April 29, 2016 Leave a comment
SpaceX recently landed the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship, allowing them to reuse that stage of the rocket. Hypothetically, being able to reuse the first stage of a rocket in this way would be a huge cost saving measure, at least that has been the company’s goal in developing a reusable first stage.
The Falcon 9 marks the first reusable space vehicle since the orbiter which was part of NASA’s space shuttle program. But according to a former NASA administrator, Dan Dumbacher, the space shuttle program never really saved that much money. Sure it reduced cost a bit and reused materials, but the cost savings were not overwhelming. He warns that SpaceX isn’t likely to see the kinds of savings they expect.
There are a lot of cost saving ideas that already went into the Falcon 9, like using the same engines throughout the vehicle. Customers, like Luxembourg’s SES, are interested in the idea of reusable rockets saving them money, but it’s not clear yet how much SpaceX might save, or how much off that will be passed on to their customers. SES has agreed to be the first customer of the reusable system, but they’d like to see the price drop, for the first flight at least, by nearly 50%.
That might be extreme, as analysis of SpaceX’s plan seems to make a 40% savings about the best they can do for their customers, maybe even themselves. The problem with that analysis is that SpaceX doesn’t release their financial information, so it’s based on some estimates of cost and savings that haven’t been proven.
SpaceX has come a long way in a short time though, and they obviously employ some very smart people. They might just know something we don’t, and will be able to not only reduce cost but pass the saving son to their customers in a way that will make the ne rocket system well worth it.