Musk’s Coup to Thwart Competitors

Tue, 03/18/2014 - 3:26pm
Chris Fox, Managing Editor

A crisis in the Ukraine might seem like it has little to do with the engineering industry. Unless, of course, we find ourselves in a new cold war situation, which will be heavily reliant on the industry.

Read: Drones: The New Cold War

In more immediate terms, unrest in Ukraine and disagreements with Russia lead to troubled waters with our space program. Currently, the United Launch Alliance (ULA), which is an evenly held joint-venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, utilizes a Russian-built RD-180 engine in an Atlas V rocket.

Read: Musk: Russia Giving U.S. Good Reason To Support SpaceX

Now, I know China is a big concern in the economic landscape these days, but let’s take a step back and look at Russia. With budget cuts to our own space program, NASA has been forced to, essentially, outsource things like launching rockets.

Enter SpaceX. Though the ULA is operated by two American-based companies, they use foreign contracts and components to develop and manufacture rockets. In other circumstances, I would probably be applauding this effort, since fair trade is an ideal route to peace, but Russia’s aggression should eliminate the country from any innovative work and/or fair trade money.

Elon Musk and SpaceX feel that continuing to give the ULA money only aids in supporting Russia. Musk recently told Business Insider, “In light of Russia's de facto annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region and the formal severing of military ties, the Atlas V cannot possibly be described as providing assured access to space for our nation when supply of the main engine depends on President Putin's permission.” 

SpaceX, being an American company and using American-made components, would not only get U.S. dollars out of Russia (at least when it comes to interstellar endeavors), but it would also bring more money into the domestic economy.

With SpaceX, Tesla, and all of his other entrepreneurial ventures, Musk has been criticized for being too much about money and less about innovation. However, Musk may be picking on the ULA, because he saw an opportunity with the Russian aggression.

Since it’s operated by Boeing and Lockheed Martin, the ULA is primarily American, and they claim, “ULA maintains more than a two-year supply of RD-180 engines in the United States to minimize potential supply disruptions, and has developed significant engineering and manufacturing capability which ultimately demonstrated the capability to co-produce the RD-180 domestically.”

So, Musk’s statements could just be a coup to thwart competitors.

Either way, Central Asian affiliations could easily become high-risk, like our space program’s work with Kazakhstan. Though America won the space race once and privatizing orbital endeavors has showed promise, sharing our explorative spirit internationally may prove challenging, if not dangerous.

Right now, the disagreements between Russia and the U.S. are political, but what happens when a Cosmonaut and an Astronaut come to a realization about their countries’ disagreements while aboard the International Space Station? I’m sure nothing outlandish, but it could certainly make for a long, secluded time on the ISS.

SpaceX may just be stirring the manufacturing pot in order to better their economic forecast, but Musk has certainly brought up some potential issues if Putin continues to puff his chest in Asia.

Do you think Musk's intentions are a low blow in the name of capitalism? Email or comment below.


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