SpaceX Starship Could Eventually Cost $2 Million Per Launch According to Elon Musk

On November 5, 2019, at the first U.S. Air Force Space Pitch Day, Elon Musk said the Super Heavy Starship reusable rocket will use just $900,000 worth of propellant to get off Earth and into orbit and with operational costs will eventually cost $2 million per launch. Musk said during a conversation with Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center, Air Force Space Command, at Los Angeles Air Force Base.

This will likely mean that each Super Heavy Starship will cost about $100 million to build. This would be near the cost of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy. The Falcon Heavy has 27 Merlin engines and the Super Heavy Starship will have about 38-44 Raptor engines.

The Super Heavy Starship will mostly be made of 301 steel. Carbon fiber material costs about $130,000 a ton and stainless steel costs $2,500 a ton. The main body of the Super Heavy Starship will cost about $3 million while the Falcon Heavy costs about $20-30 million for the main rocket.

35 thoughts on “SpaceX Starship Could Eventually Cost $2 Million Per Launch According to Elon Musk”

  1. The credit thing is a potential pitfall for SpaceX. Whoever’s after the colonists can sue SpaceX for providing them an escape, and demand compensation. It’d be smart for SpaceX to carefully check the background and financial status of every potential colonist, or they’ll have to make a pretty strong legal case that they’re not responsible for their passengers’ debt etc. But they’d want to do a background check anyway, for security reasons. Wouldn’t want some murderous/suicidal psycho in a closed colony. Nor someone who could go crazy there.

    Also, new job: interplanetary debt collector / headhunter. Paid to covertly travel to distant colonies to find, apprehend, and bring back debtors and wanted criminals.

  2. Doctors and (senior?) engineers could probably afford it. Or basically anyone who’s done paying a good fraction of their mortgage and can sell their house with enough money left after paying back the rest of it (edit: or not paying it back; what is the bank going to do? chase them to Mars?).

    Farmers and biologists could be tricky, but there can be subsidy schemes for missing needed professions.

    For maintenance, cleaning, and food prep, they could probably set up a chores rotation.

  3. Per other commenters, the $2M is probably only the marginal cost of the launch itself. Depending on their internal financing, the cost used for ticket pricing can be anywhere from that to ten times that.

    Then you also have the various hardware and supplies they’ll need to survive on Mars. Though much of it can be shared by a large number of colonists, so the cost can be spread.

    They’ll probably need to tweak their financing to bring total launch cost closer to the marginal cost, and early tickets may be closer to $500K to $1-2M range to cover the extra costs of the hardware etc. But Starlink will help them subsidize at least some of it, and bring prices down. Maybe there’ll be a discount for long-term Starlink subscribers?

  4. Yeah, who’s going to be the janitor? At $200K per person, and assuming your colonists need to be young enough to reproduce, (Because otherwise it isn’t a “colony”.) you’re talking people with some fairly high end skills, decidedly not a representative mix of those needed to keep civilization going. You only need so many dentists and hip hop stars.

    I suppose you could have a skill based lottery rounding out the skill mix.

    And, the early colonization of North America by the Pilgrims and the like often involved ideological/religious groups which would raise money to send just a fraction of their number to the new world.

    I have heard talk that the first wave might be older folk like me, approaching end of their careers, because you get a lot of experience, in people who theoretically don’t mind that the job is likely to reduce their life expectancy significantly. What do I care about radiation exposure that might cause me to die of cancer 30 years from now?

    A lot of interesting questions.

  5. How long do you think satellites will stay expensive, when you can launch 100 tons with a week lead time for $20M or less?

    Imagine a standard satellite bus, weighing 5 tons, engineered with a 4X safety factor and a 100X proven design. It provides standard communication (to the internet constellation of your choice), navigation, electrical power, and propulsion, and guarantees to deorbit on command.

    It costs $1M. Add $1M for engineering review, verifying that whatever you plan to mount on it will not fragment or explode, and will burn up completely on reentry. Add another $1M for government paperwork.

    If you rideshare and keep your part of the satellite under 5 tons, launch is $2M. Under 15 tons, launch is $4M. Under 25 tons, launch is $6M. Over 25 tons, you probably want the 15 ton bus for $3M and a dedicated launch.

    Of course there will be smaller buses for the academic and hobby market. You could have a very standard package: 1 kW of power, 10 Mbps of data, very basic orientation control. Restrictions: No optical earth imaging better than a webcam; nothing pressurized or flammable; limited set of materials and construction techniques allowed (including no tethers or free-flight); max 1 year on-orbit; your payload must fit in a 1-meter cube and weigh less than 500 kg. Total cost: $500K.

    I don’t know whether, in the current regulatory environment, you could make a $50K option work. Paperwork and engineering verification alone might cost more than that.

  6. I can see a few uses that could be commoditized like communication, mapping, prospecting, assaying, and photography.

  7. At $2M per launch and being able to launch 400 Starlink satellites at a pop (
    then you are talking a mere $5,000 to launch each satellite. At that point it is far far cheaper to launch this type of hardware into orbit than to install it on the ground as a cell tower for instance. If they get the build price per satellite down to $100k (or less), then they will simply be able to make huge amounts of money even charging half what Comcast or Verizon and such charge. The bandwidth per satellite is 20Gbps based on this article ( where it mentions a successful test of 600Mbps even though that is only 3% of total so 600 divided by .03 is 20,000Mbps. That is much higher bandwidth than a cell tower 3Gbps ( Of course, it has to be, because even at 40,000 satellites it will have to cover far more ground and customers. But generally, it seems this is a far cheaper way to deliver bandwidth, even if the $2M is only the marginal costs of launching.

  8. Hmm:
    > 100 colonists per outbound voyage
    > 6 x $2,000,000 per launch to get StarShip/Mars Edition in orbit and fueled = $12,000,000.
    > Groceries for the trip = $50 per person per day for 200 days = $1,000,000 (all that yummy freeze dried food)
    > Amortization of the CAPEX = $7,000,000
    Subtotal $20,000,000 per 100 colonists, delivered to the Martian surface.

    So, $200,000 per colonist (I think Musk used a figure something that at one point).

    Cash out $200,000 in equity in a house; married couple would need $400,000. Perhaps not Podunk but probably some of the nicer suburbs in the MidWest.

    The real question is, will there be a Home Depot in Gale Crater?

  9. When Starship is developed, the workforce supporting the construction of the partially expendable Falcon family of rockets can be downsized. After the fleet of fully reusable Starships are built then the workforce building the Starships can be reduced. As the cost of accessing space becomes relatively very cheap then the number of uses will increase, (e.g. megaconstellations, settlement, tourism, etc) thereby supporting the workforce with new revenue streams. And then, yes, there is price as opposed to marginal cost.

  10. If Elon ever gives a public speech without sounding choppy… it means he’s been replace by Artifical Intellegence robotic doppelgänger…

  11. It’s looking more and more to me like finding water on Mars won’t be hard. We used to think it was all sequestered at the poles and deep underground, but now it looks like there are actually fairly shallow strata of actual ice, or at least ice saturated soil, across considerable areas of the planet.

  12. $2M per launch with 100 tons is just $20/kg. Very impressive. Even if that’s just the marginal cost, and actual price is $20M per launch, as others have commented here, that’d still be only $200/kg. That’s a full 100 times cheaper than some of the competition (Google says Atlas V is $20K/kg).

    Assuming that’s just a single launch to LEO, without refueling, and going by the previously claimed 5 launches to refill, that’d be $1200/kg to the Moon or Mars.

  13. Can’t skip mining water if they want to survive long-term. Current life-support tech doesn’t recycle 100%.

  14. Depends on the launch cadence they want to maintain. But I agree that there’s no reason the number of Starships and Superheavys have to match, particularly once you’re looking at things like missions to Mars, that could tie up a particular Starship for a couple years at a time.

  15. This seems to be $100M for both Super Heavy and a cargo Starship. SpaceX would presumably build multiple Starships for each Superheavy since they don’t need more than 1 SH per launch pad.

    So I guess a Cargo Starship costs less than a third of that since Superheavy has more than 6X the number of Raptor engines. Less than $33M. Amazing if it works out.

  16. Given that you can establish water availability, you’re really better off using it; The reaction doesn’t balance properly with just H2 and CO2, you end up having to throw some of the carbon away.

  17. My impression was that he was planning on charging colonists for the trip. Which would kind of exclude the average person from going, but if they can hit these kinds of price points, there’s probably a feasible ticket price enough people who were interested could afford.

  18. Methane is carbon and hydrogen. On Mars the carbon and oxygen can come from atmospheric CO2, so you can skip mining for water if you bring hydrogen with you.

  19. It is methane and oxygen, no hydrogen. The ISRU planned for Mars uses the sabatier reaction to convert CO2 to methane. O2 frm water which they will need to mine regardless.

  20. If a lot more stuff can be launched, the next frontier of space hardware is its commoditization.

    Off-the-shelf satellites, probes, drones, rovers and habitable modules. A whole set of space worthy elements, semi-standardized (and not by a committee, but by frequent use), cheaper and ready to launch.

  21. Musk said the cost would be about $2M, making it clear from the breakdown he meant marginal cost. The price is an entirely different matter. If they priced it at $20M it would undercut current launch prices so dramatically nobody could compete without being highly subsidized. Internally, the Starlink biz could pay that to the other side of the company and come out with a per satellite launch price of $50k which is pretty astoundingly low compared to what their competition pays.

  22. Implement StarLink, make billions, transfer funds to rocket folks, go to Mars. It’s not clear how going to Mars will make money, however, I don’t Musk cares. At some point colonizing Mars could be so expensive that it would exhaust StarLink profits, however, I suspect Musk is thinking he’ll figure out something then, and if he doesn’t, then he won’t have to regret not trying.

  23. Yes. I’ve been very skeptical anyone, except SpaceX flying their own cargo, would ever get to taste some of the more rosy launch cost predictions for reusable rockets. The industry has some pretty steep fix costs that will not go away just because you’re reusing rockets.
    I don’t think they can they just fire everyone, give up the infrastructure and just call a temp agency and rent a shared work space from WeWork when it’s time to cook up a new batch of replacement hardware.

  24. So a starship launch plus 5-10 refuellings in space to get to the moon and many other small targets in space will cost 12-22 M, land a hundred Tons and will suffice for a return flight. Not bad. Going to Mars and either bringing down the the Hydrogen or producing the fuel in Mars will probably double or triple the price.

  25. That depends on whether Elon was talking about the marginal cost of launching a Starship, or the total cost including overheads, depreciation, amortization, etc. etc.

    It’s easy enough to say that the marginal cost is $2M. Then charge $20M. That gives you $18M to go towards paying salaries, paying off the cost of all those landing barges, construction buildings, R&D etc. etc.

  26. I once came across some random estimate of SpaceX’s payroll, it was around $500M/Yr
    They would need over 500 Starship launches a year just to cover payroll.
    What near term space activities could support that launch rate?

  27. One of the things I find exciting about the Starship, is that we may finally be approaching the age when, rather than spacecraft being exotic machines that require enormous design work and testing to succeed, instead we’ll soon have design rules that, if you follow them, you can build specialized rockets and expect them to work.

    Need to launch something ten times heavier than usual? No problem, let me plug that into the spreadsheet.

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