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posted by martyb on Thursday November 30 2017, @10:11PM   Printer-friendly

The German Aerospace Center (DLR) believes that SpaceX will realize significant cost savings with reusable boosters (archive) without needing to launch them ten times each — as bitter SpaceX competitor United Launch Alliance asserts:

Gerd Gruppe, a member of DLR's executive board and responsible for DLR's space program, said the agency has concluded that SpaceX is on the verge of realizing the savings it has promised from reusing first stages. "With 20 launches a year the Falcon 9 uses around 200 engines, and while their cost of refurbishment is unknown, we think SpaceX is well on the way to establishing a competitive system based on the reusability" of the rocket's first stage, Gruppe said here Oct. 24 at the Space Tech Expo conference.

Not everyone is so sure. Leslie Kovacs, executive branch director at United Launch Alliance (ULA), said ULA has concluded that SpaceX needs to refly Falcon 9 first stages 10 times each to make reusability pay. "The question of reusability is not a technical problem. It boils down to an economic problem," Kovacs siad here Oct. 24. "Our internal analysis shows that if you are going to do that [reuse the first stage], the break-even point is about 10 times. You have to bring back that first stage 10 times for it to be economically beneficial for you."

Meanwhile, SpaceX has thrown the future of the European commercial launch provider Arianespace into doubt. Although Arianespace plans to launch its cheaper Ariane 6 rocket in 2020, it may not be able to compete with SpaceX's reusable rockets even with European subsidies (which Germany is reluctant to provide):

In what was likely an unexpected question during a Nov. 19 interview with Europe 1 radio, French Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire was asked if SpaceX meant the death of Ariane. "Death? I'm not sure I'd say that. But I am certain of the threat," Le Maire said. "I am worried." Le Maire cited figures that are far from proven — including a possible 80% reduction in the already low SpaceX Falcon 9 launch price once the benefits of reusability are realized.

SpaceX has raised an additional $100 million, valuing the company at $21.5 billion. This is not much different from the valuation in July.

One analyst has joked that Elon Musk will reach Mars before Tesla, which has been burning cash and struggling to meet production targets, becomes profitable:

"Tesla stock is an extreme bet on the future," said [Frank] Schwope. "The share development depends on the transformation of the company from a small premium manufacturer with five-digit sales figures to a mass manufacturer with figures in the six-digit or millions range. We don't see Tesla as a tough competitor of the established automakers, but rather as a trailblazer that will push long-established companies to boost their performance."

Lastly, a former SpaceX intern thinks that Musk is Satoshi Nakamoto, inventor of Bitcoin. Musk denies it.


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  • (Score: 2) by frojack on Thursday November 30 2017, @10:39PM (2 children)

    by frojack (1554) on Thursday November 30 2017, @10:39PM (#603689) Journal

    SpaceX can save even more money if they just follow the Rat Rod [tumblr.com] crowd, and forget about repainting everything every time, and just paint what has to be painted for metal protection. (Some paints are ablative or corrosion protection and serve a purpose other than looking good).

    Probably customers want to see a pretty rocket if they are going to launch something. Nobody cares how much graffiti or rusted paint is on a boxcar hauling their precious stuff but nobody wants to see a rocket looking shabby.

    Still, I'd be interested in exactly just what does need to be refurbished between flights. Other than the fuel tanks and pump systems needing purge and reset, there isn't much in a booster besides the engines that seems to the untrained eye something that might need a look.

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    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by bob_super on Thursday November 30 2017, @11:04PM

      by bob_super (1357) on Thursday November 30 2017, @11:04PM (#603708)

      Considering the weight added by painting such a big surface, I would bet the paint has a good reason the be there.
      With RTLS, they may save a bit on the corrosion compared to the barges, but they're still right on the ocean, loading super-cold stuff under bright southern sun.

      The refurbishment bill will drop a bit if they find a way to avoid having fires on landing, as was clearly visible in the last two.

    • (Score: 1) by ElizabethGreene on Friday December 01 2017, @04:01PM

      by ElizabethGreene (6748) Subscriber Badge on Friday December 01 2017, @04:01PM (#603941) Journal

      The Blue origin guys didn't repaint their recycled (sub-orbital) rockets, so the idea has at least some merit. It was cool to see the rocket a little banged-up and dirty from being to space a half-dozen times.

  • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 30 2017, @10:41PM (7 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 30 2017, @10:41PM (#603691)

    They says it is not a technical issue. It is an economic issue and the break even point is at least 10 reuses.

    Seems like ULA is scrambling.
    The real story may be that reuse may result in more reliability with tested vehicles and the break even point may not matter if the reusable is cheaper on the first launch anyway.

    • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 30 2017, @11:26PM (6 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 30 2017, @11:26PM (#603717)

      Yeah, I can see how ULA would rather say that SpaceX is bad at business decisions rather than saying they have solved an important technical problem. But the opposite also holds, and SpaceX wants people to think their finances are good (without showing evidence).

      • (Score: 1, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 01 2017, @12:56AM (5 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 01 2017, @12:56AM (#603749)

        Could be.

        The plan of losing a bit on every launch and then trying to make it up on volume usually doesn't work out.
        Hopefully that isn't the case for X.

        • (Score: 2, Interesting) by khallow on Friday December 01 2017, @03:14AM (4 children)

          by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Friday December 01 2017, @03:14AM (#603780) Journal
          There is a lot of economy of scale to rocket launches at current launch frequencies. Even if reusability had turned out to be a bust, SpaceX would see substantial declines in cost per launch from higher launch frequency.
          • (Score: 3, Informative) by takyon on Friday December 01 2017, @04:01AM (3 children)

            by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Friday December 01 2017, @04:01AM (#603793) Journal

            SpaceX already dominates on price so they will be able to set the prices going forward. Initial customers using reflown boosters probably got a 10% discount. 30% is possible, and the article mentions 80% reduction in price. That will probably require landing of the second/upper stage [spaceflightnow.com], which is more difficult [wordpress.com]. They also want to save a few million by recovering the fairing, and I don't think that is close to routine [reuters.com] yet.

            There are some smaller launchers [wikipedia.org] in the market like Rocket Lab and Vector Space Systems who could be challenged by an 80% cheaper Falcon 9. Although these vehicles would still be cheaper ($2-3 [wikipedia.org] and $4.9 million [wikipedia.org]), they have less payload and are unproven. If a Falcon 9 flight declines from $62 million to maybe $12-15 million, suddenly more universities could think about launching a satellite. The fully reusable flights will be the ones with less payload anyway (compared to "full thrust/expendable mode"), since fuel needs to be carried up for the purpose of landing the booster, second stage, and fairing.

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            • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 01 2017, @04:58AM (1 child)

              by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 01 2017, @04:58AM (#603801)

              SpaceX already dominates on price so they will be able to set the prices going forward.

              Let's see how that theory holds when the business cycle turns down and investors demand positive returns.

              • (Score: 1, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 01 2017, @03:16PM

                by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 01 2017, @03:16PM (#603922)

                Good thing SpaceX is privately held, then.

            • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Immerman on Friday December 01 2017, @05:16AM

              by Immerman (3985) on Friday December 01 2017, @05:16AM (#603806)

              Not to mention that a single launch will quite often deliver several payloads to different orbits. If a Falcon can launch 10x the payload for 5x the cost, then there's a fair chance they can find at least 6 small-scale customers with compatible launch profiles to "carpool" to their desired orbit and beat the small-scale launch price. In fact such "carpooling" is already common, though usually there will be a large primary payload and several "hitchhikers".

              Where small-scale launches shine is when you want to reach an unconventional orbit, so that it's difficult if not impossible to find anyone to "carpool" with.

  • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Friday December 01 2017, @03:04PM

    by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Friday December 01 2017, @03:04PM (#603915) Journal

    SpaceX has thrown the future of the European commercial launch provider Arianespace into doubt.

    Uh, no.

    The future of Arianespace is not in doubt.

    1. Increase government subsidies to any level that seems necessary to prop it up.
    2. Once it is shut down, universal basic income for everyone laid off.

    I have no doubts whatsoever. What do they mean the future is in doubt.

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