Weekly Wreck

Lockheed Martin - is its technology out of date?

With the successful launch and technology demonstrations of SpaceX’s new Falcon Heavy, the natural question is who stands to lose business to this new rocket and the follow-on BFR (Big “Falcon” Rocket).

While all the legacy players stand to lose, probably the biggest impact will be on NASA/DOD contractor Lockheed Martin. As a co-owner, with Boeing, of United Launch Alliance Lockheed stands to lose as its 1960’s era rockets, John Glenn was launched into orbit in 1962 by an Atlas, get displaced with re-usable and hence cheaper, more versatile as well as bigger 21st Century SpaceX technology.

While SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy is a serious threat with larger size, reusability, and more advanced second stage that allows for direct satellite insertion, the follow-on BFR which is much larger and fully reusable is an even bigger threat.

Indeed should the BFR should become a reality it’s hard to imagine Lockheed’s six-person Mars “space station” being in any way competitive with A SpaceX Mars landing with up to 100 passengers. Of course, many experts have questioned both platforms because of “small” issues like cosmic rays and solar storms, but SpaceX would seem to have much more ability to trade passengers for radiation shielding and still have a viable mission.

What’s really happening is that Lockheed Martin, as well as other legacy players, have essentially milked the same 1940’s technology (V2 rockets) for a high profit and low risk business. SpaceX has so far successfully persevered in the high risk and high loss for the short term approach of developing significant new technologies for example reusable boosters that land as well as booster engines that can be fired multiple times that will be much more cost-effective than the legacy technologies in the long run. Think AOL versus Google for a recent example of these to strategies in play.