SpaceX, the private space company founded by billionaire Elon Musk, has been launching rockets at an unprecedented pace, surpassing its competitors and raising concerns about its near-monopoly in the industry.
SpaceX’s Record-Breaking Launches
SpaceX has launched 63 missions in 2023, breaking its own record of 61 missions in 2022. The company has been flying an average of a launch every four days, delivering satellites, spacecraft, and astronauts to orbit. SpaceX has also been deploying its own Starlink satellite internet service, which aims to provide global broadband access.
SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon rockets have become the most reliable and affordable launch vehicles in the market, offering reusable boosters and fairings that reduce costs and environmental impact. The company also has the Falcon Heavy, the most powerful operational rocket in the world, and the Starship, a fully reusable super-heavy rocket that is designed to carry humans and cargo to the Moon and Mars.
SpaceX’s Near-Monopoly in the Rocket Launch Market
SpaceX’s dominance in the rocket launch market has been a cause of concern for some industry experts and competitors, who fear that the company’s monopoly could stifle innovation and diversity in the space sector.
Vikram Nidamaluri, managing director of telecom, media, and entertainment at Lazard, a global financial advisory firm, said during a panel at the World Satellite Business Week conference on Monday that having such a dominant launch provider is not healthy for the commercial prospects of the industry.
“No one wants a monopoly choking out one point of the value chain. There are obviously other players that are ramping up capacity but I think the timeline hasn’t moved forward rapidly enough,” Nidamaluri said.
Tom Ochinero, vice president of commercial sales at SpaceX, responded to Nidamaluri’s concern by saying that SpaceX is not a monopoly but a leader in innovation and customer service.
“We’re not trying to be a monopoly. We’re trying to be a leader. We’re trying to provide the best service possible to our customers. We’re trying to drive down costs. We’re trying to increase reliability. We’re trying to increase performance. We’re trying to do things that have never been done before,” Ochinero said.
Ochinero also said that SpaceX welcomes competition and collaboration in the space industry, as long as it is fair and transparent.
“We’re not afraid of competition. We think competition is good. We think competition drives innovation. We think competition drives better service for customers. We think competition drives better prices for customers. But we also think that competition should be fair. Competition should be based on merit. Competition should be based on performance. Competition should not be based on subsidies or protectionism or favoritism,” Ochinero said.
The Rising Stars of the U.S. Rocket Industry
While SpaceX continues to lead the U.S. rocket industry, there are several other companies that are working to launch their own next-generation rockets and challenge SpaceX’s dominance.
Some of the rising stars of the U.S. rocket industry include:
- Blue Origin: Founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin is developing the New Glenn rocket, a reusable heavy-lift launch vehicle that can carry up to 45 metric tons to low Earth orbit (LEO) and 13 metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). The company plans to launch its first orbital flight in 2024.
- Rocket Lab: Founded by New Zealand entrepreneur Peter Beck, Rocket Lab is a leading provider of small satellite launches, using its Electron rocket that can carry up to 300 kilograms to LEO. The company also has a reusable variant of Electron called Photon, which can perform interplanetary missions. The company aims to launch its first lunar mission in 2024.
- Relativity Space: Founded by former SpaceX engineers Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone, Relativity Space is building the world’s first fully 3D-printed rocket, called Terran 1, which can carry up to 1,250 kilograms to LEO. The company claims that its 3D-printing technology can reduce the cost and time of rocket production by 90%. The company expects to launch its first orbital flight in 2024.
- Firefly Aerospace: Founded by serial entrepreneur Max Polyakov, Firefly Aerospace is developing the Alpha rocket, a two-stage launch vehicle that can carry up to 1 metric ton to LEO and 630 kilograms to sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). The company also has plans for a larger rocket called Beta and a lunar lander called Blue Ghost. The company hopes to launch its first orbital flight in late 2023.
These companies are among the many contenders that are vying for a share of the growing global demand for rocket launches, which is driven by the proliferation of satellites for various applications such as communications, navigation, Earth observation, and exploration.