Aviation Week reports that how SpaceX runs its business could revolutionize NASA if the government agency applied the company's principles.
NASA might ease its “delicate position” by following the cost-cutting approaches used by Space Exploration Technologies Inc. (SpaceX) in developing the Falcon 9 launch vehicle, a key member of the panel that reviewed U.S. human spaceflight plans for President Barack Obama is telling Congress.
Administrator Charles Bolden apparently agrees, saying that the SpaceX approach to management is “disruptive technology” that can bring “great gains” to the space program.
“They don’t spread things all over the country the way that NASA and defense contractors tend to do,” Bolden told the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology on May 19. “They’re very focused in two locations in the country. They bring everything in-house. They have no subcontractors, so everything comes to them. That’s disruptive.”
The article quotes Princeton astrophysics professor Christopher F. Chyba:
“I think one would want to understand in some detail . . . why would it be between four and 10 times more expensive for NASA to do this, especially at a time when one of the issues facing NASA is how to develop the heavy-lift launch vehicle within the budget profile that the committee has given it,” Chyba says.
He cites an analysis contained in NASA’s report to Congress on the market for commercial crew and cargo services to LEO that found it would cost NASA between $1.7 billion and $4 billion to do the same Falcon-9 development that cost SpaceX $390 million. In its analysis, which contained no estimates for the future cost of commercial transportation services to the International Space Station (ISS) beyond those already under contract, NASA says it had “verified” those SpaceX cost figures.
Any attempt to consolidate NASA operations, of course, would run into a firestorm on Capitol Hill as members of Congress would fight to protect pork coming to their districts.
UPDATE May 22, 2011 — A second Aviation Week article by Frank Morring, Jr. details the testimony by Dr. Chyba:
Chyba repeated his 2009 warning that NASA has not been able to develop one vehicle and fly another at the same time, given historic budget constraints. But he said NASA may be able to learn from SpaceX as it develops the heavy-lift launch vehicle Congress has ordered it to build for missions beyond LEO.
“The other thing that I think one would want to understand in some detail would be why would it be between four and 10 times more expensive for NASA to do this, especially at a time when one of the issues facing NASA now is how to develop the heavy-lift launch vehicle within the budget profile that the committee has given it,” Chyba said.