Until very recently, space exploration was something that did not get much traction. People stopped dreaming about space and rockets long time ago.
Until this happened.
In less than 10 minutes, a giant rocket took off, its side booster came back on earth and a roadster was in space.
A lot of things have been said about the rocket itself, about SpaceX founder Elon Musk and what it means for the future of space exploration and space travel. I do not want to talk about this.
I want to share some insights about the incidental effect of this launch. There are the main few thoughts.
If you want to disrupt, do not listen to the experts
When I was working at the European Space Agency (ESA) for about 2 years, people were making fun of SpaceX. Space experts (engineers, directors - almost everybody at that time) considered Musk was an idiot with an irrealistic dream of building reusable rockets.
For years, the company was discredited, saying that the idea of landing rockets was not feasible.
Until this happened.
SpaceX made it happen and now, the same experts that made fun of him copy him. It will take them years to catch-up (the first reusable rocket from ESA is announced to start to be tested in 2020 - SpaceX succeeded in 2015!). The person they called an idiot years ago disrupt their industry and will make them bankrupt.
Lesson 1: dream big, worry small
Lesson 2: do not be overconfident, anybody can attack your business and make you bankrupt tomorrow
Governments are inefficient
Ariane 6 will take $3.6B euros to develop. The Falcon Heavy development cost was $500M and can take embedd more payload than the future Ariane. So, why such a difference?
There are two main reasons: work inefficiency and lack/fear of innovation.
Actual rocket developments is done by government agencies. The work is often done by contractors that are very expensive (you have to pay the contractor agency, which takes a fee - they act as a middleman). There are also some workers that are not competent and still employed and/or people promoted for political reasons while not being effective and block other, more competent engineers that are frustrated and leave after few years. At the end of the day, this is a large overhead. Also, in the case of ESA, there is the geographic return policy: past projects are not re-used and the tax payer pay the same project twice!
The second is lack of innovation and fear of disruption. Until SpaceX started to be seriously in the space business, rocket launchers and satellites were using proprietary processors paid at outrageous prices. In the case of european space programs, gaisler research, a company started by a former ESA employee, is the main (only?) hardware provider for onboard computers. Its electronic components cost dozen of thousands of euros and each sub-contractor for any space program has to purchases these processors. As there is only one provider for these processor, there is no competition on the price and the company can set the price the tax-payer will end up paying! SpaceX took a radically different direction by using off-the-shelf components make them resilient to radiation using redundant systems. Instead of feeding companies that set their own prices, SpaceX designed a system that uses multiple cheap component and coordinate them to be resilient to failure. There is no doubt that they apply the same principles at different steps of the supply chain to reduce costs at scale. Simple and efficient.
The point is: space programs have been run by governmental organizations, which are inefficient and end up wasting the taxpayer money. SpaceX gave the proof by reducing drastically the cost of a launch ($60M for a Falcon9 launch versus $200M for Ariane5) and reduce development costs (see above). Government presence is necessary in some areas but they are not designed to run businesses efficiently, this has been shown multiple times in history (the telecom business in France is a good one too).
Immigration is a force
There is a lot of discussion about immigration in the previous months. I do not want to have a political discussion there, this is not my objective. My point is that SpaceX is a company started by an immigrant and many SpaceX employees are foreigners.
Immigration bring people that are hungry and want to raise the bar. Look around major US companies today: one founder of Alphabet is Russian, the CEO of Google is Indian as the CEO of Microsoft! Foreigners come in a country because they have big dream. They come to realize them They are a force: their positive energy is the fuel of innovation and success.
USA is where dreams happen
A success like the Falcon Heavy project would never have happened in Europe: were laughing at Musk and his ideas of reusable rockets! No government would have funded him outside of the USA. Europe is the culture of the nay-sayer, where people prefer blaming rather than trying and learning from their failure.
USA is the country where you have enough freedom to start and experience ideas. This is where new technologies are created. Where self-driving cars are emerging where energy efficient materials are produced. And now, new rockets are taking off. USA is the country where your dreams can become reality.
The future is bright for the Space business
This launch was a great promotion for Space X, no doubt about this. And now, people are talking again about space exploration and space travel. SpaceX, Blue Origin and new companies will be competing. This will open more opportunities in a very near future, not only for space travel but potentially for establishing colonies on other planets. The dark days are gone for the space business.