Simple Math

Larry Williams, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) vice president of strategic relations, made an appearance at the National Research Council’s Space Studies Board June 25. As reported by Space News [“ULA Says it Has no Plans to Cede Medium-Lift Market,” June 30, page 5], Williams said SpaceX believes it can deliver on its promise of lower launch prices by taking the “Wal-Mart approach,” which he characterized as doing hundreds of things 1 percent cheaper than the competition rather than trying to do one thing 90 percent cheaper.

As Mr. Williams knows, a launch service constitutes thousands of elements of cost. If SpaceX were to reduce each and every one of those elements of cost by 1 percent, the total cost reduction would be – 1 percent. If SpaceX truly intends to reduce the cost of space launch by 25 percent to 50 percent, then each and every element of cost needs to be reduced by 25 percent to 50 percent.

Since those levels of reduction are not possible for every single element of cost, SpaceX had better start looking for those 90 percent reductions to make up for the ones that they can’t get below 5 percent to 10 percent savings. I sincerely wish them well in their attempts to lower the cost of space access, but let’s hope that the SpaceX engineering department is better at math than their marketing department.

Joseph Padavano