Game Changer Personal reflections

SpaceX: Is that really the simplest way to do things?

Boil things down to their fundamental truths, reason up from there as opposed to reasoning from analogies. Elon Musk

I’ve been a fan of Elon Musk for a while now, I found his story fascinating and he illustrates the kind of life I want to live in future, disrupting different sectors of the economy with innovative technology. Paypal, Tesla, Hyperloop,Solar City, SpaceX, OpenAI…I pretty much understood and was in support of all his companies except SpaceX until recently.

SpaceX designs, manufactures, and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. It has only two ambitious goals: To make spaceflight routine and affordable, and to make humans multi-planet species.  Over the years it has gradually worked towards achieving these goals especially the former, normally a trip to space costs about $200 million but through cost saving measures – manufacturing in-house up to 70% of its products, highly automated bulk manufacturing process. It has been able to cut that cost down to an average of $60 million. Space travel is the most expensive mode of transportation for many obvious reasons however reusability tops the list.

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A Boeing 737 which costs $90 million has a passenger capacity of 180 people, it should cost $500,000 per person if the plane wasn’t reusable irrespective of the distance however because it is reusable it costs about $53 per person for a trip from Los Angels to Las Vegas, obviously the cost increases depending on the traveling distance however, it would forever be cheaper compared to $500,000 because the plane is reusable, the story is the same for other modes of transportation. Spacecrafts have a different story, it is designed to be used only once and then abandoned or destroyed. This means a new spaceship has to be made each trip.  A spaceship is divided into 3 major parts the Rocket booster- costs about $230 million, it propels the space ship for flight then it is detached and falls back to earth, mostly into the ocean, Fuel tank- about $130 million, houses the fuel, Ship- about $200 million.

In 2013, I saw a TEDx interview where Elon explained that to tackle this problem, they had simply proposed that instead of destroying the rocket booster after use it could return back to the launch site and be reused. Finally, on 21st December 2016, the first rocket booster was landed back to launch site.

With this Breakthrough SpaceX is getting closer to its goals. I’m very excited because this means two things, the further reduction in the cost of space travel will bring about more possibilities and the achievement of this feat would spur others to keep asking ‘Is that really the simplest way to do things?’

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