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The answer to those questions will likely be much different in the coming decade as the SpaceXs, Blue Origins, and Virgin Orbits of the world become increasingly dependable

Must We Throw Hail Marys to Win the Space Race?


By —— Bio and Archives--June 14, 2018

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Must We Throw Hail Marys to Win the Space Race?
Should the United States gamble the efficiency and reliability of its space launch program in hopes of jump-starting the marketplace?

That is what Joshua C. Huminski, Director of the National Security Space Program, argued in a recent column. I beg to differ. I believe that doing so will run our current national security strategy off course and allow rogue nations like China to take more significant strides at becoming the world’s newest space superpower.

Mr. Huminski and I agree that the government must break its “outdated model of acquisition” and “rapidly integrate advanced technologies into the national security space architecture.” Any serious foreign policy analyst will tell you that bureaucrats often remain too dependent and trusting of unproductive, tried-and-true defense tools.

For that reason, I believe that NASA and the Pentagon’s primary goal should always be to remove vulnerabilities to the safety of both astronauts and America’s national defense at large. Unfortunately, it seems that this is where Mr. Huminski and I disagree.

Mr. Huminski ostensibly thinks that since top security officials are rightfully concerned about the progress China is making in the space race, American decision makers have no other recourse but to take more risks in the contracting process. By this logic, the United States could move further ahead in its efforts against China than would be possible under a more risk-averse strategy. This thinking is akin to the rationale behind the Obama Administration’s backing of Solyndra to expedite the nation’s transition to green energy. We all know how that turned out.

Analysts and government officials need to take a step back from the noise and assess the severity of the situation at hand. Yes, China’s capabilities are increasing by the day, but we are still unquestionably the primary leader in space. Estimates from 2016 show that the United States spends about $35.9 billion in space. Although China has talked about raising their budgets, their expenditures currently come in at just under $5 billion. There is no need to begin throwing Hail Marys today under these conditions. So long as we are smart and careful, we will have no long-term worries.

Without question, the United States should embrace new, proven space technology and the up-and-coming private companies that are working to make this industry exciting again. There is nothing more crucial than steadily innovating to fend off aggression and improve our standing in the world. But to suggest that government administrators, which deal with taxpayer money and hold the keys to our national security strategy, should go a step further by rolling the dice on technology that has not yet been proven reliable in the private marketplace seems absurd to me.

Unfortunately, this is precisely what is occurring. Our mindfulness has slipped in recent years. The excessive risk taking we have taken over the past half-decade is a primary reason why China has been able to make such large gains at our expense.

While Blue Origin and Virgin Orbit are still perfecting their products, SpaceX is already an established market player. However, it is, at least by my standards, not yet well-suited for some Pentagon missions. This is evident through reports from the Defense Department’s Inspector General and NASA’s Aerospace Advisory Panel, which underscore some of SpaceX’s most considerable quality control issues.

Despite all these concerns, Mr. Huminksi wants the Pentagon to take more risks at our national security’s expense, arguing that “cheaper launch and cheaper payloads will mean a failure isn’t as costly as the loss of a $1 billion, exquisitely capable satellite.” He seems to be forgetting a few things.Naturally, newer upstarts have much weaker track records than the companies that have been around the block for years and have gone over 100 launches without a single failure. Each of these setbacks doesn’t just cost money; it costs us time to improve and innovate as well. And time is everything when other countries are working against you with the worst of intentions.While it’s true that the sticker prices of newer market players are often lower, these price tags do not consider the hidden costs of launch failures, as well as the fact that these companies’ prices increase along with their time in the industry. For example, SpaceX just raised mission prices by 50 percent because it now has “a better understanding of the costs involved after several years of experience with cargo resupply missions,” diluting the value of one of its key selling points. I would not be surprised if more come soon.In short, the question is not if we should use the new space launch companies, it’s when and to what extent. The answer to those questions will likely be much different in the coming decade as the SpaceXs, Blue Origins, and Virgin Orbits of the world become increasingly dependable. Until that time, though, we need to continue utilizing an all-of-the-above approach that takes all possible risk factors into account. It’s what our national security deserves.


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Mark Anthony -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Mark Anthony is a former Silicon Valley Executive with Forrester Research, Inc. (Nasdaq: FORR). Mark is now the host of the nationally syndicated radio and TV show called The Patriot and The Preacher Show which airs on America’s Voice Network. Find out more at patriotandpreachershow.com.


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