While participating in a panel called “The US Space Enterprise Partnership” at the NewSpace Conference that was held by the Space Frontier Foundation on Saturday, SpaceX Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell opined that NASA’s budget should be raised to $22-25 billion, according to a tweet by Space Policy Online’s Marcia Smith. The theory is that a lot of political rancor has taken place in the aerospace community because of the space agency’s limited budget. If the budget were to be increased to pay for everything on the space wish list, the rancor will cease.
The statement represents something of a departure of the usual mutual antagonism that exists between some in the commercial space community and some at NASA. Indeed Space Politics’ Jeff Foust added a tweet, “Thought: a panel at a Space Frontier Foundation conf is talking about how to increase NASA budget. Imagine that in late 90s.” The Space Frontier Foundation has been a leading voice for commercializing space, sometimes at the expense of NASA programs.
The shift to the idea that commercial space and NASA may benefit one another started when President George W. Bush first proposed the Vision for Space Exploration. Part of the VSE involved ending the space shuttle program and outsourcing the transportation of supplies and astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Thus NASA would be freed to conduct space exploration beyond low Earth orbit. President Obama caused some friction between NASA supporters and the commercial space community by cancelling the space exploration part of the VSE and doubling down on the commercial space initiative.
The idea of a $25 billion NASA is beguiling, mainly because it would allow the space agency to fully fund a whole slate of space exploration programs. They would include a return to the moon, asteroid capture schemes, and expeditions to Mars. Not coincidentally commercial space firms like SpaceX would stand to profit handsomely from partnership arrangements.
The idea of increasing NASA’s budget will not be universally embraced by the “newspace” community, which includes advocates as well as actual businesspeople. Recently USA Today published a piece by space blogger Rand Simberg that basically called for ending any attempt by NASA to mount space exploration, regarding such as ill-conceived attempts to recreate the glory of the Apollo moon landing. Ironically he cited SpaceX as the example of a purely commercial space effort, free from the fetters of the past.
“Meanwhile, SpaceX has already shown the way to low-cost launch and plans to blazing a path to even lower costs through reusability, more in keeping with von Braun's original, more affordable vision until it was derailed by Apollo.”
It seems that at least one person at SpaceX would beg to disagree.