After several days of reading and thinking about SpaceX winning a NASA space station resupply/recrewing demonstration contract, I have come back to Alan Boyle's thorough article that he wrote for MSNBC right after the award. Buried near the back of the article is the fact that Musk expects to invest $200 million on Falcon 9/Dragon development in addition to the $278 million to be provided by NASA, or a total of $478 million. Even though I probably shouldn't be, I'm a little shocked at the development price tag and the scale that it implies.
Will SpaceX be a 400 employee max operation -- a small, lean company, with low operating costs? Or will it be something on a different scale, with the bureaucratic trappings of a large company? To burn through a half a billion dollars cash in 4 years would seem to require a larger organization, even considering the partners that SpaceX brought on board. So far, SpaceX has burned through about $100 million so far and might have 200 or 250 employees. How much should you budget for rocket personnel nowadays?
One thing is for sure: I have confidence that SpaceX will resist the temptation to spend too much money on launch infrastructure. Two years ago, I wondered at the extreme infrastructure that I assumed would be required for manned launch capability (things have changed in the last two years so that now it's funny to read what I wrote at that time). But Musk recently stated that not much more infrastructure is required on Omelek island for Falcon 9. If SpaceX decides to launch out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, we will see whether the infrastructure requirements are more extensive. Also, perhaps SpaceX will take the opportunity to purchase more manufacturing and test facilities.
In the half billion dollar figure, perhaps Musk is including development already completed -- i.e., the total investment for Falcon 1/9/Dragon will be nearer $500 million instead of $600 million. Another possibility is that he is including some development work on the Merlin 2/3 engines or the high energy upper stage engines. It doesn't seem likely that Musk will idle his engine design team, now that he has assembled it. Or maybe he is including some facilities and tooling that would be required for the BFR. This is fun speculation.
Props go out to Jon Goff for beating the drum about NASA's bloated "Stick" launcher program (or Shaft, as Jon puts it). But are the above numbers making it clear that alt.space also is going to be spending money on a scale not previously envisioned?