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Entrepreneur Tries His Midas Touch in Space

Elon Musk pitches his Falcon rocket as a low-cost launcher, and maybe more.

April 22, 2003|Josh Friedman | Times Staff Writer

"At some point the rocket industry needs a Henry Ford, and maybe Elon will be that guy," said Mike Griffin, an aerospace veteran who consulted for SpaceX early last year and now is president of In-Q-Tel, the Arlington, Va.-based investment firm funded by the CIA.

One thing almost everyone in the aerospace industry agrees on, according to Griffin, is that space launching is "an overpriced commodity."

But Strategic Insight's Kaplan said that "probably a couple dozen entrepreneurs have tried this in the last 10 years, and they've all gone out of business. It's easy to say you're building a cheap, simple rocket, but that and $2 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks."

Licensing requirements and unexpected mechanical setbacks can turn a rocket project into a money pit not unlike a home-remodeling undertaking, except for the scale, Kaplan said. "One thing builds on another and before you know it, your cheap little rocket is really expensive."

Despite the odds, Musk said he envisions SpaceX revolutionizing the industry in the same way Ford changed the automobile business.

"When Henry Ford made cheap, reliable cars people said, 'Nah, what's wrong with a horse?' That was a huge bet he made, and it worked."

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