“Free Enterprise” and Government in Space

SpaceX recently had a rocket nozzle failure and they still managed to get a payload to the ISS (Internation Space Station). That’s remarkable but a satellite they were supposed to deliver then could not be delivered because more fuel had to be used from the remaining engines. That shows their technology is rugged and reliable as well as being cheap. Thanks to modern methods the satellite, too, cost an order of magnitude less than previous failures over the Space Age. “The company said it has now written the satellite off as a mission failure and has filed an insurance claim for $10m, which should cover the cost of manufacture and launch. The satellite has been de-orbited: boosted down into the planet’s atmosphere where it was burnt up by the friction of reentry.”

via SpaceX satellite burns up on re-entry after Falcon FAIL • The Register.

They did manage to test thoroughly the satellite before crashing it into Earth so the loss was not complete. The way is clear for making a business of pushing stuff into space. It remains to be seen whether the failure of the nozzle was extreme bad luck or a design flaw. At least with no humans aboard there is less risk to life. It certainly seems to be cheaper than launching a Cadillac (Space Shuttle) into space.

I doubt business would have invested as heavily as NASA did in space so NASA’s work was invaluable in catalyzing these recent efforts. Between the new technology and reasonable business models, we should see new efforts in space rather than the fading under budget-cuts that NASA saw recently. This affair will also be humbling to those who claim that government never does anything right and business is the way to go. Government accomplished a lot long before business was even interested. Government also created demand that business can supply. We should look on government as a form of large business. Governments don’t just produce widgets, however. They produce what societies want. Sometimes it’s information. Sometimes it’s science and engineering. Sometimes it’s just nationalistic flag-waving but it’s a service that needs to be supplied.

Within reason we need both business and government to step up and do things we cannot do individually. Some think M$ has done that. They may have done that in the early days of 8-bit micro-computers but when monopoly and greed took over they went from serving us to serving them. Government failed to police M$ properly and we have what we have. Fortunately, the world keeps moving through space and we can leave M$ behind with new hardware and software produced by the whole world, not just a monopoly.

I recommend Debian GNU/Linux, a distribution of Free Software that works for us and flies right.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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2 Responses to “Free Enterprise” and Government in Space

  1. Alex wrote, “besides software, nothing else gets built or researched by the proponents of free/open source, either.”

    There are radical shifts in governance that is only possible because of the flexibility of FLOSS. In Europe, governments are getting into e-government in a big way and sharing how they do it on Joinup. Even here in Canada where governments tend to be closed, the City of Ottawa is opening a Drupal site so that citizens can access city services, find information and even make suggestions about the budget from the grass-roots level. It is a refreshing thing compared to the decline in interest of citizens in government. At the same time governments are increasing their use of IT and FLOSS allows them to do that while trimming budgets. The City of Ottawa spends $40million+ on IT annually. If their Drupal thing works as planned they may well see the benefits of using more FLOSS in government. Business will catch that wave too. Eventually even retailers will realize people are not afraid of FLOSS and it will sell.

    All kinds of science and engineering is done with FLOSS. e.g. The Top 500 supercomputers are 90%+ GNU/Linux clusters. The conspicuous “proponents of FLOSS” have almost nothing to do with that because they are so few. There are literally millions using what flossies have wrought. Their accomplishments dominate the world of FLOSS now. FLOSS is more than an academic exercise. It’s in mainstream production.

    Did I mention education? At K-University, GNU/Linux and FLOSS is being used to implement change and bring more effective use of IT to bear on everything because FLOSS can be implemented with scarcely a dent in the budget. Those students and young people who are familiar with FLOSS are now going into the workforce and businesses are finding it much easier to find key people.

    So. Lots is happening.

  2. Alex says:

    By 20 I realized business is only interested in short-term investment (3-5 years ROI). As such, longer-term activities are simply impossible without the aid of a rich daddy (i.e. government funding). Long-term category encompasses most science R&D which some argue is vital to us as a species.

    If it were not for government funding, we’d have no internet today, and most of the advanced materials we use everyday would not be here for us to enjoy.

    Sadly, I see governments cutting R&D budgets and even university budgets (here in Australia, for example, the gov’t plans to let go of about 1,800 teachers/professors in TAFE).

    I wish crowd sourcing helped but sadly it seems geared to short-term projects too.

    I wonder where open source fits into this picture, but it seems to me that, besides software, nothing else gets built or researched by the proponents of free/open source, either.

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