Aviation Week is reporting that Lockheed Martin Chief Technology Officer Keoki Jackson has declared that his company is more than ready to participate in the Trump administration’s plan to return astronauts to the moon. He noted that the Orion spacecraft, for which Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor, is well positioned to be the centerpiece of a lunar effort. However, Keoki had some nice things to say about his company’s competition, namely SpaceX and Blue Origin.

Big aerospace’s role in a return to the moon

Big aerospace, which includes companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrup Grumman, have always profited from large-scale NASA space programs dating back to Apollo.

Trump's return to the moon program would prove to be no exception.

Keoki is likely correct that the first astronauts to go back to the moon will likely fly there in an Orion, dock with a lunar lander, and then descend to the lunar surface. Lockheed Martin has already profited greatly from the effort to build the Orion, which was preserved from the wreckage of the defunct Constellation program.

Building and operating Orions during the first few expeditions to the moon will fatten the company’s bottom line even more. The return to the moon program will likely cause more money to flow sooner than the Journey to Mars ever would.

What about the praise for new space companies?

The fact that Keoki reserved some praise for SpaceX and Blue Origin, welcoming their efforts to build the BFR and the New Glenn, respectively, is curious.

In the past, traditional aerospace firms like Lockheed Martin regarded companies like SpaceX as upstarts, treating them with disdain. Since Elon Musk, SpaceX’s CEO, upended the space launch market by developing a partially reusable Falcon 9, that disdain has turned to grudging admiration and even a little fear. The old space companies are busily trying to build their own reusable rockets such as the Vulcan to keep being competitive.

Nevertheless, if the BFR, a reusable rocket that can take 150 metric tons into low-Earth orbit and travel both to the moon and Mars, becomes operational, the space launch system and the Orion become obsolete. A couple of explanations suggest themselves.

The first one is that Keoki thinks that the market for a return to the moon, which is going to be partly commercial, is so big that it will accommodate both the Orion SLS system and rockets such as the BFR.

Alternately, the idea is that the development for next generation's rockets will be delayed long enough for the Orion and the Space Launch System to have a profitable run before being retired as obsolete. In either case, the return to the moon means good times for everyone, so long as Congress keeps the money flowing.