SpaceX wins NASA satellite launch contract

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The competition heats up: NASA has awarded SpaceX the contract to launch its Earth science satellite, Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT).

This sentence from the press release is puzzling:

The total cost for NASA to launch SWOT is approximately $112 million, which includes the launch service; spacecraft processing; payload integration; and tracking, data and telemetry support.

Since SpaceX touts a launch price for its Falcon 9 rocket as $62 million, I wonder why this launch will cost NASA almost twice as much. Was there so little competition in the bidding that SpaceX could bid higher and thus get more money? Or is NASA so disinterested in saving money that it left itself open to overpaying for something that everyone else gets for far else?



  • Cotour

    How about for an additional insurance premium?

  • Cotour: I could be wrong, but it is my understanding that NASA self-insures itself. However, it then spends a lot more money trying to reassure itself that everything is perfect.

  • wodun

    However, it then spends a lot more money trying to reassure itself that everything is perfect.


    But it also raises the possibility that the cost/price difference is because SpaceX has to deal with NASA’s operational demands.

  • Tom Billings

    Word is out that SWOT range tracking and payload processing by someone *other* than SpaceX are included in that $112 million total. So, it’s not that SpaceX is charging more, but that NASA is spreading the money around. An environmental sat is likely to be in a polar or sun-synchronous orbit, and launched from Vandenburg. Partners are Canada and France, so some of the money is likely going there

  • geoffc

    SpaceX in the past has said that the basic launch cost is the 60 million or so quoted. But for DoD and NASA launches they have additional ‘mission assurance’ requirements that add to the cost. So they pay for it.

    Basically it is cover your a** paperwork, so you know who to blame for stuff if anything happens.

    So a commercial company launching a 200 million dollar satellite does not need it, but NASA launching a similar mission does. Hmm….

    Government makes everything better!

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