The success of Falcon 9 has got ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain thinking, according to a report in Flight Global. Dordain that SpaceX’s approach is to make about 80 percent of components in-house, something that would be difficult for ESA because it needs to spread out contracts across Europe according the member states’ contributions.
But most significantly, says Dordain, SpaceX also represents an entirely new type of relationship between government and the space industry. While most of the money invested in developing Falcon 9 and its smaller predecessor, Falcon 1, has come from the US government, SpaceX founder Elon Musk – whose earlier success as co-founder of the online payments system PayPal earned him millions – and a group of private investors have put substantial sums into the programmes.
He doubts that there is scope for a European counterpart of SpaceX because he does not believe the European launch market is big enough to support independent players whose business was based solely on government launch contracts.
Dordain is either wrong or was misquoted on this last point. NASA is subsidizing the development of the Falcon 9, and guaranteeing a set number of supply missions to the International Space Station. SpaceX is using this as a base from which to create a commercialÂ business, having already lined up private payloads for the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets.Â If SpaceX’s business model was solely based on government contracts, it wouldn’t have received much – if any – private investment because the market is so limited.
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