Tesla founder Elon Musk’s side project, SpaceX, made history yesterday when the Falcon 9 rocket launched 11 satellites in low Earth orbit, 630km above the ground, but more importantly, the first stage of the rocket returned on earth in one piece, successfully landing in the vertical position, ready for reuse.
It’s an innovation that will drive down the cost of space flight dramatically, with SpaceX believing it can put cargo above the Earth’s atmosphere for just $US61.2 million. By comparison, NASA’s space shuttle program cost on average $US450 million per mission.
Or to put it another way, Elon Musk has made space history for less than the cost of Victoria’s Myki public transport card.
Back in 2011, when the Australian dollar was roughly at parity with the US dollar, NASA had a look at SpaceX’s costings, amazed at the price difference between the figure they’d estimated – between $1.7 billion and $4 billion, and the fact that Musk had version 1.0 up and running for around $430M.
In 2011, the Baillieu government’s introduction of the public transport smartcard Myki cost Victorian taxpayers nearly $AU1.5 billion.
Last year, SpaceX released updated costing for both the Falcon 9 and the Dragon capsule – the one Musk plans to use to transport astronauts to places like the International Space Station – with NASA kicking in $US396 million on top of the company’s $US450 million.
That’s $US846M, which, even with today’s declining Australian currency, adds up to $AU1.17 billion – about the same about of money it cost the Andrews government and Victoria’s long-suffering taxpayers to tear up the contracts for Melbourne’s East West Link.
So next time you’re stuck in traffic on the outskirts of Victoria’s capital, or can’t get your Myki card to tap off, don’t forget to look up to the heavens. The state could have achieved something far more lofty for the same amount of money.
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