No future for expensive single use rockets

Recent analysis of US Air Force budgets show ULA (United Launch Alliance) as charging the US air force $422 million per launch in 2020 versus about $96 million that Spacex is charging the air force.

With reusable rockets Spacex will be able to charge even less. 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. This would mean at $7 million the Spacex BFR launch 150 tons would have less than a $50 per pound launch cost.

Space launch insurance companies are no longer charging a premium for launches using reused Spacex rocket stages.

The Spacex BFR still has to be built and is 2-6 years away from begin developed and having commercial flights.

The Falcon Heavy should be launched within 30-60 days. This will lower the price per pound compared to the Falcon 9.

There have been several op-ed articles that assert, Musk seeks a monopoly on the US national security launch market. In addition to saying this allows Musk to fleece taxpayers, some of the more overdone authors assert that it could kill Americans.

Crony Capitalism for Aerojet

US Rep. Mike Rogers, a Republican from Alabama, inserted Section 1615″ to the Defense Authorization Act. Rogers’ language concerns the procurement of new US-made rockets. The US military is required to have assured access to space, and this means two separate launch systems to get its spy and communications satellites into orbit. It currently has three—the Delta and Atlas families of rockets built by United Launch Alliance (ULA) and the Falcon 9 rocket by SpaceX. However, ULA wants to stop building the Delta rockets because they are expensive, and the Atlas fleet uses Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines, which Congress wants to phase out.

Two sources familiar with the legislation told Ars that Rogers added Section 1615 specifically to benefit Aerojet and its AR1 rocket engine.

“The purpose of the provision is simple,” one Washington DC source said. “Instead of the Department of Defense continuing their open-ended, market-friendly risk reduction investment across several providers to enable Russian-engine-free launch capabilities, Rogers wants DOD to fund Aerojet to build AR1 to be inserted into Atlas V.” In other words, the language benefits Aerojet by favoring its “drop in” engine solution over building a completely new Vulcan rocket.

Aerojet wants to keep about $400-600 million of Air Force money for the development of the AR1 rocket.

Other applications and justifications for different launch systems

Despite the large and increasingly dominant price advantage for Spacex, there will be a second place US rocket launch company. The US military is requiring a second option.

There is are several small rocket companies like Rocket Labs that will be making inexpensive rockets using 3D printing technique. Reusable rockets will become similar to the airplane market. There will be quite a few competitors in the small size market.

Spaceplanes like the Reaction Engines vehicles will be funded and will be used for military applications.

There will be other space vehicle niches that will justify and create the business case for other kinds of vehicles and technologies.

There will be no future for expensive single use rockets.