Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right or below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.
The analysis is interesting and thoughtful, though some of the negative comments quoted from a former NASA engineer only illustrate why NASA was unable to do this very well. Moreover, these comments from Arianespace’s chief suggest that Arianespace doesn’t understand basic economics.
Arianespace Chief Executive Stephane Israel, in an April 23 briefing at Europe’s Guiana Space Center here on the northeast coast of South America, said Europe’s launch sector can only guess at how much SpaceX will need to spend to refurbish its Falcon 9 first stages. Israel said European assessments of reusability have concluded that, to reap the full cost benefits, a partially reusable rocket would need to launch 35-40 times per year to maintain a sizable production facility while introducing reused hardware into the manifest.
…Israel’s argument, which he has made before, is that even if first stages can be recovered and refurbished in a cost-effective way, the launch rate needed for maximum cost savings – and hence price reductions to customers – is beyond Europe’s reach. The only nations today whose governments are launching sufficiently often to reach those rates are the United States and China, and even these government markets may be insufficient, in and of themselves, to close the business case.
The customer base is not static. If you lower the price, the customer base grows, a fact that Elon Musk understands and which has been driving his effort from day one.