Elon Musk and Spacex plan to recover and refly a first rocket stage in 2015

According to Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX’s vice president of mission assurance, the next Falcon 9 launch scheduled for May will also try for a water recovery.

The next step, assuming sea crews are unable to recover the rocket from Friday’s launch, is to return a first stage to a precision touchdown on land and determine what might be necessary to prepare it for another flight.

Musk hopes SpaceX can recover a Falcon 9 booster this year and fly a used first stage for the first time in 2015.

SpaceX plans to clad the rocket’s single-engine upper stage with a heat shield with an eye toward reusing it as well. The company has not disclosed a timetable for a potential recovery of the second stage.

“We don’t have to just recover it,” Musk said. “We have to show that it can be reflown quickly and easily, where the only thing you [have to do] is reload propellant.”

Here are the estimated costs for one use and partially reusable and more reusable Spacex rockets.

One use Falcon 9 rocket launch cost $1,862/lb
One use Falcon Heavy launch cost $1000/lb
The above costs are from Wikipedia and the Spacex website.

First stage reusable Falcon 9 launch cost $1200/lb
First stage reusable Falcon Heavy launch cost $600/lb

The cost of fuel and the Spacex rockets has been repeated a few times.

Musk reiterated the origin of the SpaceX production model, saying fuel is only 0.3 percent of the total cost of a rocket, with construction materials accounting for no more than 2 percent of the total cost, which for the Falcon 9 is about $60 million.

Musk said that a rocket’s first stage accounts for three-quarters of its total price tag, so a vehicle with a reusable first stage can be produced at far less cost — assuming the hardware is fully and rapidly reusable.

A reusable rocket stage would be able to launch about 80% of the cargo of a one use rocket. The weight of fuel is needed to fly the stage back and the extra weight of landing legs and other modifications for reuse have to be carried.

Two launches with second reusing the first stage.
Capital cost – 1.25 times the cost of one full rocket.
0.6% for fuel
Launch cargo 1.6 times the cargo of one rocket.
78% of the cost of a single use rocket

Three launches with reuse of the first stage twice.
Capital cost – 1.5 times the cost of one rocket
0.9% for fuel
Launch cargo 2.4 times the cargo of one rocket
62.5% of the cost of a single use rocket

50% of the cost with five launches and four reuses of the first stage [$930 per pound for the 9 v1.1 and $500 per pound for the heavy]

Reusable first stage falcon heavy [with about twenty reuses] can get down to about $350/lb [one third the one use price].

Reusable (about fifteen times) Falcon 9 rocket launch cost all stages reusable $100/lb [all three stages of a falcon heavy, should get to about ten times cheaper]

If there is solid and new demand then Spacex will move faster on second and third stage reuse. But I think Elon will still move later. Spacex is able to make the mods at relatively low cost.

Spacex is pretty busy for the next 2-3 years perfecting the first stage reuse and getting Spacex Heavy flying.
Then they will get around to the second and third stage reuse.

The unfortunate thing with the space shuttle was originally the design of the shuttle was, I think, fairly well-suited for good reuse, but then the requirements changed and that made it very difficult to reuse efficiently,” Musk said. “As long as we’re able to hold to our requirements, I think we’ll be able to achieve rapid and essentially complete reuse.”

The space shuttle’s winged orbiter and segments of its solid rocket boosters were used many times, but the program was stymied by bloated costs and multi-month turnarounds between missions.

The next step, assuming sea crews are unable to recover the rocket from Friday’s launch, is to return a first stage to a precision touchdown on land and determine what might be necessary to prepare it for another flight.

“The reuse must be both rapid and complete, like an aircraft or a car,” Musk said. “If you have to disassemble and reassemble a car and change a bunch of parts in between driving it, it would make it quite expensive”.

Robert Cleave, president of Lockheed Martin’s launch services unit, said Lockheed Martin has interest in launcher reusability, but he doubted the paradigm was economically or technically viable in the near future. The Atlas 5 rocket is one of SpaceX’s main rivals in the U.S. domestic launch market.

Stephane Israel, chairman and CEO of Arianespace, another SpaceX rival, also said reusability was not on the French launch services company’s horizon for next few decades.

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