Elon Musk: US needs Star Trek’s Starfleet to compete with China
Department of Defense phot by Senior Airman Christian Conrad
ORLANDO, Florida— While the United States only set up its new Space Force in December, what the public really wants is its own Starfleet, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk said on February 28.
Returning to the beloved Star Trek TV show, Musk, founder and chief engineer of SpaceX, said it was possible for the United States to reach this point.
“There’s a lot we can do to make Starfleet real,” he said at the Air Force Association’s annual Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida. “It will certainly require radical innovation.”
But that won’t happen unless the Air Force pushes for sweeping breakthroughs, Musk said. And failure will not only stifle dreams of a true Starfleet, but will put the United States at a competitive disadvantage to countries like China.
“I have no doubt that if the United States … doesn’t pursue great innovations in space, it will be second in space,” he said. “There is no country more innovative and inventive than the United States. It is therefore important to use this attribute – it is the ace card.
Key to these breakthroughs in space will be full reusability and domain access, Musk said.
“It’s the holy grail of space,” he said. “To the point where you have full usability for orbital rockets, then you have a deep advantage over anybody else.” He compared it to airplanes today. If a rival could only fly its planes once and had to get rid of them, it would be at a distinct disadvantage to the US Air Force and its planes which can fly multiple times.
“It wouldn’t be a contest,” he said. “Same thing in space. It is extremely fundamental.
The cost of the thruster is not where the savings are made. It’s usually around 1% of the pitcher’s cost or less, he said. However, manufacturing reusable platforms represents substantial cost savings.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is a partially reusable launch vehicle, but the company is working on a new vehicle that has the potential to be fully reusable, Musk said.
“It would be great to have other companies doing full reuse as well,” he said. “Competition is a good thing.”
But reuse cannot be approached in the same way as with the space shuttle, Musk added. “The shuttle was a case where the reuse was very slow and it wasn’t complete,” he said. “The main tank was lost every time and refurbishing the shuttle between flights was extremely expensive.”
Reuse should be quick and complete, he said. “Once you have access to space at a significantly lower cost, a lot of things are enabled,” he said.
Musk compared it to the early days of the Union Pacific Railroad that ferried Americans across the country to the West.
“Getting to the west coast was much quicker and much less dangerous, and you’re not likely to end up eating your compatriots in a snowy situation,” he said, referring to the infamous Donner Party who, in 1847, resorted to cannibalism to survive a brutal winter on his way to California from the Midwest.
The United States must innovate radically if it is to counter China, which is growing its economy substantially, Musk said.
“The Chinese economy will probably be at least twice as big as the US economy, maybe three times, but at least twice,” he said. “The foundation of war is economics. … If you have half the resources of the counterparty, you better be really innovative. If you’re not innovative, you’re going to lose.”
Topics: Space, space industry, space operations