Elon Musk does not offer SpaceX’s services at bargain prices. SpaceX (or Space Exploration Technologies Corporation) costs more than any other company for delivering supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX uses the “Dragon” capsule to make these deliveries.
SpaceX’s Dragon is one of three private vehicles that NASA has included for the second round of commercial resupply services (CRS-2). Yet, NASA’s Source Evaluation Board (SEB) said it has the highest confidence in SpaceX’s chances for success. (Source: “SpaceX Has Highest ISS Resupply Price,” Aviation Week, February 8, 2016.)
The scoring considered the cost of transporting pressurized cargo, past performance, and mission suitability. The latter category reflects technical and management skill. It also considers the supplier’s ability to use and develop local resources.
Overall, NASA gave SpaceX much praise—not a bad thing for Elon Musk, whose shares in Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) are worth much less today than a month ago.
Simply put, this is a case of CRS-2 choosing quality over price. The SEB gave SpaceX a score of 992 out of a possible 1,000 in mission-suitability metrics. The evaluation considered such factors as capabilities, operational maturity, and management. By comparison, SpaceX’s rivals, Orbital ATK and its “Cygnus” capsule scored 880, while Sierra Nevada’s “Dream Chaser” finished in third with a score of 879. (Source: Ibid.)
In 2019, all three companies—SpaceX, Orbital ATK, and Sierra Nevada Corp.—will launch commercial flights to the ISS for NASA. SpaceX’s plan to offer two variants of the Dragon—one for freight and one for astronauts—explains the higher cost, especially considering the two separate vehicles need different production lines.
Challenging the aerospace industry’s “lowest qualified bidder” cliché, NASA did not approach cost as a decisive factor for CRS-2. The three proposals have met or exceeded requirements. In short, it won’t be long before SpaceX will bring astronauts to the ISS in an economical and efficient way.
SpaceX’s Dragon, the reusable capsule, tested its four red-and-white parachutes above the Arizona desert. A military “C-130” transport dropped the capsule, whose landing system was attached to a simulation weight.
In November, Elon Musk scored another major deal with NASA. The agency confirmed that SpaceX would deploy its first manned space mission, ferrying astronauts to the ISS by 2017. (Source: “SpaceX Gets Huge Contract for its First Manned Space Flight,” Fortune, November 20, 2015.)
Overall, Elon Musk’s SpaceX and its rivals will transport payload and four astronauts to the ISS in a safe and cost-effective manner—SpaceX will just do it best, according to NASA’s SEB.