MOVING AT THE SPEED OF GOVERNMENT: The Orion spacecraft is now 15 years old and has flown into space just once.
Congress has pumped $23.7 billion into Orion for that single flight.
On the other hand:
SpaceX is generally considered one of the most efficient space companies. Founded in 2002, the company has received funding from NASA, the Department of Defense, and private investors. Over its history, we can reliably estimate that SpaceX has expended a total of $16 billion to $20 billion on all of its spaceflight endeavors. Consider what that money has bought:
• Development of Falcon 1, Falcon 9, and Falcon Heavy rockets
• Development of Cargo Dragon, Crew Dragon, and Cargo Dragon 2 spacecraft
• Development of Merlin, Kestrel, and Raptor rocket engines
• Build-out of launch sites at Vandenberg (twice), Kwajalein Atoll, Cape Canaveral, and Kennedy Space Center
• 105 successful launches to orbit
• 20 missions to supply International Space Station, two crewed flights
• Development of vertical take off, vertical landing, rapid reuse for first stages
• Starship and Super Heavy rocket development program
• Starlink Internet program (with 955 satellites on orbit, SpaceX is largest satellite operator in the world)
To sum up, SpaceX delivered all of that for billions of dollars less than what NASA has spent on the Orion program since its inception.
It is impressive and show that as government programs get older and larger, they get more conservative with respect to risk management. And as seen from above, to the point of calcification. Because they know that politicians will throw them under the bus at the slightest hint that they will be held responsible by voters for bad outcomes (especially the loss of life as what has happened with NASA.
But capitalism REQUIRES risk and Elon Musk has shown that he is willing to absorb a LOT of risk in developing really complex systems. But look at the results overall – more products, more efficiency, and higher quality. And a large part of that was finally implementing the idea that the Shuttle was supposed to do (but never did) – reusability of spacecraft. His team developed and delivered on the concept of capturing and reusing what are the most expensive parts of spacecraft – the boosters. The best minds in Government couldn’t get it done – he did.
This is not to say that Government can’t. Future history will prove out that when Government is properly structured and then directing private industry for a specific purpose at a given point in time, it can be successful. To wit: Operation Warp Speed.
Sure, much of the actual vaccine “parts” were already known – Moderna simply “repurposed” and “tuned” an existing vaccine and actually had it ready in two days back in January. The rest of the time was spent in fulfilling all of the Government regulations (like, of course, all the trials). As Trump has pointed out, over and over, Something this needed in this area has never been done so fast.
But how much of Government operates with this nimbleness?