5 things to know about SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket


How much does it cost to launch a rocket?

Historically, satellite launches made by NASA’s major contractor United Launch Alliance (ULA) cost taxpayers as much as $ 400 million per launch. But ever since Elon Musk entered the space race with his leading space company SpaceX, he has been working to drive that cost down 75% – or more.

Already, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy Rocket launches, priced at $ 62 million and $ 90 million respectively, have seriously lowered ULA prices. Musk’s challenge now is to take those costs down even further. The more success it has had with it, the harder it will be for publicly traded space companies Lockheed Martin And Boeing (Joint owner of ULA) to compete with SpaceX.

And last week, the CEO of SpaceX told us how he is Does Plan to succeed.

Image Source: Getty Image

Base case

According to SpaceX’s “Capabilities and Services” statement, a single Falcon 9 rocket, fully loaded with fuel and launching the largest payload to take it down to Low Earth Orbit (22.8 metric tons), was $ 62 million. Cost – more than 75% discount what ULA used to charge.

How Reusable Rockets Cost Less…

This is the base price for launching a Falcon 9 rocket. But what about reusable? SpaceX has argued that firing a rocket just once and allowing its two stages to burn in the atmosphere is like building an airplane that flies a full load of passengers across the Atlantic – and then on arrival in Hawaii. Junk the ship. To get back home again, you have to buy a completely new airplane.

In SpaceX’s approach, it makes more sense to design rockets so that they can be reused.

Now, to reuse a rocket, you must move the extra fuel up, so that you have the fuel to come back down. Picking up that extra fuel, Musk said that in comments circulating on Twitter, a Falcon 9 that displaces payloads can carry up to about 40%. And once the rocket is recovered, it will have to be inspected and remodeled to be rebuilt – perhaps 10% of the cost of building the new rocket.

As a result, Musk says, between capacity reduction (~ 40%) and recovery and refurbishment costs (~ 10%), reusing a rocket halves its efficiency relative to the carrying capacity of an expensive rocket. – and roughly doubles the launch cost per kilogram.

… and how low enough to be reusable for less sense

But this is just on the first launch, the CEO says: “You are also roughly [on cost] With 2 flights [and] Forward with 3 for sure. ”

So the charm of the third time. And here’s the thing: Last month, one of SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9s completed its sixth launch and landing.

Mathematically speaking, launching and unloading the single Falcon 9 six times should be nearly half the same as building construction, launching, but not unloading six brand new rocketships, enabling SpaceX to reduce its competition by at least half Making, and still being profitable ourselves. Also, according to Musk, “there is no clear limit” on how many times a Falcon 9 should be able to be reused. “100+ flights are possible” on a rocket, although SpaceX would like to cover costs to replace expenses as they wear out.

Driving costs have declined further

And there may be scope for further improvement. As SpaceX works to reuse more and more rocket parts, the cost can drop dramatically. Consider that, at the same $ 62 million rocket launch:

  • The first phase makes up 60% of the total cost ($ 37.2 million)
  • The second phase comprises 20% of the total cost ($ 12.4 million)
  • The fair costs 10% ($ 6.2 million), and
  • Costs “associated with launch” (infrastructure, $ 0.2 million fuel to launch, $ 0.2 million for land, and other overhead costs) contribute the final 10% – $ 6.2 million.

The ultimate goal

Ultimately, Musk expects “marginal costs for Falcon 9 launches … under $ 5 million or $ 6 million” – ie only those costs are “tied up with the launch” – every part of a rocket re-launched. : By using. Given, if you add cost to it reconditioning Those parts for reuse, that probably adds another 10% (of $ 62 million) back. But even then, it probably pushes costs below $ 12 million per launch for a fully reusable rocketship.

Keep in mind, all the above numbers are in flux. He feels that each time the musk addresses the question of its cost structure, it changes slightly. According to a recent column on Inverse.com, Musk says the “best case” cost for a fully reusable rocketship would be $ 15 million. But whether the final answer is $ 12 million or $ 15 million – or indeed, anything in that neighborhood – the end result is clear.

Nobody used to charge millions of dollars for a spendable rocket launch, which is going to be able to counter SpaceX prices in the low tens of millions. And this is the most important thing to know about the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket: it is simply too cheap to beat.