Why The US Paid $87,500,000 To Private Space Companies
Are billionaires involved in space out of the goodness of their hearts, or is the final frontier a place for them to turn a quick buck? The answer might be a little more complicated than a simple yes or no.
Recently, Space Force doled out a total of $87.5 million in awards for projects related to next-gen rocket engine testing and upper-stage improvements to four companies, including Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX. According to Tech Crunch, Blue Origin received “24.3 million to develop cryogenic fluid management for the upper stage of the New Glenn rocket,” and Space X received “$14.4 million for combustion stability analysis and testing of its Raptor rocket engine.”
While the names in the game are new, it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before. In the past, NASA has given 85 to 90 percent of its budget to private contracts, the bulk of which is used to design and manufacture rockets and spacecraft. What’s changing is that NASA is starting to also privatize operations. SpaceX and Orbital Sciences have both received contracts to ferry ISS cargo, and in May of 2020, SpaceX became the first private company to successfully ferry NASA astronauts to the ISS. Why does NASA outsource? It’s cheaper for the space agency, and it allows them to focus on missions that forward scientific and exploration discoveries.
But the $87.5 million price tag still isn’t cheap – it amounts to a lot of taxpayer money that is perceived as the fulfillment of billionaires’ childhood fantasies. Are we getting our money’s worth, or are we enabling Elon Musk to play astronaut? Again, the answer doesn’t boil down to a simple yes or no. However, we can again turn to history to teach us about our future. In the 1960s, NASA’s budget was at its largest, peaking at $7 billion in 1967. Between the launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957 and the moon landing in 1969, we spent a total of $30 billion on something that could be perceived as a pissing contest with the Russians.
During that time only two people got to actually go the moon, but the rest of us got our money back in terms of innovation – mostly in the realms of computers and IT and biotechnology and medicine. We now have weather satellites that give us time to evacuate before a hurricane and GPSes that can tell us the best escape route. You can look this up on your iPhone, which can fit in your hand thanks to the miniaturization of electronics which was perfected by NASA engineers who needed to reduce the amount of weight rocket boosters had to carry into space. On top of it, the Space Race created jobs for scientists, engineers, technicians, and Space Camp counselors.
But it’s not like the billionaires aren’t benefitting. SpaceX is now worth $74 billion, and it’s speculated that the company will become a trillion-dollar company. SpaceX has been growing quickly, with the company raising $6 billion in offers from investors in just three days. SpaceX was founded in 2002 when Musk was only worth $180 million. Today, he’s literally the richest person in the world, beating out Jeff Bezos with a total of $200.7 billion.
The space industry is predicted to grow by $1 trillion in the next decade – so somebody is going to profit off of it. But the answer to who might just be - everyone.
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