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A speech on private industry in aerospace

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"Airplanes are interesting scientific
toys, but they are of no practical
value." That was the view of
Ferdinand Foch, a French general and
Allied Commander during World War
I. Given the immense increase in the
use of aircraft, even in Ferdinand’s
own career, it should come to no
surprise that aerospace will be a
prominent aspect of the future.
One of the biggest dilemmas currently
facing the industry is whether space
should be privatized, i.e. whether the
government should hand control of
spaceflight over to private companies.
It seems somewhat counterintuitive
for the government to promote
private companies’ access to space,
after all government space agencies
are established organisations that
have the experience and the structure
to achieve their goals effectively. To
understand why we need to know the
purpose of organisations like the
NASA and the European Space agency,
or the ESA.
The European space agency says that
its purpose is “to provide for, and to
promote, for exclusively peaceful
purposes, cooperation among
European States in space research and
technology and their space
applications.” and NASA also has a
similar mission statement revolving
around research.
In fact, all government space agencies
are, at their heart, organisations based
on research. Being funded by the
people, NASA and the ESA are both
required to report to the people so
everything that NASA and the ESA
does, every picture they take, every
piece of data they sample and every
component they innovate are all
freely accessible by anybody. The
impact of NASA and ESA’s combined
$25 billion annual budget cannot be
understated. As of 2016, NASA claims
that there are over two thousand spin
off technologies created by their
research including advances in
everything from artificial limbs to
firefighting equipment and this is all
available to anybody.
To those against private space travel,
it could seem that the rise of the
private space sector would lead in a
decline in funding for research for the
ESA or NASA but I believe that this is
quite a superficial outlook.
The sole purpose of government space
agencies and by extension, the
government, is to facilitate the
development of things that are in the
common interest of everybody, but
are not profitable. Grand ventures like
the moon landings inspired millions
but nobody has got rich because of it.
The Hubble and Kepler space
telescopes have revealed the deepest
mysteries of our cosmos, but not a
single private company will do this
research.
Research is risky and guarantees
nothing in the short term, but
government agencies can spend
money for the long term. Whether
they use private companies or
manufacture everything themselves
does not affect the outcome of the
mission, but private companies have
their advantages.
Private companies are driven by profit
and so are motivated to save money
and improve the efficiency and
production of their spacecraft. Private
companies can be far more productive
because they can afford to use
techniques like vertical integration to
help manufacture their goods in mass
for far cheaper, allowing space to be
accessible to more people.
Instead of having to create a space
shuttle program that costs $4 billion
USD per year, NASA can now hire
companies to launch satellites at $50
million USD a launch, vastly saving
them money.
Perhaps one of the biggest advantages
is that private companies are not
under the scrutiny of the public.
Private companies can have a light
hearted tone and brush off failed
launches but government agencies
have to respond to incidents with
much more rigour and give detailed
reports on the disasters and even can
face public pressure into reducing the
agencies missions.
The companies themselves are often
run by idealistic billionaires, who were
children in the Apollo era and were
inspired by mankind’s first steps on
the moon, so much to the point where
Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin,
personally financed the recovery of
the Saturn 5 rocket engines, some fifty
years after they were expended into
the ocean.
Perhaps the most compelling piece of
evidence returns us to our original
analogy:
Planes were once heavily controlled
and used exclusively by the
government, but now produced and
used commercially and likewise so will
be the fate of the space industry with
private companies at the forefront of
it.
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