Looks like there's hope yet for a future with affordable space flight: a recently-published report by NASA has confirmed that commercializing rocket design has the potential to dramatically cut costs in ways that could revolutionize the future of space transport.
Things have been going pretty well lately for SpaceX, one of the private companies looking to fill the gaps in the ol' intra-orbit travel & transportation market that have opened up since NASA's shuttle program shut down earlier this year. NASA recently gave the go-ahead on the first cargo delivery to the International Space station by the company's Dragon capsule, and demonstrations of its Falcon-9 rocket (pictured up top) have attracted loads of positive attention.
And it turns out there's billions of other reasons to be happy with SpaceX's commercial approach to rocket-building. According to this report by NASA, SpaceX's Falcon-9 would have cost nearly three times as much to design, build, and launch had its development been overseen by NASA.
NASA initially calculated that in the hands of its own designers and engineers, the rocket would have run just shy of $4 billion to create — close to 2.5 billion dollars more than the agency estimates it ran SpaceX.
Followup calculations put the estimated savings at closer to $1 billion (though at an estimated cost to NASA of $1.4 billion dollars, the refined calculations suggest that SpaceX's design methods were even cheaper from a percentage standpoint).
All of these numbers are important for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it suggests that SpaceX's initial cost savings estimates, long criticized for being greatly exaggerated, were actually pretty accurate.
But more importantly, it means that the ratio of awesome space travel/money invested has the potential to increase dramatically, and as a taxpayer and (potentially) future space traveler, that should make you tremendously excited. If companies like SpaceX can demonstrate their ability to transport cargo and personnel as safely and efficiently as NASA at lower prices, we could soon see advances in space technology exploding in a big way.