Ron Paul, the three-time Presidential Candidate and former member of Congress, has written an editorial for Fox News accusing a cabal of politicians led by Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona to allow SpaceX to have a “monopoly” in military space launches. As Eric Berger at Ars Technica and also Next Big Future points out, Paul is rather wide of the mark.

SpaceX and military launches

The truth of the matter is that SpaceX has been allowed to bid on military launches as a way to break a monopoly once enjoyed by the United Launch Alliance, a consortium owned by Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

SpaceX has been able to render the military launch services at a fraction of the cost that ULA used to do, partly thanks to the reusability features on the Falcon 9. The Falcon 9 cost about $62 million as opposed to ULA’s cost for an Atlas V that range from $164 million to $350 million.

ULA responds

ULA has responded by developing a partly reusable rocket of its own, the Vulcan, which is due to enter service in 2019. Unlike the Atlas V, which uses a Russian built engine, the Vulcan will use a made in America BE-4 courtesy of Blue Origin. The use of Russian rocket engines for American space launches is being discontinued due to increasing tensions with Vladimir Putin who has threatened to cut off production of such engines for American use.

The result is that free market competition, which Paul, as a libertarian, claims to value, is starting to lower the cost of launching things and people into space. The Defense Department and, to some extent, NASA is fostering this competition by using its buying power to force commercial launch companies to bid against one another.

What is Paul’s real beef?

Ron Paul has entertained some strange ideas during his long political career. Why he would suddenly develop a disdain for SpaceX is something that needs delving into. Berger thinks that Paul is working on behalf of old campaign contributors, Boeing and LockMart and that he is also carrying water for Russia.

To be sure his isolationist streak has caused him to oppose a hard line against Putin and his imperial ambitions in the Ukraine. McCain takes the opposite view, so perhaps Paul in some way thinks the senator is working to undermine Russia.

And, to be sure, Elon Musk of SpaceX had played the Washington game well, after a few missteps a few years ago when he accused the House Republicans of behaving like the Soviet Politburo. However, Musk has also brought value to his government customers and promises to bring more in the future. Paul should learn to appreciate that.