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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, 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.
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  • (Score: 3, Informative) by takyon on Friday December 01 2017, @04:01AM (3 children)

    by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> 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.