Bringing Outer Space Within Man’s Grasp

… a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for? __ Robert Browning

… Falcon Heavy flights cost $90 million per launch, which is a fraction of the $300 million to $500 million per launch charged by United Launch Alliance for the Delta IV Heavy. __ SpaceX launches “Second Space Race”

Image Source
UK Business Insider via Bigelow Aerospace (in facebook)

As Launch Costs Drop, Missions Will Skyrocket

As space launches become affordable to more enterprises and individuals, the numbers and types of space missions will multiply — exponentially.

SpaceX is cutting launch costs by up to 75%, a significant cost savings already. As the company moves from its Falcon Heavy to its larger “BFR”, we should expect launch costs to drop even further.

Costs to LEO per kg for Various Rocket Systems

Getting to low earth orbit (LEO) is expensive. Cost per kg to LEO is not all that matters — and in many cases that measure is virtually insignificant to the actual mission. But as a rough benchmark it helps generally to compare rocket systems in terms of launch expense.

Falcon 9 can lift 13,150 kg for $61 Million in 2014 or $4640 per kilo.

The Falcon Heavy is expected to have it’s first launch in 2016 with the ability to muscle 53,000 kg to LEO for $90 Million or $1700 per kg! Another Wikipedia graphic. ___

By comparison, the Atlas V costs $20,000 per kg to LEO. The Atlas V 411 costs ~ $15,000 per kg to LEO. The Delta IV costs around $18,000 per kg to LEO. (Source)

A New Player Would Like to Undercut SpaceX Launch Costs

Rocket Lab’s small Electron rocket has lower total cost-per-launch than the SpaceX rockets, although its payload sizes are much smaller.

For the first time, US space flight startup Rocket Lab has launched its Electron rocket into orbit. The rocket lifted off from the firm’s New Zealand launch facility on 21 January [2018] and put three small satellites into orbit.

A launch aboard Electron is relatively cheap at $4.9 million per flight. A Falcon 9 flight costs customers upwards of $60 million. Rocket Lab has customers waiting for their satellites to be launched, including NASA and Moon Express, a competitor for the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize to put rovers on the moon. __

Rocket Lab’s “Electron” rocket is only 1/3 the size of the Falcon 9 rocket, and can carry only 1% the payload of the Falcon. But a surprising number of potential space payloads fall into the weight range of the small Electron rocket.

While the cost per kg to LEO for the Electron rocket is around $20,000, for many micro-satellite missions (very lightweight satellites) the cost per kg to LEO is not the key consideration for the overall mission. The main thing for many payloads is to get it to LEO quickly and reliably, with launch cost considerations being somewhat flexible.

As space missions multiply, urgent time pressures for launch will become more common. If an alternative but more expensive launch company can get you to LEO before a cheaper but less accomodating company can do, if your mission is important enough and urgent enough you will go with whoever can put your package into space the soonest.

Hotels in Space Coming Soon?

Hotelier Robert Bigelow has a company that builds inflatable space habitats. In a few days, Bigelow plans to announce a new space company, which intends to take advantage of more affordable space launch systems coming through the pipeline.

Robert Bigelow, who made billions forming the hotel chain Budget Suites of America, is gearing up to launch a new spaceflight company called Bigelow Space Operations.

Bigelow, age 72, already owns Bigelow Aerospace, which he founded in 1999. That company built an inflatable room, called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), for NASA to attach to the International Space Station. BEAM launched into orbit and was fully deployed in 2016. __ Robert Bigelow Expands Space Operations

Elon Musk’s SpaceX is Acting as the Spark Plug

The possibilities are now much greater, thanks to the lowering of launch costs and the expansion of payload capacity due to Musk’s successful SpaceX rocket line.

“The fact that SpaceX, on its own resources, was able to design, develop, and test this thing I think revives a sort of spirit of exploration — that the private sector really is doing some remarkable things,” [John] Logsdon told Business Insider.

… On February 6, SpaceX launched Falcon Heavy, the most powerful operational rocket system in the world.

The 230-foot-tall, three-booster launcher sent a red Tesla Roadster owned by company founder Elon Musk toward Mars orbit with a spacesuit-clad dummy in the driver’s seat.

“… Falcon Heavy and its cost is going to reopen the door to larger satellites with more capability,” [SpaceX consultant John Young] said…


Billionaires Seeking $Trillions in Space

Besides Elon Musk, other billionaires to have entered the new space race include Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, Virgin Airlines’ Richard Branson, and as mentioned above, Robert Bigelow.

When a single asteroid may contain more than $10 trillion worth of materials, one can see that a booming outer space economy — including asteroid mining — can potentially elevate a $billionaire to $trillionaire status rather quickly.

But it is not merely in raw materials where the money is to be made. It is in the nuts and bolts business of facilitating the buildup of a prosperous space economy in the cis-lunar environment and beyond.

In the California gold rush of the late 1840s, it was the people who sold the miners their picks, shovels, pans, and other necessaries, who prospered best. Similarly, as the great space race of the 21st century begins to gear up, it will be the entrepreneurs who facilitate the entire intermeshing enterprise and infrastructure who will reap the most certain and enduring revenue streams.

For example:

The business of space is growing rapidly. It is currently a $330 billion industry with accelerating growth. The number of new private companies being created to use space commercially is at an all-time high, with $13.3 billion invested in over eighty space startup companies since 2000. Continuing rapid growth of in-space businesses will increase the need for an in-space supply of propellants, life support materials, metals, and other commodities. This is the goal of Deep Space Industries: in-space delivery of the right materials, to the right place, for the right price, to support the sustainable expansion of Earth’s economy into space. __

As the potential reality of this new age of more affordable private space launch begins to dawn on Planet Earth’s entrepreneurs, expect some amazing new things which will be a lot more impressive than the latest iPhone or Android app.

More on building large space structures from:

Popular Mechanics


Falcon Heavy Brings Vastly More Valuable Asteroids Within Reach

Second Space Race Fueled by Private Capital

Cis-Lunar Economy

Selected papers on cis-lunar development

New Scientist Articles on Private Space

Cost per kg to LEO discussion on Reddit

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2 Responses to Bringing Outer Space Within Man’s Grasp

  1. bob sykes says:

    The only valid cost comparison is $/kg to LEO.

    • alfin2101 says:

      The article is updated to display costs per kg to LEO for various launch systems.

      But it is not true that the only valid comparison for space launch systems is cost per kg to LEO. Some payloads are time critical and mission critical, and the amount the customer is willing to pay to get a small payload into space will vary according to these and other parameters.

      FedEx overnight, for example, costs more per kg to a destination than regular FedEx. First class airfare immediate reservation will likewise cost more per kg to destination than coach rate tickets bought 2 weeks in advance. Different customers will have different sets of priorities and different budgets.

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