Do SpaceX’s Reusable Rockets Actually Make Space Travel Cheaper?
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Do SpaceX’s Reusable Rockets Actually Make Space Travel Cheaper?

February 27, 2020


If you had to buy a new car every time you
had to go somewhere, you’d be broke by Tuesday. So, why not apply the same logic to space
travel. 90s kids will remember the space shuttle launches
that ferried astronauts and cargo to the ISS. But even the reusable shuttle was expensive,
and so the program ended in 2011. According to the founder of SpaceX, Elon Musk,
the shuttle was too complex, and money could be saved if the rocket was simplified. Simplifying a rocket. How hard could that be? Well, after few crash landings and explosions,
SpaceX seems to have the self-landing reusable rocket thing figured out. So, does this make space travel cheaper? Space shuttle missions cost about 450 million
dollars per launch, and while that sounds like a lot more than SpaceX’s price of $133
million, you have to remember the Space Shuttle was a beast of a craft, capable of carrying
50,000 pounds of cargo AND 7 crew members. Broken down by the pound Shuttle flights cost
about 10,000 dollars whereas a SpaceX Dragon stuffed to the gills costs 9,100 dollars for
every pound of cargo. That’s well shy of Musk’s ultimate goal
of bringing down the cost of space travel by a at least a factor of 10. But, he hopes to hit those numbers by launching
more cargo at once on their next rocket, the Falcon Heavy. For now SpaceX has started launching reused
Falcon-9 rockets and says the cost of refurbishing one is less than half of building one from
scratch. They still have to recoup their investment,
but eventually Musk says prices will drop. The thing is, SpaceX is competing for government
contracts with another company called United Launch Alliance or ULA, a joint venture of
Lockheed-Martin and Boeing. Based on the US Air Force’s 2018 budget
estimate, it looks like ULA will charge 422 million dollars per launch in 2020. SpaceX, on the other hand, has done similar
jobs for only 83 million dollars. So things are allegedly cheaper. Though, how much of that 300 million dollars
difference is down to the rocket, is up for debate. In fact, the Government Accountability Office
has criticized ULA for a lack of transparency on pricing. While some would argue ULA charges that much
because they’re up against the margin and can’t cut costs, Musk thinks they charge
that much because they can. They used to have no competition, their launch
record is outstanding, and the satellites they’re launching cost billions, so what’s
a few hundred million dollars between friends? While the Department of Defense can accept
the higher launch costs because their budget is bigger than God’s, NASA is, by comparison,
a poor pauper that has to make a lump of coal last the winter. In 2015 NASA received 34 times less money
than the DOD. So, if SpaceX can save NASA money, it would
be an ideal partnership. The next thing NASA needs is a way to transport
people. SpaceX’s unfinished Dragon 2 spacecraft
is designed to carry people at a price of 58 million dollars per seat. Pretty good considering the only other ride
to the ISS is aboard a Russian Soyuz, and since the shuttle’s retirement they’ve
been hiking the price. They’re planning to charge 81 million dollars
a seat next year. I for one hope he does manage to get that
price down, because I don’t think I can save up 58 million dollars before I die. Maybe I should invent some sort of service. Like an easy way to pay my pals or something. I don’t know, get back to me on this one,
Elon. Thanks for watching, if you like what you
see may I casually direct you to the subscribe button. If you bought a ticket to space, how high
would you have to go before you technically got there? Trace tells you where space starts here. So would you hitch a ride on a rocket if you
could? Let us know in the comments, and thanks for
watching

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