1 Dec 19, 2019 09:13 pm
I've been a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) for 30+ years. (Yeah, I guess I'm old.) As a member, I receive the organization's magazine, Aerospace America, monthly, and I devour every article. By reputation, this ought to be the quintessential reference on upcoming space operations.
If you were to read only Aerospace America, or any number of other publications--from popular to technical--you would be almost unaware that SpaceX even exists. You'd see significant reference to Lockeed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and their plans (Orion, Lunar Orbital Gateway, Starliner, Mars Orbital Gateway). You'd see Jeff Bezos' plans as if he'd put 50 rockets into space, and reference to his OneWeb constellation as if it had vehicles in orbit (hint: it doesn't).
You'd even see respectable astronauts (Tom Jones) walking through the NASA plans for lunar landers, spacesuits, the lunar gateway, etc. as if that was the only plan.
What you wouldn't see is Gwynne Shotwell's comment's that SpaceX intends to have cargo waiting for NASA astronauts when they arrive in 2024. Now, maybe, SpaceX is just tweaking NASA. After all, Starship is already seeing some significant development issues. There's only one problem with that: SpaceX is putting vehicles in orbit every month, recovering their boosters, and advancing the state of the art. SpaceX has 120 satellites in orbit for its giant constellation; Bezos has zero, and is on track for zero. SLS is on track for a launch in 2021, by which time SpaceX could well be flying Starship into LEO.
At some point--and I don't know when--the rest of industry is going to have to acknowledge that the unpopular upstart is real. I say "unpopular" advisedly. I've heard from NASA employees that Bezos--for reasons they can't explain and I don't understand--is viewed as far more likely to succeed than SpaceX. That strikes me as absurd, since Bezos has yet to put a single vehicle in orbit, while SpaceX just recovered their 47th booster.
There's something going on here, and I'm not sure what it is. It feels like the established order is pretending the revolutionary upstart doesn't exist. There's only one problem with that. They do. And failing to understand that is leading the rest of the industry into a cul de sac they will never recover from.