Sunday, June 12, 2022

An Interesting Graphic to Ponder

It has been a six sigma day here - in the sense of "nowhere near normal."  I'll post about it tomorrow, but for now, a graphic I found and keep handy.  

If Google is being nice, this should download as a 1200x1575 pixel graphic but still be legible if you look at it on your monitor.  As you can see in the bottom margin, it's from Visual Capitalist (dot com!) and it looks at the cost per kilogram to orbit through the history of modern space programs.  You'll notice the cost stayed in what appears to be a narrow range from 1960 until around 2010.  Now part of the reason for that looking narrow is that they used a logarithmic scale, which visually compresses it.  You'll note, for instance that Saturn V is under the $6,400/kg line while the Shuttle is above the $51,200 line.  $51,200 is eight times $6400, but the log scale doesn't make the Shuttle look eight times more expensive. 

This is a topic that I know I've written about before, and recently been joined by Borepatch

The interesting part of the graphic, of course, is the right side which emphasizes the differences SpaceX and their reusability have made.  That estimate for Starship of $200/kg (around $90/lb) is much smaller compared to the others on the chart because of that log scale again.  The cost for the first Falcon 1 was in the vicinity of $12,800/kg to orbit.  In the same neighborhood as Delta Heavy.  The planning cost for Starship of $200/kg is 1/64 of $12,800.

Reusability changes everything.  




  1. Excellent progress. I never thought I'd see numbers like that in my lifetime.

  2. These are the costs for getting into orbit. Low Earth Orbit. Means that satellites will be cheaper and more plentiful. Which is why Elon Musk created StarLink. If you have a need to be in Low Earth Orbit this is good news. Doesn't change the costs or difficulty of going anywhere else though. That is a headache, and cost, of an entirely different magnitude.

  3. Dan, what makes for low cost to LEO also reduces the cost to GEO or elsewhere. Getting up out of Earth's gravity well is the hard part. Anything else is just additional payload and propellant.

    Which is why there are now commercial companies producing space boosters and space tug modules that one can attach to one's payload and have someone else, like SpaceX, boost the whole shebang out of that sucking gravity well.

    Once (if) Vulcan comes on-line, the lifting of huge thingamabobs (not carried by Starship) will be possible, and the geeks at ULA have stated that they have 'plans' for reusability of the Centaur stage (basically potentially keeping them in space and refueling them and attaching in orbit to stuff to boost it.) I have seen 'plans' or 'speculation' from ULA that once a moonbase is up and running and producing water and therefore Hydrogen and Oxygen, Centaurs can be used as space tugs to and from the Moon.

    Getting up to LEO is the sucky part. Past that, meh, what, electric thrusters, ion thrusters, solar sails, nuclear thrusters (direct, or steam, or electric or ion..) or regular fuel thrusters of all varieties. Slow accelerations or fast accelerations. But again, lifting it up is the hard and expensive part.

    Now, the real question was, after seeing how expensive the stupid shuttle was, why, oh why did they ever go away from the Saturn family? Dangit, all that money wasted on a thing that had to get rebuilt every flight.

  4. Agree with Beans...If the cost per KG to LEO is drastically cheaper, that means the fuel needed for extended trips can be shipped to LEO at the same cost savings, which translates to magnified cost savings since once you are past the expensive bottom of the well...Every once of thrust is that much more effective and durable, once the additional boast is achieved, then coasting above the well is a wonderful cost saver.
    Question to complicate this graph...
    What would it look like if you adjusted for inflation?
    Since the 1960 dollar is quite different than the 2020 extra light version?

    1. I think once this chart is adjusted for inflation it would go from flat with a drop at the end to a cliff dive that resembles Brandon's poll numbers since he started to Build us back so better...(snark)

  5. I'm with you, Beans, getting out of the deepest part of the gravity well, even to the lowest stable orbit, is hardest and most expensive part. I'm sure you've seen numbers that say for planets much bigger than Earth, it becomes practically impossible to get off it.

    Even at $100/lb., that's not tourism for the everyday person. $20,000 to orbit for a 200lb guy? I don't know what Bezos really needs to charge for his little jaunts up to the Karman line, but it's probably more like $10,000/lb. Manned flight is going to cost more because the infrastructure to keep us alive will subtract off the payload.

    1. And the figures SpaceX was tossing around for using Starship for point-to-point Earth transport was comparable with ocean-spanning airfare.

      That's how radical SpaceX's manufacture and reusability have changed the whole space picture.

      Instead of millions or tens of millions for an engine, SpaceX is making them for around $200K each for a Raptor 2.0. And rumors exist of Raptor 3.0 which will be more powerful, more reliable and even cheaper than 2.0.

      Once actual serial production of Spaceship actual, rather than Spaceship test article, occurs, then the price will drop even more and more.

      People used to Legacy Aerospace can't fathom the speed and efficiency of SpaceX and how that speed and efficiency is so anti-legacy.

      For those out there, Everyday Astronaut interviewed Musk (on a youtube video) about the Merlin engine and they are looking at a Merlin 1C and Musk talks about how 1C is an evolutionary step above the first Merlins and how the Merlins flying now are basically almost a completely different engine. In less than, what, 12 years. (And I would really find it interesting to have Musk go over all the iterations of Merlin from the beginning to what they're flying now.)