon Musk, the result of being a “little bit complacent,” as well as the failure of a third party manufacturer to produce a structural piece. Now, the Falcon 9 failed yet again, and a delusional Musk shouldered the blame on an imaginary UFO interfering with the launch.
It is inexcusable to make the same mistakes in such succession and expect that the government and the market will buy into incredulous lies, all while continuing to dole out taxpayer-funded contracts.
Meanwhile, as the government continues to fund Musk’s reckless projects, SpaceX’s main competitor, the United Launch Alliance (ULA), is sitting on the sidelines with an impressive 100% success rate for launches.
Tell me: why does the government continue to let Musk waste our tax dollars when the contracts can instead be given to a fully efficient competitor? It is truly mind boggling. When the government seeks contracts, it should go with the company that has the best return on investment, not with the company that gives a cheaper estimate and then continuously blows the projects up into pieces just months later.
This should especially be the case when dealing with Elon Musk, a reckless CEO that has also effectively delayed every line of his car line through Tesla Motors and turned no profit margin. It should be easy to determine the track record of a man who has historically shot for the stars, but ended up back on earth because he could not even get ten feet off the ground.
Washington should only invest in spaceflight when it understands how to make a good investment. Just because you like Elon Musk and his vision for the world does not mean that he will deliver on his promises. Actions speak louder than words, and at this point, Elon Musk’s actions have spoken loudly. It is time to take a step back and ask how many of Elon Musk’s promises are empty words without results.