The Private Space Race

Competition is cutting the cost of space travel to a fraction of what it was.


This week, American astronauts returned to earth. Their trip to the space station was the first manned launch from the U.S. in 10 years.

By NASA? No. Of course, not.

This space flight happened because government was not in charge.

An Obama administration committee had concluded that launching such a vehicle would take 12 years and cost $36 billion.

But this rocket was finished in half that time—for less than $1 billion (1/36th the predicted cost).

That's because it was built by Elon Musk's private company, Space X. He does things faster and cheaper because he spends his own money.

"This is the potential of free enterprise!" explains aerospace engineer Robert Zubrin in my newest video.

Of course, years ago, NASA did manage to send astronauts to the moon.

That succeeded, says Zubrin, "because it was purpose-driven. (America) wanted to astonish the world what free people could do."

But in the 50 years since then, as transportation improved and computers got smaller and cheaper, NASA made little progress.

Fortunately, President Obama gave private companies permission to compete in space, saying, "We can't keep doing the same old things as before."

Competition then cut the cost of space travel to a fraction of what it was.

Why couldn't NASA have done that?

Because after the moon landing, it became a typical government agency—overbudget and behind schedule. Zubrin says NASA's purpose seemed to be to "supply money to various suppliers."

Suppliers were happy to go along.

Zubrin once worked at Lockheed Martin, where he once discovered a way for a rocket to carry twice as much weight. "We went to management, the engineers, and said, 'Look, we could double the payload capability for 10 percent extra cost.' They said, 'Look, if the Air Force wants us to improve the Titan, they'll pay us to do it!'"

NASA was paying contractor's development costs and then adding 10 percent profit. The more things cost, the bigger the contractor's profit. So contractors had little incentive to innovate.

Even NASA now admits this is a problem. During its 2020 budget request, Administrator Jim Bridenstine confessed, "We have not been good at maintaining schedule and…at maintaining costs."

Nor is NASA good at innovating. Their technology was so out of date, says Zubrin, that "astronauts brought their laptops with them into space—because shuttle computers were obsolete."

I asked, "When (NASA) saw that the astronauts brought their own computers, why didn't they upgrade?"

"Because they had an entire philosophy that various components had to be space rated," he explains. "Space rating was very bureaucratic and costly."

NASA was OK with high costs as long as spaceships were assembled in many congressmen's districts.

"NASA is a very large job program," says Aerospace lawyer James Dunstan. "By spreading its centers across the country, NASA gets more support from more different congressmen."

Congressmen even laugh about it. Rep. Randy Weber (R–Texas) joked, "We'll welcome (NASA) back to Texas to spend lots of money any time."

Private companies do more with less money. One of Musk's cost-saving innovations is reusable rocket boosters.

For years, NASA dropped its boosters into the ocean.

"Why would they throw it away?" I ask Dunstan.

"Because that's the way it's always been done!" he replies.

Twenty years ago, at Lockheed Martin, Zubrin had proposed reusable boosters. His bosses told him: "Cute idea. But if we sell one of these, we're out of business."

Zubrin explains, "They wanted to keep the cost of space launch high."

Thankfully, now that self-interested entrepreneurs compete, space travel will get cheaper. Musk can't waste a dollar. Space X must compete with Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and others.

The private sector always comes up with ways to do things that politicians cannot imagine.

Government didn't invent affordable cars, airplanes, iPhones, etc. It took competing entrepreneurs, pursuing profit, to nurture them into the good things we have now.

Get rid of government monopolies.

For-profit competition brings us the best things in life.


NEXT: The Second Amendment Is Not Restricted to White Conservatives

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Space X must compete with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin

    Ok. NOW I’ll get Amazon Prime.

    1. ●▬▬▬▬PART TIME JOBS▬▬▬▬▬●

      I am making $165 an hour working from home. i was greatly surprised at the same time as my neighbour advised me she changed into averaging $ninety five however I see the way it works now. I experience masses freedom now that i’m my non-public boss. that is what I do……
      ↓↓↓↓COPY THIS SITE↓↓↓↓


    2. I am glad that private industry has finally taken up space travel. Lately the earth sucks more than ever, any room onboard for one more?

  2. Whoa, Stossel’s moustache is growing into the third dimension.

    1. Earning money online is very easy nowdays. Eanrs every month online more than $17k by doing very easy home based job in part time. Last month i have made $19754 from this job just in my spare time which is only 2 hrs a day. Very easy work to do and earning from this are awesome. Click For Full Detail.

  3. Nice paean to competition, Stossel. Now do aggregators.

    1. .1/10

      1. Wow, the Russian judge is being really tough with the scoring!

        1. I basically make about $12,000-$18,000 a month online. It’s enough to comfortably replace my I was amazed how easy it was after I tried it . BVc This is what I’ve been doing old jobs income, especially considering I only work about 10-13 hours a week from home………..Cash Mony System

  4. Every month start earning more cash from $20,000 to $24,000 by working very simple j0b 0nline from home. I have earned last month $23159 from this by just doing this 0nline w0rk for maximum 3 to 4 hrs a day using my laptop. This home j0b is just awesome and regular earning from this are much times better than other regular 9 to 5 desk j0b. Now every person on this earth can get this j0b and start making dollars 0nline just by follow instructions on the given web page>>>Click Here For Full Detail.

  5. Private enterprise was a lot more noble before they started virtue signaling like mad cultists and rather than defend the system that allowed them to pursue their dreams and ultimately wealth. There’s something awful happening and the free market is learning a valuable lesson, but one that’s horrifying to the rest of us: Communism sells.

    1. Slavery has always sold – except to slaves.

      Changing from private enterprise slavery to state slavery only makes things worse for the slave because, private enterprise is more interested in maintaining its assets. State slavers don’t care how many slaves die.

      Anyone who thinks communism is something other than state slavery is an idiot.

    2. Actually, this is fascism.
      Communism is when the state directly controls the actions of the people, and the state owns the means of production.
      Fascism is when corporations own the means of production, and the state controls the actions of the people by controlling the corporations through laws and regulations. Of course, in the US it is the corporations themselves who are trying to control the people without bothering with the government part. So maybe we need a new name for what the US is becoming.

      1. Plutoarcay?

      2. Wildly incorrect —
        Fascism = gov forced race/religious uniformity
        Communism = gov forced resources uniformity

        “it is the corporations themselves who are trying to control the people” LMAO!!! When the last time you saw Jeff Bezo’s show up at your door with a gun and demand you buy Amazon Prime? You’re so full of sh*t….

  6. As for the article, I agree with the idea: “Get rid of government monopolies” but, I’m skeptical about it happening. It is very rare for anyone to give up power voluntarily.

    Defunding the police wouldn’t solve nearly as many problems as defunding the entire government would.

    1. …and to think that at the founding of the U.S. the federal branch members were ALL very minor part-time jobs; they all had to go get a real job to actually support themselves. Today 2-MILLION people work FULL-TIME for the federal branch.

  7. Government Almighty boondoggle…

    NASA will pay a staggering $146 million for each SLS rocket engine
    The rocket needs four engines and it is expendable.

    1. Here’s another one, about political suppression of promising space tech, for political reasons, which is even worse than the inefficient per-state spreading of jobs goodies…

      Below shows we are FINALLY moving in the right direction, at least…
      NASA agrees to work with SpaceX on orbital refueling technology

      Out-take from there is below…

      The rocket program mostly benefited the Alabama space center and was championed by Alabama State Senator Richard Shelby. The potential of in-space fuel storage and transfer threatened the SLS rocket because it would allow NASA to do some exploration missions with smaller and cheaper rockets. As one source explained at the time, “Senator Shelby called NASA and said if he hears one more word about propellant depots he’s going to cancel the Space Technology program.”

      1. 2/10

        1. Wow, thanks, that’s a pretty high ranking!

    2. It gets even better.

      Just one of those engines costs more than SpaceX charges for a launch on the Falcon Heavy (the largest heavy lift booster on the planet at the moment, though not capable of everything SLS can do). It also costs more than SpaceX is claiming that it will cost the to build a single Starship – their new heavy lift vehicle that will dwarf the capabilities of the SLS for all but a very tiny slice of potential mission profiles. And for those, SpaceX can refuel in orbit. Then it crushes everyone.

      We have spent …. well, it depends on when you start counting because they keep changing the name and starting over … but we have spent at least $30 billion on SLS. SpaceX will spend a couple of billion developing their Starship. And Starship will be fully reusable. SLS is projected to cost a billion dollars per launch (or more). Starship might eventually cost only a couple of million for a launch. Musk has said that it would only cost a few hundred grand(internal costs) for them to launch the thing once they have everything up and running – basically fuel and ground crew.

      They are changing the game in ways that are so dramatic, it isn’t even the same game any more.

      1. Oh, and SpaceX developed the first full-flow staged combustion rocket engine to enter actual use for their new Starship rocket. This engine is designed to be fully reusable without needing expensive refurbishment. (SLS will toss their partially reusable after expensive refurbishment engines into the ocean, losing the $146 million)

        Each one of these advanced new engines costs spaceX less than a million dollars. Way less. In fact, their CEO has hinted that they already cost less than a half million and that they are targeting something in the quarter million to 300 thousand range, long term.

        And they are supposed to be fully reusable… as in, land the thing, add fuel to the rocket and launch again. Back to Back.

        The cost comparison between SLS and Starship is staggering.

  8. Just wondering; has there ever been an environmental impact study done for a space launch? NASA or private?


      SpaceX Texas Launch Site Environmental Impact Statement

      I’ve kinda followed this half-assed… Apparently the EPA stuff falls under the FAA for this kind of stuff-and-stuff. I think that SpaceX is trying to get off easy on upgrading it from Falcon to Star Ship, on this one, and escape like a 3-year process (“from scratch”), and shorten it to just a revision, instead. I think that in this case, the EPA is smart enough to “back off”, because, if they tied SpaceX up in knots, space fans everywhere would be pretty outraged!

      PS, SpaceX will be building “space ports” out at sea, to escape dangers (and noise, and real estate costs) from too-near-humans operations. Like, on recycle oil-drilling rigs, for example. PLUS, if they go outside of the USA’s 12-mile sea limit, they can escape from yet MORE Government Almighty micro-management!

      1. Texas is not a launch site for the falcon 9 family of rockets. Those are only in Florida and California.

        SpaceX tests their engines in Texas and is building a rocket factory and launch site in Boca Chica Texas. They currently build their engines and rockets in California, but they are distributing a lot of their work around the country, having learned from their dealings with government contracts and senator Shelby.

  9. Fortunately, President Obama gave private companies permission to compete in space, ”

    No that was Bush who allowed private companies to go into space, before it was illegal why who knows.

    1. The commercial crew program was initiated under Obama – but the commercial space program was a Bush program that had its roots all the way back during Bush the Elder. Obama merely continued the commercial space program to its next scheduled phase. Late. Behind schedule. And underfunded. (not entirely his fault – congress kept changing the funding amounts – but Obama didn’t fight them on it)

      But almost every article I see about spaceX and commercial space launches says the same thing – Obama did it. I suppose it is just the mythmaking we do. Plus, pretty much all of the science communicators are of the far left, so that doesn’t hurt.

  10. “Competition is cutting the cost of space travel to a fraction of what it was.”

    Maybe, but they will probably get you on the baggage fees, just like they do with intra-earth air travel.

    1. Nice joke…

      But in 2008 it cost $10,000 per pound to put stuff in space. (2008 dollars) The shuttle cost more like $27,000 per pound to put stuff in orbit.

      A few years ago a Falcon 9 averaged about $2,500 per pound to orbit. But that was their average price, which is almost double their cheapest price. Now that re-usability is in effect for the booster and fairings, that cost should plumet to $1,000 or less.

      Starship aims to bring that number down to $100 or less.

      That’s 2 and a half orders of magnitude for heavy lift. That’s a pretty amazing leap.

  11. I applaud the idea of the free market in space, but would like to point out that government really blazed the trail here. While innovators are improving the technology, the government provided the foundation for those development. The government has also created the market here with the space station. What Stossel really has not shown is could programs like the internet, basic drug research, and space program have self started?

  12. You missed my favorite: the DC-X, landing in 1993 “on its fins, as God and Robert Heinlein intended”. Unfortunately, NASA got hold of the project, there was an ordinary mishap which destroyed the test unit, and NASA decided that was a good reason to kill a program which had cost only 50 million to get to that point.

  13. hey thanks for share, i appreciate to read your blog, i am also run a blog, my blog free fire game help to guide game play..

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.