This article about the European Space Agency’s attempts at making a reusable space plane brings up two big issues. I don’t have time to go into depth about them now, but it’s still worthwhile to bring them to the surface:
Competition between companies is useful and makes sense – driving each company to do better than it would without the incentives. Competition between governments on space technology bugs me. Yes, I realize there is a national security component, etc. etc. but through probably unnecessary secret keeping, the US government is basically forcing the Europeans, with whom we already share tons of military tech, to reinvent the very very complicated wheel.
Basically, I feel like governments have no place competing like companies, especially in the area of space exploration, which should really be a shared human endeavor.
The second point is that ‘reusability’ is not an end in and of itself – in spacecraft or anywhere else. The idea that reusability is always desirable is an unfortunate cultural perception that stems from the fact that sometimes reusing things is more efficient. However, reusability is only worthwhile if it is actually more efficient than getting a new thing and this needs to be evaluated on a case by case basis.
The space shuttle, while reusable, was horrifically inefficient and while awesome, its missions beyond demonstrating its own technology could have been achieved much more cheaply with single-use spacecraft. I worry that this focus on reusability as a justification-free goal continues in the IXV.