China and U.S. Companies Head to the Moon
Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk want to set up operations on the moon. “An exclusive look at Jeff Bezos’s plan to set up Amazon-like delivery for ‘future human settlement’ of the moon” (Washington Post, March 2, 2017) reports Bezo’s Blue Origin plans to to set up moon habitats by mid-2020. From separate story: “Jeff Bezos says NASA should return to the Moon, and he’s ready to help,” (Ars Technica, March 3, 2017):
Bezos explained the philosophy behind this idea. “We are hoping to partner with NASA on a program called Blue Moon where we would provide a cargo-delivery service to the surface of the Moon, with the intent over time of building a permanently inhabited human settlement on the Moon,”
The Washington Post also reported on Elon Musk’s plans for SpaceX moon flights in 2018: “Elon Musk’s SpaceX plans to fly two private citizens around the moon by late next year” (February 27, 2017).
The Diplomat asks “Are China and the US Set for a Showdown in Space?” (January 28, 2017). China’s interest is more economic than military, exploration, or for scientific research:
… Chinese views on space resources are particularly under-studied. Space resources deserve to be studied because of the potentially vast economic value and potential to cause inter-state conflict. … China conceptualizes space activity principally within the context of economic development, which has important implications for space resources and property.
Elon Musk and other private U.S. space companies also focus on economic opportunity, beginning with lucrative satellite launches, and preparing for space tourism for wealthy customers, and then looking at mining and other moon resource opportunities. Like high-definition televisions, the wealthy buy high-tech goods and services first. Their early high-dollar purchases help pay for further development and innovations that bring costs down for wider markets.
This Motley Fool article looks at SpaceX as a for-profit business: “How Does SpaceX Make Money?,” (June 25, 2016). This Space.com article, “Blue Origin’s Sweet Spot: An Untapped Suborbital Market for Private Spaceflight,” (August 12, 2016) reports:
A central objective of the company is creating a commercial suborbital space tourism vehicle for paying customers. But Blue Origin also plans to make money by taking science experiments into the final frontier.
Critics complain that much SpaceX income comes from federal funding (“Without NASA there would be no SpaceX and its brilliant boat landing,” (Ars Technica, April 11, 2016). But supporters of SpaceX, Blue Origin and other private space companies reply that NASA is fully federally funded and its launch and exploration costs are far, far higher (in part because they rely on traditional NASA/military contractors).
So, the debate over private vs. government space exploration tilts now toward private firms. This TEDx presentation by Jeff Greason, “Making Space Pay and Having Fun Doing It,” then of XCOR, outlines how commercial space development brings costs down.