What is the real cost of SpaceX launches

NASA and SpaceX complete certification of first commercial space system

The first victory in the billionaire space race remained with Elon Musk - the Pentagon recently agreed to pay SpaceX millions of dollars to use its rockets and abandon Russian technology.

The results of the competition for spacecraft launches for the military were announced at the end of last week. Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin did not get the contract. Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith later said the company had made an "attractive offer" and was "disappointed" with the competition.

This competition was perhaps one of the first battles in the space war of entrepreneurs for public money, which in a few years could turn into billions of dollars. First, but not last, Musk's battles against Bezos will rage for years to come, a partner at a venture capital firm that specializes in space exploration told Forbes.

Taxpayer money in space

On August 7, Elon Musk's SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing) won two five-year US Space Force missile launch contracts worth $ 653 million. missions for the Pentagon and the National Directorate of Military Space Intelligence, dividing them in a ratio of 60/40.

The billionaire space race started a few years ago, when the United States decided to stop using Russian rocket engines amid growing geopolitical tensions and threats to impose an export ban on Russia after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. In June 2016, the Senate amended that after December 31, 2022, the Pentagon will no longer be able to buy Russian RD-180 engines for Atlas-5 missiles. This has created new opportunities for big space corporations and billionaires like Musk and Bezos, both opening a new chapter in the history of entrepreneurs and space rockets.

Now the US authorities are increasingly counting on entrepreneurs to help make space missions cheaper. “Keeping competition in the rocket launch market for the benefit of both government and commercial customers is our way of encouraging innovation in space access,” US Air Force Assistant Secretary Dr. William Roper said in a call for the tender. "Today's results mark the beginning of a new era in space rocket launches, which will finally allow the Pentagon to abandon the Russian RD-180 engines."

Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of the Space and Rocket Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, said the SpaceX and ULA contracts herald "the dawn of a new decade in the history of American launch innovation." ...


Even though Bezos has failed, both SpaceX and Blue Origin are likely to have a big impact on the rocket launch market in the next few years, says managing partner of London-based venture capital Seraphim Capital. James Brugger. His fund invests in space companies. Brugger predicts that SpaceX and Blue Origin will compete head-on. Both companies want to launch satellites that provide cheap broadband around the world, and "the wars between Musk and Bezos are likely to rage for many years to come," the expert adds.

Brugger was not surprised when ULA and SpaceX, a seasoned player with Lockheed Martin and Boeing ties and a new representative of the billionaire entrepreneurial class, Elon Musk, were announced as winners of the tender. According to Bruegger, signing a contract with two new players at once could have seemed "too risky" to the military.

According to Bruegger, SpaceX is "more authoritative" than Blue Origin at the moment, having served government orders for many years. SpaceX has launched government satellites and delivered cargo to the International Space Station. "And of course," he adds, "they have just completed a landmark mission to bring American astronauts to the ISS, ushering in the era of commercial human space travel."

“Space unites everyone, in all markets, everywhere. As the army says, space is absolute height, ”says Daniel Carew, director of IQ Capital, a UK-based venture capital firm that specializes in technology companies.

The Long War: How Musk Beat Bezos in the Space Race and Why It's Not Over

The year has started well for the company - SpaceX will launch Space Development Agency satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The agency estimates the satellites will be ready for launch in late 2022. The contract includes the launch of several small and medium-sized spacecraft of various sizes, which the Space Development Agency purchases from several suppliers. This includes 20 data relay satellites, known as the transport layer of the new system, and the remaining eight are missile warning satellites, known as the tracking layer.

The agency said it will select a supplier offering “best value” based on several criteria, such as price, schedule and past performance.

Separately, SpaceX won a contract with the Space Development Agency in October to produce four Tracking Layer satellites, but work has been suspended due to a pending protest by competing bidders.

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The space war of billionaires has been going on for several years, and so far Elon Musk is winning. The SpaceX founder was the first to send astronauts into space on a commercial ship and recently received a new contract from the military trying to ditch the rocket engines from Russia. Musk wins battles, but not war: battles between him and the richest man in the world Jeff Bezos for space will rage for many years to come, experts warn

SpaceX has started creating floating spaceports for Starship


I'll start with Elon's fresh tweet: Elon Musk @ elonmusk · 1h

SpaceX is building floating, superheavy-class spaceports for Mars, moon & hypersonic travel around Earth

SpaceX is hiring for Offshore Operations Engineers in Brownsville. From the post: "Work as part of a team of engineers and technicians to design and build an operational offshore rocket launch facility"

Elon recently notified SpaceX staff that the Starship project is now a priority for the company.

The SN7 tank, made from a new stainless steel alloy, was tested yesterday. The tank punctured, but did not burst, at a liquid nitrogen pressure of 7.6 bar. The result is good, but the best thing is that the breakthrough of the dome body was small, local and did not go further. Perhaps there was a defect in the metal itself. But not the point is important.

They were conducting a tank destruction test. No destruction occurred. But before the dome broke, Musk tweeted that they suspected several weak points in the design and that the next tank, which is already preparing for testing, no longer has these weaknesses.

After testing, Musk wrote that they were preparing a new alloy too.

And today it was revealed that SpaceH has announced the recruitment of engineering and technical personnel in Brownsville, Texas, to design, build and operate floating spaceports.

Hello to all SpaceX community subscribers!

"The last time I checked this, insurance was $ 1 million cheaper," said Elon Musk regarding insurance for Falcon 9 missions, relative to missions on other launch vehicles. Insurance is a "litmus test" for missile reliability, he added in another tweet.

CNBC journalist Michael Sheetz learned about the real insurance rates from a leading space insurance company, who chose to remain anonymous. He said that Musk's claim is true for the absolute value of insurance premiums based on the price tag of the rocket, but not for the insurance rate, which is based on market perception of the reliability of the rocket.

The SpaceX website lists the cost of launching Falcon 9 at $ 62 million [according to the latest data, SpaceX offers launches at $ 52 million for NASA, which indirectly indicates that commercial launches are already even cheaper - approx. per.].

The insurance rate for Falcon 9 is now ≈4% - the source says. This rate is similar to competitive launch vehicles: Arianespace's Arian 5 and United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5. But the very cost of launches on these launch vehicles can exceed $ 165 million, which puts the Falcon 9's insurance premium at ≈ $ 2.5 million, while the premium of its competitors is at ≈ $ 7 million [taking into account the lower price, the Falcon premium 9 is closer to $ 2 million; It should also be noted that the cost of the lighter Atlas-5 configurations starts at $ 109 million, but they cannot output payloads of comparable weight - approx. per.].

In fact, the source said that the Falcon 9 launch is cheaper to insure because the launch itself costs less than competitors, and not because the rocket is considered more reliable. The source also added that Musk's method of comparing insurance premiums can be misleading, since insurance is not limited to this: it usually includes insurance for the cost of the launch vehicle, spacecraft and the amount itself that was paid to the insurer, the source explains.

Falcon 9 currently has 2 failures and 81 successful launches.

Reuse is a way to save money ?

The cost of launching Falcon 9 can vary significantly depending on customer needs. In recent military launches, the US Air Force paid SpaceX ≈ $ 95 million per launch - since the nature of the national security of the missions imposed additional requirements on the firm [the cost of some recent launches for NASA reached $ 140 million, but at the same time they included the cost of the Dragon ship, its return from orbits and maintenance, as well as additional work on loading and unloading cargo - approx. per.].

But SpaceX says it can offer a lower price point if it reuses parts of its rocket. At a briefing earlier this year, SpaceX's director of carrier integration, Christopher Couluris, said the company could "bring the cost to below $ 30 million per launch."

“Cost of $ 28 million per launch - all things considered,” Koulouris said, adding that reuse is what “drives down the price.”

On Tuesday night, NASA announced that it has given official clearance for the delivery of astronauts to and from orbit with the Crewe Dragon capsule and the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. This is the first spacecraft certified by the space agency "in nearly 40 years since the shuttle."

In a statement, NASA chief Jim Bridenstine noted that this is an important milestone for Elon Musk's company, and that it will contribute to the commercialization of space.

“It is with great pride that we have returned the regular American rocket launches of American spacecraft to American soil,” Bridenstine said. “This certification is a major milestone and an incredible achievement for NASA and SpaceCax. It shows how much progress we have made working together with the commercial industry.”

Bridenstein recently announced that he would not be serving as NASA administrator under Biden, noting that the position "needs someone who has a close relationship with the president."

In May, Spacex took a historic step by sending NASA astronauts from the United States into space for the first time since 2011. The launches were discontinued that year due to the abandonment of space shuttles.

This certification is a historic achievement for both NASA and Elon Musk's company. NASA's Commercial Crew Program has provided most of the funding for the Crewe Dragon over the past six years and has conducted hundreds of tests.

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