SpaceX estimates 30% price cut from reusable 1st stage

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The competition heats up: At a satellite conference on Wednesday SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell estimated that they will be able to cut the price of launch to about $40 million, a 30% cut from their already low prices, once they can reliably begin reusing the first stages of the Falcon 9 rocket.

Given that SpaceX has no intention, for now, of recovering the second stage, she said a launch with a previously used first stage could be priced 30 percent less than the current Falcon 9 rockets.

SES of Luxembourg, SpaceX’s biggest backer among the large commercial satellite fleet operators, has said it wants to be the first customer to fly with a reused stage. But SES Chief Executive Karim Michel Sabbagh said here March 8 that SES wanted a 50 percent price cut, to around $30 million, in return for pioneering the reusable version.

Shotwell said it was too early to set precise prices for a reused Falcon 9, but that if the fuel on the first stage costs $1 million or less, and a reused first stage could be prepared for reflight for $3 million or so, a price reduction of 30 percent – to around $40 million – should be possible.

Shotwell also said they hope to launch 18 times this year, with the first Falcon Heavy launch now set for November. This is another two month delay from their previous announcement, which had said they were hoping to launch in September.

With only two launches so far this year, I must say I am skeptical they can achieve 16 more launches in the year’s remaining 9 months, a rate of about one almost every two weeks. They have never come close to this schedule, and though I believe they can eventually do so, I don’t think they can do it so quickly.


  • Dick Eagleson

    I’m a bit less skeptical, though I agree that a total of 18 launches (involving use of 20 cores because of the FH test flight) is certainly ambitious. But SpaceX was launching a mission a month in the first half of 2015, then CRS-7 happened and they only did one more launch before year’s end. Since then, they’ve done two more, including their second ever from Vandenberg (Jason 3). There should be two more yet by the end of April. After that, SLC-40 at Canaveral looks to be staying roughly as busy – maybe even a little less – than it was last year up until CRS-7. The plan seems to envision 10 or eleven missions out of SLC-40, two comsat deployments for SES, plus the maiden FH mission using the refitted LC-39A at Kennedy and two or three high-inclination missions for Iridium out of Vandenberg. The LC-39A and Vandy missions will probably all or mostly be in the 3rd and 4th quarters. So we might see only a half-dozen missions through the end of June, followed by twice as many in the second half of the year with half of those split between Kennedy and Vandy and the rest popping off at an average rate of one a month from Canaveral. Having three pads, and having significant work for all of them, makes doing 18 launches in a calendar year easier than it would have been last year with only two pads and far fewer missions ready for one of them (Vandy).

  • Edward

    I am going to remain a bit more skeptical.

    Ramping up a launch rate is not easy, and aerospace presents unexpected obstacles. I do have every confidence that SpaceX will eventually ramp up their launch rate to a level that easily keeps up with the demand for their services, as they have demonstrated a flexibility that is unusual in the launch business.

    I suspect that Shotwell actually believes that 18 launches is a stretch, despite what the article paraphrases her as saying. First, setting stretch goals is a good planning tactic, and second, they have not yet achieved a launch rate matching this. They may have the facilities, manpower, and ability to do this, but many factors can get in the way of a single launch or a series of launches.

    Among these factors is the hiccough that can result from an unexpected interruption to flow when one launch must be delayed for some reason. Rescheduling then requires interruptions to other launches as schedule collisions occur, and the whole schedule can snowball (or does “chain reaction” work as a better metaphor?) into a massive slippage. We have seen this happen time and again. It is usually difficult to advance the schedule of another satellite in order to take the place of one that slips delivery dates.

    I suspect that SpaceX will find a way around this scheduling problem, just as ULA has found the flexibility to easily change launch manifests when national defense satellites become delayed.

    Meanwhile, the article gives us some information to do a little math in order to figure out an approximate cost of the Falcon 9 first stage.

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