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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

United States Lagging in Rocket Propulsion

The White House Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy submitted to the Congress on December 22, 2009 a 14-page report on the "capacity of the United States industrial base for development and production to meet" the nation's demand for space launch vehicles. The report was signed by John P. Holdren, the President's Science Advisor.

According to the report released: "Despite the importance of space to government and commercial activities the U.S. space launch industry has seen a decline in launch services over the past decade . . . From 2004-2008 the U.S. shared of commercial launches was about 17 percent, compared with 42 percent for Russia, 21 percent for Europe and 18 percent for the multi-national company SeaLaunch." [Video is of SpaceX Falcon 9 ground test in 2008.]

1 comment:

Michael Turner said...

If you take Boeing's share (40%) of Sea Launch as a proportional credit toward U.S. commercial launches, this picture doesn't look so bad -- it actually shows the U.S. improving in its share of the market. Adding that Sea Launch wedge also makes it look more like the future -- international joint ventures. Note that the Russians are preparing to launch Soyuz launchers from Kourou, taking advantage of Europe's buildup of infrastructure there. In the orbital tourism segment, I have great hopes for Excalibur Almaz.

The real problem is that the 90s bubble created overcapacity, while launch demand has been flat in the 00's. The U.S. is not "lagging" in propulsion -- Holdren specifically exempts private-sector efforts on new propulsion systems, while also expressing optimism about them. Yes, the launcher workforce is greying, but there are a lot of grey heads in the Russian launch industry as well.