SpaceX – Breaking the $1000 per Pound Launch Cost Barrier

SpaceX Falcon Heavy

SpaceX Falcon Heavy

John Strickland explains how SpaceX can drive launch costs to less than one tenth that of competing rocket systems:

“When people see this cost comparison, they ask all over again ‘How can he (Musk) do that?’ How can the Falcon outperform the Delta by such a wide margin? The three main reasons seem to be (1) low manufacturing cost (2) low operational cost (time efficient operations design and low man-hours needed per launch) and (3) high efficiency performance in flight. The first two have already been demonstrated by the Falcon 9, and they continue to be improved, such as a recently announced two-thirds reduction of fuel loading time. The SpaceX paradigm is one of continuous improvement.

The first reason (low manufacturing cost) is exercised again in the “Heavy” by using three nearly identical rocket stages (instead of two solids and a core stage), which means more production of the same units, thus reducing their unit cost. The SpaceX plant in Hawthorne, California, is building towards the capability of producing a Falcon 9 first stage or Falcon Heavy side booster every week and an upper stage every two weeks. Within five years, SpaceX expects to be producing more large rocket engines per year (several hundred) than all other rocket companies on the planet combined. Engine production costs will thus decline still more. (Dragon production, depending on demand, is planned for a rate of one every six to eight weeks.)

The third reason (high efficiency in flight) is partly achieved by the standard methods of making the engines fuel efficient, with high thrust and low mass, and making the overall structural mass of each stage as low as possible. Musk has apparently done this better than anyone else. For example, the two side boosters have a fully fueled to empty mass ratio of 30. Additional flight efficiency is achieved by propellant cross-feeding (see below).”

Elon Musk talks more about the SpaceX cost advantage here. SpaceX is breaking from industry norms by being up front about their launch prices and publishing them on the web. Click here and scroll down to see the price for a Falcon Heavy launch ($83 million) and that the payload it will be able to carry to LEO is 117,000 pounds. That works out to $709 per pound, less than the $1000 per pound BTE goal for the Heavy Lifter to be used  for launching the Enterprise components into space. And the ‘Falcon Super Heavy’ which is not yet shown on the SpaceX site should have an even lower launch price per pound. SpaceX is certainly blazing a whole new trail.

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33 Comments on "SpaceX – Breaking the $1000 per Pound Launch Cost Barrier"

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Josh
Guest

Just like computers, costs and size will keep going down until we look back and laugh at $709. Bring it, Future.

Josh
Guest

Not to diminish their accomplishments though, I’m really glad that a semi-transparent company actually exists

Jeff
Guest

Agreed. MY question is if SpaceX can launch for far less than competing rocket systems and thus, stealing their competitor’s customers, WHY do they have to explain how they are able to do it? SpaceX is a privately owned company, right?

Mitchz95
Member

Maybe this will give NASA second thoughts about continuing the SLS program.

Grand Lunar
Member

I doubt it, due to the political involvement in the SLS’s developement.Also, it is claimed that the SLS is ahead of schedule. So it isn’t likely that a program that is actually on track will be reconsidered, especially given it’s greater performance.I just wish more productive missions were planned for it.

johnw9171
Member

I won’t be surprised when SpaceX is the first to create a fully reusable rocket system. I wonder if they’d be interested in the Enterprise project. Have they been contacted?

Mitchz95
Member

They’ll probably want to wait until we’ve made some more headway before they get invested in BTE. And of course there has to be something in it for them (meaning profit).

johnw9171
Member
As for profit, they could mine materials off the moon, Mars, and various other places. Also, research and development of better technology necessary to build the Gen1 Enterprise would produce technology that could benefit them financially by producing and selling it. Space tourism wouldn’t hurt them either. There are numerous other ways they could benefit from it. Once the ISS is through, SpaceX will need something else to do. It might even be good to have numerous companies besides SpaceX to invest such as other space companies, big computer companies, and any other technology company or just any corporation with… Read more »
ruir
Guest

I hope they will really take an active part on BTE!!!

Grand Lunar
Member

The main thing the Falcon Heavy doesn’t have going for it is the lack of a high-energy upper stage.Because of that, it’s capacity for GTO (IIRC) is not much better than the Delta IV Heavy.When a LH2/LOX upper stage becomes part of the Falcon’s design, then we ought to see much improved performance.

dror
Member
reduce -> reuse-> recycle ! to lower the cost of launch per lb we can try another concept, recycled launcher.the concept was sugested for the space shuttle but was never adupted by nasa.the idea is to use the upper stage and faring as raw meterials in orbit. the upper stage consists of the most needed resorces for building in space:aluminium, fuel leftovers, oxygen leftovers, nitrogen gas, fuel tanks, and fully operational engine and flight computers. these can all be digested into raw meterials or used directly for the construction.had nasa adopted this method for the space shuttle program, they could… Read more »
Grand Lunar
Member

I can see how the soliar material is reused, but not the fluids, especially hydrogen.Most tanks don’t store hydrogen for more than a few hours, so it would’ve boiled off by the time a craft goes up to defuel it.It also makes better sense to go by SpaceX’s plan for recovering the upper stage.It’s tricky taking all that equipment apart. Why not leave it in one piece to either bring it back under it’s own power, or to refuel it at a depot and repurpose it?

dror
Member

you can store the hydrogen as one of its products:you can store it as water,you can use co2 from used air and create methane, you can quickly use it as propelant for altitude keeping.anything but throwing it back.

dror
Member

reusing might be the better way, but it may be that the exstra weight for heat shields, landing gear, and so and the extra costs of the reusable technology will make it more cost effective to use it in space. remember that a pound in space is worth 1000 $. it may be a waste to take it up and down so many times putting so much money for the lounch of the louncher itself.

Grand Lunar
Member

We’ll see how it turns out with SpaceX’s idea, I suppose.First stage reusablity is more or less a must.We could go for SSTO depending on what we’re doing with it.

dror
Member

Dan,I found about this company “space island”:http://www.spaceislandgroup.com/home.htmlthey had a well established plan for reusing the external tanksand build space stations based on them. their plan is far from perfect and maybe thats why they disappeared, but there is a lot we can learn from them, especially in their funding concept. I hope to hear your thoughts about it.

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