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Let the Free Market Propel Space Flight

Let the Free Market Propel Space Flight

(David Tonelson/Dreamstime)

By Wednesday, 29 July 2020 10:03 AM Current | Bio | Archive

When thinking about the American space industry’s progress over the last decade, Charles Dickens’ famous line, from "A Tale of Two Cities," (1859) "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," comes to mind.

In the years since the government opened the marketplace to competition, the progress made has been extraordinary. Fifty years ago, many would never have believed that a private space company would ever be able to launch government rockets, let alone send astronauts into space.

And yet, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are currently hoovering the skies above Earth on the International Space Station carried there by a commercially built and operated spacecraft. As NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said, "The launch of this commercial space system designed for humans is a phenomenal demonstration of American excellence and is an important step on our path to expand human exploration to the Moon and Mars."

But this growth in technological advancement and achievement has not come without difficulties and challenges. Earlier this month, Rocket Lab, a newer space industry upstart, had its 13th launch end in catastrophic failure as its rocket exploded mid-flight. The blast resulted in multiple lost satellites, costing the company and its partners millions of dollars.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has suffered numerous similar difficulties as well.

In fact, one day before its successful launch of astronauts, its new Starship prototype exploded (the fourth explosion in a row).

These recent setbacks and the subsequent ones that will inevitably come after will likely incite new calls for regulation, as most failures in the realm of national security tend to do.

But at this crucial moment for the industry, the government doesn’t have to add more regulations. It merely needs to do a better job of following the bidding standards currently on the books, which protect the government from needlessly financing the growing pains of SpaceX, Rocket Lab, and other newer companies, which continue to steadily mature and improve each year.

There are already plenty of contractual guidelines in place to protect taxpayers and safety and security in spaceflight. Take, for example, the Lowest Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA) principle, which is designed to ensure that government departments and agencies take all relevant factors into account from sticker price to reliability when awarding contracts.

Following quality control mechanisms like this one will ensure that the services of upstarts like SpaceX and Rocket Lab are used by the government when appropriate and passed over when the data demonstrates that they still need some room to grow.

Given the repetitive failures of SpaceX and other companies over the years, especially when it has come to reusable rocket flights, it appears that the government hasn’t adhered to LPTA as strictly as is needed. That needs to change. However, banning competition outright will not only not help in protecting taxpayers or national security, but it could also decimate this burgeoning industry altogether.

The government has a history of over-regulating, often to the determent of consumers. In the late 1800s, for example, America began dismantling the railroads in part because of misplaced safety concerns, resulting in a less efficient market and the entrenchment of industry power players.

The same outcome will occur in commercial space if government bureaucrats entrench themselves too deeply into the marketplace. The industry will become more costly, more calcified, less innovative, and less competitive.

Many of these new industry upstarts have desires to create colonies on Mars and push sciences deeper into the galaxy. They may well do it, but only if the government acts responsibly. Failing to abide by LPTA can cost taxpayers significantly and set the industry back years, but so too can restricting competition by inserting overzealous mandates into the industry.

Here’s hoping the government will know its place and act accordingly.

The future of the free market depends on it.

Steve Gruber is a conservative talk show host with 25 affiliates in Michigan. "The Steve Gruber Show" launched in 2012 with just four affiliates and has grown into the most powerful name in talk radio across Michigan. Steve has been named "Best Morning Personality" by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters five years in a row. His conservative, common-sense philosophy was developed during his time growing up in rural Michigan. Steve's early career found him in several newsrooms including WILX, Lansing where he honed his investigative journalism and interviewing skills. He became the main news anchor of the station and before long was offered a job with NBC in Columbus, Ohio. While working for NBC, he covered the incredible launch of John Glenn, age 77, into space at Cape Canaveral, White Supremacists in Ohio, and the deadly game of selling prescription medication online. Steve was nominated for an Emmy in 2000. Read Steve Gruber's Reports — More Here.

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If government bureaucrats entrench themselves too deeply into the marketplace, the industry will become more costly, more calcified, less innovative, and less competitive.
lpta, musk, spacex
Wednesday, 29 July 2020 10:03 AM
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