In today’s partisan and fragmented media environment, many people interested in Space may find themselves struggling to understand how the fans of SpaceX cheer, and declare victories, when rockets explode.
For hardcore space fans, it is no mystery – but the vast majority of regular people, who may be interested in space exploration generally, may not understand just how SpaceX is changing the game, due to the way in which several major news outlets cover events.
It’s not about politics or Musk, not for those space and space exploration fans.
And the paradigm shift is actually quite easy to understand.
Before SpaceX – and a handful of other private space companies – space science, exploration and travel was prohibitively expensive exercise. Not that long ago, only the governments of superpowers had the scientific and financial cloud to send missions into orbit. This means that space exploration was a public pursuit as opposed to a private one. It was expensive, very expensive, and the taxpayers were footing the bill. This required the utmost conservatism on the part of government agencies like NASA. When the public is paying for these billion dollar adventures, they had to get their money’s worth.
The result was that Space Travel was once-off, bespoke and very complex.
The real innovation of Musk was to bring off the shelf components into play.
Rather than building a single, very expensive, one of a kind rocket with taxpayer money – SpaceX built rockets using stock standard parts, so that multiple rockets can essentially be copy-and-pasted.
The fans cheer even when the rockets crash because every launch teaches lessons that can now be used to refine the rockets, the science and the construction. Because the costs have come down sop significantly, and taxpayers no longer have to foot the bill, launches are now relatively cheap experiments.
This iterative approach is a basic principle of good engineering – and it makes serious and sustained space launches possible, even possibly routine.
And indeed, SpaceX, despite the ongoing testing and future plans, is already making a serious impact in the present. Whereas the rest of the world combined launched 157 tons into space, SpaceX alone launched 142 tons. The new normal will be 400 tons into orbit every quarter – which will triple the launch payload for the rest of the world.
It may well be that you’re still not a fan, and that’s okay. The point is that you will at least accurately understand how SpaceX is changing things… and judging from the way many ‘serious’ news sources cover news about space… that’s progress of a kind.