Congratulations to SpaceX on reaching orbit with the Falcon 1 some months ago!
Since then, my elation about the success has passed and a more earthly assessment of the implications has started to take shape. As long as it continues to launch satellites successfully, SpaceX will start driving down the price of launch overall. However, the fall in prices may be slower than we hope because SpaceX probably will have more failures. Perhaps soon. Perhaps on the next launch of the Falcon 1. In a more perfect world, we would hope that the failures happen sooner rather than later so that any problems in the design, fabrication, and launch of these rockets can be hammered out.
It has come as something of a revelation to me that trial-and-error cures most ills. Even bad designs sometimes can be made to fly, given enough trial-and-error. The trick is to have enough bankroll to survive the process. You take a look at your bankroll and pick your process such that you don't run out of money doing the repetitions. The US Government has almost an unlimited bankroll and therefore uses a spectacularly expensive process. Elon Musk had several hundred million dollars in the bank and picked a focused group of a couple hundred employees. John Carmack had maybe ten million dollars in the bank and picked a focused group of ten volunteers. Korolev had his bankroll and process too.
Likewise, even great rockets will have failures in testing. I think that the Falcon 1 & 9 are beautiful and relatively simple designs. The company is using the latest in manufacturing technology. And launch operations are lean and professional. But even so, the company had three failures before a success. The Falcon 9 probably will have at least one failure early on. Hopefully, Musk has a bankroll equal to the task. It seems likely that he is almost out of ready cash, what with Tesla Motors needing more equity investment than originally planned and Musk's recent divorce announcement.
Lately, I have been following Armadillo Aerospace and feel the most comfortable with its approach to design and testing. The number of flight reps that Armadillo performs on its hardware is impressive. Failures don't lead to existential questions for the company, unlike with SpaceX. Carmack's bankroll appears more than up to the relatively modest task of sustaining development and failure. The approach is not without its pitfalls, of course. Some followers or supporters of the company may become impatient. Carmack may lose interest or -- God forbid -- he may otherwise become unable or unwilling to push the company forward.
At the end of the day, the reward in systems that are sustainable favors Armadillo hugely. An Armadillo manned orbital system definitely would be cheap enough to serve average people like me. This is what I keep my eye on. Further, I wonder if the risk of project failure is equal or lower for Armadillo versus the NASA programs or even SpaceX's programs. After all, if Carmack runs out of money, at least there are many more people available with the capability to fund the project in the breach. If Musk runs out of money, only billionaires will be able to help him. If NASA runs out of money, the project is shut down.