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Are launch prices up, or is the demand continuing to be high?

According to a Space News yesterday, high demand and inflation have resulted in an overall increase in launch prices in recent months.

At the recent Satellite 2023 conference, industry officials said they saw evidence of growing prices in the last year. Growing demand along with a constrained near-term supply that some have dubbed a “global shortage” is a factor, they say, along with inflation that has remained historically high for more than a year.

The only evidence of this increase that the article presents however is a 10% increase in SpaceX’s launch price, which the company claims is almost entirely due to inflation, not demand. Furthermore, this increase still leaves SpaceX’s launch prices well below the lowest prices that other launch companies can yet offer, which means the competition can’t really raise its prices significantly.

The important take-away from the article is not that the cost of rockets has gone up, but that the demand remains very high, which bodes well for the new startups trying to enter the market. For example, the article notes that the next SpaceX smallsat launch opportunity is 2025. There thus remains plenty of business for the many new rocket companies trying to enter the market in the next two years.

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From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
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  • Gary

    Based on conjecture, it would seem SpaceX’s main constraint is in launch facilities rather than boosters. If they somehow come up with more launch locations, they might be able to increase their supply..

  • James Street

    Elon Musk @elonmusk
    Replying to
    Provided there is no serious launch anomaly, SpaceX will deliver 80% of Earth’s payload to orbit this year.
    Not counting Starship.
    9:41 AM · Mar 20, 2023

  • Richard M

    There is *definitely* a lot of room for additional medium-lift capacity!

    I’m more skeptical that any of these small-class launchers can close a business case now, though.

  • Col Beausabre

    I don’t know about launch prices, but lunch prices sure are up due to Bidumb’s “temporary” inflation

  • Joe

    It would be nice to get some competition going in the marketplace. With the exception of Rocket Lab and Firefly, there really isn’t much in the way of rides. What I don’t understand is that if the demand is so high, why aren’t companies increasing their launch cadence?

    I could really use an added launch to someone’s manifest right now.

  • Joe: I think the problem is that until SpaceX and Rocket Lab proved that commercial space could do this fast and cheaply, no one else was trying. Since then a lot of new players are trying to get off the starting line, but it takes time to build a new rocket and test it.

    Meanwhile, the old rocket companies –ULA and Arianespace — don’t have the culture or inclination to switch gears and build cheap fast rockets. Expect little from them.

    The result is we are essentially in the lull before the storm. In five years I expect you will begin to have lots of launch options.

  • geoffc

    Gary: Bottleneck is actually landing facilities.

    ASDS needs 3+ days to get out, and 3+ days to get back. Only 3 (2 East Coast, 1 West coast).

    They seem able to launch faster if they have the ASDS available, from SLC-40.

    LC-39A is slower, since a F-Heavy means swicthing around the launch table which is non-trivial. A CRS cargo or Crew mission means changing out the head of the TEL.

    If you look, SLC-40 is launching at an astonishing rate, while LC-39A is lagging a lot. Due to these switches and govt payloads needing more ‘care’.

  • pzatchok

    My thought is pretty basic. As the price per pound comes down the demand will go up. More people will be able to get into the game that way.

    But one of the real limits will be regulations and orbits available. Orbital costs will mainly be priced by their height and thus possible time in orbit.

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