To many Americans, Elon Musk’s Starship project looks like a billionaire’s boondoggle that prioritizes personal ambition over terrestrial imperatives. This cynicism is not deserved. On the contrary, the success of Spacex and Starship could be one of the most important milestones in modern human history and a lesson for America as it journeys deeper into an uncertain 21st century.
The Next Big Thing
Far from a personal boondoggle, the Starship rocket represents a quantum leap in space access capability and affordability that cannot be overstated. With Starship, SpaceX is targeting up to 150 metric tons (initially > 100 tons) to orbit at an amortized cost of $2 million per launch.
At those specifications, SpaceX will bring the cost per kilogram to orbit to just ~ $13 US Dollars. For perspective, SpaceX’s partially reusable Falcon 9 can achieve approximately $2000 per kilogram today. Even so, that figure is “cheap” when compared to launch costs of a decade ago, that ran at least three times higher.
But even if Starship misses these lofty projections, the industry will be disrupted nonetheless. If Starship never achieves more than the initial 100 tons to orbit, and misses cost projections by an order of magnitude, the cost to space will still drop to 1/10th of what it is today and 35 times cheaper than they were a decade ago.
Never has an industry experienced such an immense cost revolution in such a short period of time, save for the electronics industry beginning in the 1960s. And now, like then, at the dawn of Moore’s Law, we cannot foresee where this revolution will take us.
The information revolution brought untold new jobs, economic productivity, and opportunity to billions of people around the world. But with Moore’s law slowing down, perhaps space will be the next “big” driver of global growth.
It would behoove Americans to be courageous, not cynical, in support of SpaceX and other companies, as they endeavor in opening up the final frontier.
An American Story
Starship matters not only for the opportunities it could bring, but also stands as a reminder of the opportunities that made the rocket possible. Elon Musk’s wealth and eccentric behavior have been the target of both admiration and cynicism. But there is no denying that his achievements are unparalleled. Having led Zip2, Paypal, Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity, among others, Musk’s leadership, however eccentric, always leads to successful disruption.
But much of Musk’s success owes to his immigration from South Africa to the United States. Musk’s story, like many of his employees, who are first or second generation immigrants, stands as a testament to the power of America to draw the best and brightest to its shores and give them the freedom and opportunity to live out their dreams. Even if that dream is as mad as retiring on Mars.
This is a cautionary tale for a country that, as of late, has been turning its back on its immigrant heritage, shortsightedly closing its borders in the name of “security” and “jobs.” When America closes these pathways of opportunity, it does so for both the individuals and the country that benefits from them.
Public Private Partnerships
SpaceX also illustrates the power of public/private partnerships. While SpaceX is a private company, much of its success is the product of a partnership with NASA and the Air force. Throughout American history, government money has invested in areas that the private sector was too cautious to touch, jump-starting private investment and entrepreneurship in new frontiers.
Whether it was the air mail program that started modern airlines, early research into lithium batteries, or a government program to decentralize computer systems, which gave rise to the internet…government investment and support played a crucial role in getting groundbreaking innovation off the ground.
While Congress has steadily curtailed funding for the sciences in the name of “small” governance, the success of Starship and SpaceX is an illustration that America doesn’t face the zero-sum choices that its politicians parade on television.
America can take a middle path forward, embracing both government research and private entrepreneurship, as it has in decades past with great success.
With Starship, SpaceX is ushering in a new era of growth and prosperity for humanity and America. Starship matters because it stands as a reminder that America can still achieve great things. The question is, will Starship be remembered as the last gasp of the great American experiment, or a long-overdue renewal. Time will tell.
About the Lianeon Project |
The Lianeon Project is a publication for people who recognize that civilization’s growth requires forward-looking public policy that prioritizes reason, truth, and human progress.
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