Skip to comments.SpaceX Falcon Heavy Shows Why We Need Appropriations Reform
Posted on 12/28/2017 6:12:09 AM PST by Kaslin
This week, SpaceX has been working diligently to drum up media coverage for the unveiling of the "Falcon Heavy," its reusable, super heavy lift rocket that may be used for deep space missions. While the media narrative SpaceX is pushing might look appealing, federal appropriators should proceed with extreme caution.
SpaceX is advertising this rocket as "the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two." The company projects it has the potential to lift 119,000 pounds into space – twice the amount of the current leader. While the concept sounds good in theory, so have all the other broken assurances Musk has made in the past few years.
SpaceX says the Falcon Heavy will debut in January 2018, but in reality, who knows – it also said it would launch in 2013 or 2014, Spring of 2016, and late 2017. Earlier this year, SpaceX was estimated to have a $10 billion backlog of over 70 missions, and it continues to experience regular mission delays. The Falcon Heavy seems to be just another chapter in the textbook of the company's broken promises, and a long one at that.
Even Elon Musk, SpaceX's founder, doubts how successful the Falcon Heavy launch will be, saying, “I hope it makes it far enough away from the pad that it does not cause pad damage. I would consider even that a win, to be honest.” While that outlined scenario may be a step up from some of SpaceX's past failures, such as one in September 2016 that wrecked the Cape Canaveral launchpad and delayed NASA commercial flights to 2018, it is not exactly something taxpayers want to hear.
Despite having such low hopes, Musk seems to be making a joke of the launch. On its first flight, he will have the Falcon Heavy send one of his Tesla Roadsters to the stars while David Bowie's "Space Oddity" plays in the background. This lack of seriousness over the event is concerning, especially because the Falcon Heavy is a rocket that it plans to use to send tourists around the Moon next year. Per SpaceX, customers have "already paid a significant deposit."
Unfortunately, SpaceX is devoting much of the energy it should be using to fix the Falcon Heavy on a new venture – the Big F—ng Rocket (BFR), a rocket that will supposedly be capable of doing everything its other lines can do while also having the ability to plant a colony on Mars. Musk has even gone so far as to say he believes the BFR will make the Falcon Heavy, as well as his other rocket lines, completely obsolete. SpaceX is targeting a 2022 BFR launch date.
For this reason alone, the government should think twice before giving the Falcon Heavy any contracts. After all, the Falcon 9, one of SpaceX's existing rocket lines, has been off to a bit of a rocky start. It has incited several costly explosions over the past few years, highlighting how new rocket lines need time to grow and mature. Why, then, would NASA give financial support to the Falcon Heavy – a rocket that has yet to get off the ground – when Musk is openly stating that he may shut it down soon?
Despite all of these concerns, the government could potentially give the Falcon Heavy more contracts than it deserves due to the government's adherence to Lowest Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA) appropriations standards. Currently, appropriators must provide contracts to the lowest bidder who submits a "technically acceptable" proposal. While this government mandate may work well for things like office supplies, it is not efficient for defense equipment due to important factors aside from cost, including reliability and durability.
In other words, "sticker price" is not always everything. SpaceX may low-ball a bid for Falcon Heavy launches – per its website, potentially even at a one-third discount – but appropriators should have every right to look at the "fine print" as well. The government should want to avoid another horrid situation like the Battle of Wanat in Afghanistan, where nine American soldiers died and dozens of others were wounded due to jammed-up, inefficient weapons. Low prices mean nothing without reliability.
Thankfully, a bipartisan solution to this problem has already been introduced in Congress. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) released the Promoting Value Based Defense Procurement Act, a bill previously introduced by Rep. Donald Beyer (D-VA), which would allow the Department of Defense to circumvent this LPTA mandate when dealing with complex procurement scenarios.
Dreaming big is fine and should be encouraged; at the same time though, it should not be subsidized by the federal government. Here's hoping that this bill or one like it passes before any future short-sighted investments are made in Washington – the American taxpayers are counting on it.
it has the potential to lift 119,000 pounds into space...
Now we can get rid of Rosie for good.
What a machine this is. Elon Musk is doing what most only dream about.
By comparison, the Saturn V had a Payload to LEO (Low Earth Orbit) of 310,000 lbs, and a Payload to TLI (Trans Lunar Injection, whatever that is) of 107,100 lbs.
But it was not reusable.
Strip a few more pounds off its empty weight and we might be able to fit Roseanne in there at the same time.
Let’s not get crazy. :)
Though squeezing cankles in would be nice too.
Along with the thousand other reasons for appropriations reform, which have all had zero effect on appropriations.
What do you have against Roseanne?
She despises Franken and supports Trump!
I hope it makes it far enough away from the pad that it does not cause pad damage.
WTF ? Why are we supporting this type of logic. Astronauts read this and say, not me.
This is all reasonable steps toward major progress. And yes, Musk IS making progress on all fronts, at a good rate. There will be failures. There will be delays. There will be cost overruns. He’s playing all those as part of the game, and winning.
Yes SpaceX is launching a Falcon Heavy with novelty cargo. You don’t do the first launch of a gigantic controlled explosion with expensive/irreplaceable cargo, you just put something in it so the payload bay isn’t completely empty, and send it up.
Yes the Falcon Heavy may soon be abandoned in favor of the BFR. It’s a necessary step in developing the long-term technology.
Remember: just re-using the first (very expensive) stage was impossible a couple years ago. Now it’s normal enough it’s almost boring. That’s a HUGE breakthrough, and Musk made it happen.
If you want such progress to happen AT ALL, someone has to do it - would you rather a team of bored bureaucrats be tasked with putting a city on Mars, or someone who’s so enthused about it he’s willing to risk putting his own high-value custom car on it as a test subject?
It’s a pretty open secret that Lowest Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA) just means Lowest Price.
The federal government doesn’t actually care if most of this stuff works. Technically Acceptable? The Program Manager who gets the contract awarded will get a promotion and move on. When the government realizes that this result is not technically acceptable, there will be no one who can be held accountable, so no one will care. Get the Lowest Price, get promoted. Nothing else matters in many cases.
So, what’s the authors alternative? NASA’s heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System, which is a completely different rocket from the cancelled Aries V NASA heavy launch system? After 15 years and tens of billions of dollars, NASA and Congress haven’t even gotten started on building one of those.
“is doing” should “hopes to do”. The guy is quite the huckster on many levels. He always reminds me of the Burt Lancaster movie “Elmer Gantry”.
Elon Musk is doing what most only dream about.Like what? Being a successful flim-flam man bilking billion$ from the American taxpayer?
Whoever invests with Elon Musk will ultimately lose money.
Mr. Rogers, there is no assurance by anyone (NASA included) that any chemically-fueled launch vehicle will not explode on ignition. That the FH might explode and damage the facilities, delaying other launches is a weak argument.
Best to leave expensive things like space exploration to our betters, the Chinese, since we’d have more money to buy stuff from them; and they are projected to overtake the US economically in a handful of years, why wait?
Trans Lunar Injection is the point where the vehicle leaves earth orbit and begins the Trans Lunar Coast toward the moon. You then have Lunar Orbit Injection, Lunar Orbit, Trans Earth injection, Trans Earth Coast, Earth Orbit Injection, Earth Orbit again and then Re-entry. All require rocket burns.
Yes, I used to work there. Just celebrated the Christmas ‘68 Apollo 8 mission.
So where is this record any worse than NASA’s?
Roseanne Barr is actually a “Trumpster” and a Conservative...surprised me too.
Thomas Edison blew what? Thousands upon thousands of light bulbs? With a mindset like that wed still be reading in the dark. He has his cars operating. Said it couldnt be done. Space X have gotten manned space craft to space. Said it couldnt be done.
How about we get done with the naysayers?
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