Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

 
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.


He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

 
Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.
 

Russians slash their launch prices by 39%

Capitalism in space: Having lost their entire commercial market share because of SpaceX’s lower prices, the Russians have finally decided to slash their launch prices by 39%.

As the article notes, the cost for a Proton rocket launch was once $100 million. Then SpaceX came along with a $60 million pricetag. At first the Russians poo-pooed this, and did nothing. When their customers started to vanish however they decided to finally compete, so a year ago they cut the Proton price to match SpaceX’s.

Because of SpaceX’s ability to reuse its first stages, however, that $60 million price no longer worked. SpaceX had a year earlier lowered its prices even more, to $50 million, for launches with used first stages.

This new price slash by Roscosmos probably brings their price down to about $36 million, and thus beats SpaceX.

We shall see whether it will attract new customers. It definitely is now cheaper, but it is also less reliable. Russia continues to have serious quality control problems at its manufacturing level.

That SpaceX’s arrival forced a drop in the price of a launch from $100 million to less than $40 million illustrates the beautiful value of freedom and competition. The change is even more spectacular when you consider that ULA, the dominant American launch company before SpaceX, had been charging between $200 to $400 million per launch. For decades the Russians, ULA, and Arianespace refused to compete, working instead as a cartel to keep costs high.

SpaceX has ended this corrupt practice. We now have a competitive launch industry, and the result is that the exploration of the solar system is finally becoming a real possibility.

Correction: I originally called ULA “the only American launch company before SpaceX.” This was not correct, as Orbital Sciences, now part of Northrop Grumman, was also launching satellites. It just was a very minor player, with little impact. It was also excluded from the military’s EELV program, and thus could not launch payloads for them after around 2005.

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13 comments

  • Col Beausabre

    Well, you can drop the price to any value you want when you are subsidized by the government. And yeah, I know, that means Russian taxpayers are subsidizing Roscosmos’ customers, but also means that SpaceX is fighting an entire country. It’s the classic drive your competitor out of business by ruinously undercharging then jack the prices sky high (just how the Russians are attempting to destroy the US oil industry https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/10/business/russia-us-shale-oil-putin-opec/index.html).

  • Ian C.

    Additional costs like insurance can be higher for Russian launchers compared to SX (last time I checked they were). A customer with multiple future launches is probably better served with SX: the Russians mostly use up their stock of LV (and we have yet to see how the Angara performs) while establishing experience with SX is a bet on the future. Plus geopolitical uncertainties (e.g. when they scrapped the Dnjepr over the Ukraine conflict).

  • Col Beausabre

    Well as of 2:20 PM EDT 20 April, the Russians have driven US oil prices to under $1 per barrel. Even lower than yesterday -“US oil prices crashed to a record low on Monday, losing nearly 91.79pc of their value” Russia can absorb that, all they have to do is roll the printing press. How long do you think SpaceX can take pressure like that applied to it – even with higher insurance costs, etc – eventually the siren song of the pocketbook wins

  • Ian C.

    Help me to understand what you’ve said, Col Beausabre. That the Russians will make their launches so cheap that it’s hard for SX to compete on price in the (near) future?

    First, the Russians have only very limited capacity to build new launches (unlike SX they’re not prepared for scalable production). Second, those launches need to be reliable enough (even if the launch might be free, everything else isn’t, plus delays resulting from failed launches). Third, there’s so much demand for launches that SX’s manifest should still be full for years, even while some might walk over to the Russians (again, limited capacity). Fourth, there might be enough payloads that won’t leave NATO + allies countries. Fifth, Russia can play this game only for so long until it backfires in various ways.

    I don’t fear for SX.

  • Rose

    This article deals with Proton launches, but it’s worth mentioning that OneWeb had contracted for 21 Soyuz launches, but only three were completed before OneWeb entered bankruptcy. Many (most?) of the remaining 18 are already under various stages of construction (with a few presumably all but completed), as they were all supposed to fly by some time next year.

  • Brad

    “We now have a competitive launch industry, and the result is that the exploration of the solar system is finally becoming a real possibility.”

    You would think so, right? Yet when I broached this subject with some professional JPL people they reacted as if horns had sprouted from my head. JPL has no plans to consider how lower launch prices could change the entrenched procedures for planetary exploration.

    When I suggested that the 10x drop in payload launch costs should make a difference, they dismissed that with a claim that at best the drop in price was a mere two or three times.

    JPL is satisfied with a paradigm of $2.5 billion cost per Mars mission.

  • Brad: Then JPL will be left in the dust. As costs come down (with a bunch of new private companies making cheap planetary missions) NASA is simply going to stop buying JPL’s gold plated missions.

    It will take time, but as long as the U.S. continues to transition to depending on private competitive companies, it will happen.

  • USA was not the “American launch company” before SpaceX, Orbital Sciences Corporation, now Northrop Grumman, Space System, Launch Vehicle Division, has been successfully launching for years

  • John Wise: You are correct. I will fix. I forgot completely about them.

  • Michael G. Gallagher

    And when the Space X Starship and Superheavy finally flies, Space X prices will drop below what Roscosmos could rationally charge and still survive. Meanwhile, rather than spying on Trump, the US intelligence services could make sure that the Russian launch industry suffers intermittently from “gremlins”

  • Rose

    @Michael G. Gallagher: the US intelligence services could make sure that the Russian launch industry suffers intermittently from “gremlins”

    Isn’t having our astronauts drill holes in their orbital modules good enough?

    Back in the real world, weather is looking good for SpaceX’s 15:37 EDT Wednesday launch from the Cape with their latest batch of 60 Starlink satellites.

    Press kit:
    https://www.spacex.com/sites/spacex/files/seventh_starlink_mission_overview.pdf

    Webcast, to go live about 10minutes before liftoff:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSge0I7pwFI

  • Rose

    SpaceX now says: “New T-0 of 3:30 p.m. EDT, 19:30 UTC, for today’s launch of Starlink”
    * https://twitter.com/SpaceX/status/1252959401901559808

    Not sure what is up with the 7 minute advance from 15:37 EDT. Perhaps they are now targeting the start of window instead of the middle?

  • Rose

    Regarding the engine loss late in booster flight of the Falcon 9 from the March Starlink mission:

    * https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1252985622219960327

    Yuri: Can you tell us what happened with Merlin on last starlink mission? This booster is flying its fifth* as well after all

    Elon Musk: Small amount of isopropyl alcohol (cleaning fluid) was trapped in a sensor dead leg & ignited in flight

    Interesting.

    * It was the fifth flight of B1048 which had the engine loss, but today is the *fourth* flight of B1051.

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