Reuseability lowers SpaceX launch price to $50 million


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Capitalism in space: Reuseability lowers SpaceX launch price to $50 million.

The article is mostly about tonight’s commercial launch of an SES communications satellite. In it however it notes this comment by Musk:

SpaceX is in the process of flying and discarding older, less advanced Block 4 first stages to clear inventory – the company will likely fly just one more before moving its entire manifest to the Block 5 iteration, which CEO Elon Musk says can fly up to 10 times with minimal refurbishment between missions. Beyond that, the boosters could launch up to 100 times with moderate inspections and changes.

The next-generation vehicles feature improved reusability, upgraded thrust, retractable black landing legs that can reduce time between launches, a new black interstage and a slightly larger payload fairing, to name a few. It will also help SpaceX reduce costs from $60 million to about $50 million per launch, Musk said in May. [emphasis mine]

This price is about a third less than what both Arianespace and ULA have estimated they will charge for their new rockets, Ariane 6 and Vulcan respectively. This is also about half the price that the Russians had been charging for their Proton, which used to be the lowest price in town.

I’ll make a prediction: The drop in prices has only just begun.

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11 comments

  • Tom Donohue

    A wonderful quote from the Shawshank Redemption movie comes to mind; “Get busy living or get busy dying”. To date, only the Chinese and the Indians have mentioned plans to develop the technologies that will allow them to recover their rocket components. (SpaceX/Blue Origin – Harden your IT systems NOW!) There was a plan/scheme from some group that would only recover the engine assemblies but that was, to me, merely an exercise in “thinking small”. The gauntlet has been thrown and the world is watching to see how the commercial launch players react and adapt. Exciting times for us spectators but full-throated terror for those who draw a check lacking that SpaceX or Blue Origin logo.

    Tom

  • Tom Donohue

    A wonderful quote from the Shawshank Redemption movie comes to mind; “Get busy living or get busy dying”. To date, only the Chinese and the Indians have mentioned plans to develop the technologies that will allow them to recover their rocket components. (SpaceX/Blue Origin – Harden your IT systems NOW!) There was a plan/scheme from some group that would only recover the engine assemblies but that was, to me, merely an exercise in “thinking small”. The gauntlet has been thrown and the world is watching to see how the commercial launch players react and adapt. Exciting times for us spectators but full-throated terror for those who draw a check lacking that SpaceX or Blue Origin logo.

    Tom

  • Tom Donohue: Please do not double comment. My instructions as to comments are clear in the announcement at the top of the page. If your comment does not appear within several hours, email me.

  • Steve Cooper

    Why lower prices if the market is not forcing you? Put the money in the bank.

  • wodun

    Steve Cooper

    Why lower prices if the market is not forcing you? Put the money in the bank.

    They lower them a little bit to show they can and to goose demand but leave enough meat to make a meal and fund expansion.

  • Localfluff

    @Steve Cooper
    To show Jeff Bezos that he doesn’t want to play this game.
    The old ones are dead and gone. Only their ghosts still move and talk for a while. SpaceX is competing against the future.

    No, really. It’s because Elon Musk is Hell bent on going to Mars, not making money. Selling launches at cost indirectly helps this cause for the decades time horizon he has for it. As does his giving away of patents of electric machines, also a requirement for Mars.

  • Edward

    wodun is correct about the increase in demand. The lower the launch cost, the greater the number of customers who are able to afford the overall cost of a mission. BulgariaSat-1 showed us that.
    https://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/points-of-information/bulgaria-credits-spacexs-low-costs-for-making-its-satellite-possible/

    without SpaceX, there was no way we would ever be able to even think about space … I think, in the future, it’s going to be even more affordable because of reusability.”

    More demand means more launches, and that means more revenue and more profits. The demand may take a couple of years to materialize as a few more new customers begin to realize that their potential business models are becoming viable; they need a couple of years to build their first satellites or build satellites whose missions were on the cusp of viability.

    I doubt that Bezos will leave the field, but I suspect that he will have motivation to find even better efficiencies.

  • pzatchok

    Exactly whats stopping SpaceX from recovering and reusing the second stage?

    If they add fuel, landing legs and grid fins how much payload will they loose?

  • Edward

    pzatchok asked: “Exactly whats stopping SpaceX from recovering and reusing the second stage? If they add fuel, landing legs and grid fins how much payload will they loose?

    This was their initial intent. However, they seem to think that it is not worth the effort and expenditure at this time. This was their idea seven years ago, when they were first working on the reusability idea:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSF81yjVbJE (4 minutes “SpaceX Reusable Launch System”)

    Another item that they may need is a heat shield, as the upper stage will be at orbital speed and orbital altitude, not the much slower reentry speed of the first stage. Retropropulsion may not be the correct solution for reentry from Earth orbit.

    As for lost payload, it will be just over the weight of the added fuel, landing legs, heat shield, grid fins, and any other equipment that may be necessary. Drag from the added legs and grid fins would slightly reduce payload capacity. More fuel needed for retropropulsion results in less payload capacity.

  • Ryan Lawson

    I was recently reading up on space junk, like discarded stages, in Earth orbit and it made me wonder if we have been looking a gift horse in the mouth. If there was some way to park these in an easily retrievable orbit, maybe even close together, you now have big cylinders and rocket motors that could be used to assemble something else at a later date, perhaps even decades in the future. Components for another habitat, booster rockets for a ship to Mars (just add fuel), fuel storage tanks, water storage tanks, etc etc. It is still so expensive to get any object into orbit, why not look for future reusability of things that are already up there.

  • Localfluff

    @Ryan Lawson
    The graveyard orbit just 300 km or 11 m/s outside of geosynchronous orbit would be the place to go. Before comsats are decommissioned they are pushed out of the way into this grave yard orbit. The upper stages I think enter heliocentric orbit and are inaccessible, because they normally separate their payload in a trajectory that leaves Earth’ gravitational dominance. The satellite’s own rockets then insert it into GEO. But it is the satellites that have lots of interesting components and materials.

    Spacecrafts like Hubble and Voyager have been going strong for decades. Spacecrafts have lifetimes of centuries. At least most of their components even if the system fails for lack of fuel or cosmic radiation.

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