by Atif Ansar and Bent Flyvbjerg


Private rocket companies like SpaceX have driven launch costs so far down that they have increased demand for services in space.  The secret to their success is that they treat rocket systems as platforms rather than as bespoke, one-off projects.  Having standard and reusable components makes it easier to extend the functionality of rocket systems and the reusability of the components enables these companies to benefit from constant incremental improvement.  It’s an approach that may well help businesses face other major challenges

The traditional approach to space exploration is to treat each project, meaning each rocket launch, as a one-off customized megaproject. NASA provides the classic example of this approach. It treats each launch as a big, one-off, bespoke investment — trying to deliver a “quantum leap” or “big bang.” Donna Shirley, a manager on NASA’s Pathfinder mission, describes them as “magnificent mission[s] in the grand old style.”

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