Spacex BFR to be lower cost than Falcon 1 at $7 million per launch

In Elon Musk’s video announcement of the Spacex BFR he indicated that it would be lower cost to launch than the Spacex Falcon 1.

Above was the graphic which showed the Spacex BFR at lower cost than the Falcon 1.

In 2005 Falcon 1 was advertised as costing $5.9 million ($7.3 million when adjusted for inflation in 2015). In 2006 until 2007 the quoted price of the rocket when operational was $6.7 million. In late 2009 SpaceX announced new prices for the Falcon 1 and 1e at $7 million and $8.5 million respectively, with small discounts available for multi-launch contracts.

This would mean at $7 million the Spacex BFR launch 150 tons would have less than a $50 per kilogram launch cost ($23 per pound).

The Spacex BFR only has two large pieces. It has a first stage and the top ship. Both parts will be re-used. Spacex has shown it can land the first stage. Landing the the large top section of the BFR safely is in the design with two redundant rockets to ensure highly reliable landing.

I believe Spacex will succeed with full reusability and with low maintenance and recovery costs with the BFR.

I had extended some cost analysis assuming complete reusability and reuse life of 100 times or 1000 times and per unit costs of $200 or $500 million.

Spacex should be able to profitably get into the cost per flight of $20-40 million.

If Spacex is able to get the volume of customers and the flight operational ability to fly 50 times per year for each BFR then Spacex could have a rocket payback within one year while charging less than $10 million. There are many unknowns about costs to test and refurbish. But a rocket designed for full reuse could conceivably have lower recovery, refurbishment, testing and flight operations.

Spacex could lower the margin on each launch if there is elasticity in launch where they create a larger launch market with lower prices. Spacex will be able to adjust their prices based upon the demand they see at lower prices.

Even with somewhat lower reusability and more costs on the maintenance, Spacex should be able to comfortably get launch costs for a BFR to $30-40 million which would be $200-300 per pound.

Elon also showed a graphic extrapolating this years Spacex launches to have 20 launches in 2017 and 30 launches in 2018. Most of those launches would be Falcon 9 launches and some would reuse the first stage and some would be Falcon Heavy launches.

This would mean that Spacex would make about 300 rocket engines in 2018.

If Spacex has about the same production rate for the comparably Merlin engine sized Raptor engine, then Spacex would be able to make about one third to one quarter the number of Spacex BFR’s as Spacex makes Falcon 9s.

Spacex engine production rate and some other projections

2017  200 engines
2018  300 engines
2019  450 engines
2020  450 engines (pause in production increase with major raptor shift), Elon launches part of internet satellite network 
2021  450 engines (pause in production increase with major raptor shift), 12 BFRs
2022  600 engines (more production increases again), 15 BFR, most of internet satellites launched
2023  800 engines, 20 BFR
2024  1000 engines, 25 BFR
2025  1300 engines, 30 BFR 

By 2025, there could be a fleet of 100 BFR. Each could be flying 10-50 times per year if there the market for launches can be grown with $40-200 per pound launch costs.

Major moon and orbital bases in the 2020-2022 timeframe would be trivial with this kind of space capability.

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