Lexington Institute: SpaceX taking NASA for a ride

Dragon pica
In a post, SpaceX: Glib Salesman Takes NASA For A Ride, that will certainly keep the Lexington Institute off SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s Christmas card list, Dr. Loren Thompson, the Institute’s COO, writes a cutting analysis of SpaceX and its trouble past in matching glowing rhetoric with action. The Lexington Institute’s post is all the more eviscerating because the Institute is not a “big-government”, aerospace industry friend, as some might be inclined to guess, but, according to its website, “…believes in limiting the role of the federal government to those functions explicitly stated or implicitly defined by the Constitution. The Institute therefore actively opposes the unnecessary intrusion of the federal government into the commerce and culture of the nation, and strives to find nongovernmental, market-based solutions to public-policy challenges. We believe a dynamic private sector is the greatest engine for social progress and economic prosperity.

The most telling quote is at the end,

    When even the Chinese say they can’t match a company’s prices, there’s only two likely explanations. Either Elon Musk is an alien visitor from some superior off-world civilization, or his prices are going to rise later. Guess which possibility is already coming true for NASA?


  1. SpaceX has an impressive history of accomplishments. Since being founded in 2002, the company has developed the Merlin engine, Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets, and the Dragon spacecraft. SpaceX has also built launch sites at Vandenberg, Cape Canaveral and Kwajalein, and set up our factory in Hawthorne.

    SpaceX has successfully launched Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 and in December became the first commercial company to successfully launch and recover a spacecraft from orbit.

    By his own admission, Loren Thompson is not just an aerospace industry friend, but a paid consultant. http://bit.ly/jzyMK0

    Elon Musk explains SpaceX costs in his latest blog posting. http://www.spacex.com/updates.php
    It’s not alien technology, it’s American innovation.

    • It’s says more than you realize when, rather than rebut Dr. Thompson’s points, you hint being a paid aerospace consultants means his criticism of SpaceX is questionable. After all, you work for SpaceX, so should readers assume the same of your comments?

      Dr. Thompson raises questions about SpaceX and other commercial crew launchers that are widely discussed in aerospace circles. Thompson’s critique of SpaceX has nothing to do with its technical talent–nobody questions that.

      Here’s the problem. Some people in NASA and the White House, who through a lack of any technical or engineering background didn’t know better, thought it a good idea to scrap our nation’s human space flight program mid-stream and hitch our nation’s human space access to SpaceX’s horse. Since Gwynne Shotwell promised during a March 2010 hearing before the Senate Science Subcommittee responsible for NASA to launch astronauts within 3 years of signing a contract, why not? Here’s the rub; given SpaceX’s perennial trouble in meeting promised schedules,

      • -TacSat 1 Launch: Elon and SpaceX committed to launching TacSat 1 on Falcon 1 in 2004. For that, AFRL paid around $150 million. By 2007, 3 Falcon 1’s had failed in various ways and in the meantime Orbital launched TacSat 2. In August 2007 AFRL canceled TacSat 1’s launch becuase…well, it would serve no purpose.
      • -COTS: According to the GAO (GAO-09-618, pp. 19-22), SpaceX is 16-18 months behind schedule in meeting its COTS contract. If there’s any good news for SpaceX, it’s that Orbital is 3 months behind SpaceX. For this, it has been paid $238 million by NASA.

      many, including 2/3rds, bipartisan majorities in Congress, thought this was just irresponsible.

      SpaceX’s claims, with a total launch average of 0.428 and paying wages far higher than those paid in China, that it can launch cheaper than the Chinese, who have a launch history going back to before Elon was born, stretches credulity. A cheap dollar might make that possible…except that the Chinese Renminbi is even cheaper than the dollar ($1 = 6.5 Chinese Renminbi Yuan).

      Success, not ad-hominem attacks on critics, is the surest way for SpaceX to build confidence that its promises can be matched by action. That means demonstrating that it can service ISS with Falcon 9/Dragon dependably and meeting its COTS contract terms.

A Trajectory to Nowhere

Wolf – U.S. Should Not Build-up China’s Space Program