One of the things I’ve noticed over the past year or two is that my view about the big aerospace primes has been slowly changing. I used to pick on Boeing and Lockheed and Northrup as being a bunch of screwups who couldn’t make a cost-effective space transportation system to save their lives. I still do from time to time. But I think this isn’t entirely fair, and that there have actually been a lot of signs that some of the higher-ups in these companies actually “get it” when it comes to commercial space transportation.
For instance, Northrup is one of the main sponsors for the X-Prize Cup this year. A subdivision of ATK is working with XCOR on developing a regen-cooled LOX/Methane engine potentially for use on the CEV. Both Boeing and Lockheed now have suggested using dry-launch architectures for NASA’s VSE implementation, with propellant deliveries open to all competitors, to help promote the whole commercial transportation industry. Lockheed looks like it’s funding some of the man-rating work for the Atlas V on their own dime, and may even be working on entering the space tourism market (my wild speculation based on the paper I wrote about yesterday). They’re also doing work on cyrogenic propellant transfer which also looks like it might be internally funded.
It’s really interesting to think what this means for the near-term future of the commercial space transportation industry, and particularly for “emergent space transportation companies” like SpaceX, Armadillo, MSS, and others. Unlike some commenters who only see evil conspiracies by the primes to snuff out competition, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more examples of primes teaming up creatively with alt.space companies (and even some being acquired outright) over the next several years. These companies were once just as flexible, quick, and efficient as some of us would like to be, and they haven’t forgotten everything. They have lots of very competent employees, and enough capital to actually accomplish fairly interesting things. The most interesting thing is that it looks like a lot of them really are trying to learn from alt.space’s successes, and adapt.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this thought, but I just wanted to say something nice about the big guys, because we in the alt.space corner of the world are often way too quick to criticize, and slow to give praise where praise is due.