Space X Falcon rocket has recently made quite a few headlines all over the world as it crash-landed on a drone ship in the Pacific Ocean. Elon Musk, the author of the idea of the multiple-use booster rocket, encouraged the general public with a post on his blog: "Well, at least the pieces were bigger this time." Musk also promised that he was not going to shut down the project.
Prior to that, the Falcon rocket has performed only one successful landing and it was on the ground. All the attempts to land the rocket on a drone ship ended it with "pieces" that would sometimes be smaller and sometimes bigger.
This article is not going to tell the story of such a noble deed as space exploration. The piece is about politics and the way of thinking of Russian opposition activists in the field of space exploration. Many of them would make eloquent jokes about every crash of the Russian Proton rocket. At the same time, they cherish and worship the US-made Falcon rocket as a miraculous achievement of commercial and scientific genius.
According to Russian opposition activists, the Falcon rocket is a multiple use and therefore a cheaper technology, unlike Russian booster rockets that deliver cargoes to orbit and then ballistically fall back to the ground. However, the Falcon project has a dilemma to solve. To make the rocket take off and land, one needs to fill it with a lot of fuel and various modifications that make the payload of the rocket minimal. The spacecraft weighs 540 tons and can deliver only two tons, or 1,900 kg, before at lands.
Russia's Proton rocket weighs 700 tons and can deliver 23 tons of payload into space in one flight. The difference is about 12 times. A Falcon rocket would need to make 15 flights into space to deliver the payload that a Proton rocket delivers in only one flight. One also needs to bear in mind the need for technical maintenance after each landing and many other costly procedures. As for the takeoff and landing, the Falcon returns back to Earth incomplete. The Falcon that lands makes up about 80% of the Falcon that takes off.
The Russian space agency has other projects in addition to the Proton. To deliver only a couple of of tons of payload into space, Russia uses the Rokot booster that weighs 100 tons. This rocket is five times less heavier than the unlucky Falcon.
In the United States, space exploration has always been commercial and privately owned in accordance with the economic model of the country. Privately-owned space exploration does not exclude state financing. Elon Musk invested nearly $100 million into the project and received a similar amount from investors.
This is just to drop in the sea in comparison with $5-6 billion that Musk received from NASA. Interestingly, the cost of one launch of the Falcon 9 with payload is comparable to the cost for Russian booster rockets - it is about 40-60 million dollars.
Many experts say that the Falcon project is a step back to the 60s as it is very much similar to the Soviet Proton-M project from 1965. The USSR started using reusable engines in 1976 and finished using them in 1980. Therefore, all the fuss about the technological breakthrough of the Falcon project is actually not true to fact.
Meanwhile, Elon Musk is still counting the profit that he receives from launching the rockets that fall and crash. No one says a word against it because the project is an experimental one. Musk is selling an old idea under the guise of incredible innovations. No one needs the rockets that fall, but they look beautiful and expensive - this is the point. Elon Musk is selling pointless business in a very nice package while receiving billions of dollars from the state. This is what Russian liberals are dreaming about.