Stuff Rich People Do


Falcon 9, on the way to GTO.

In sharp (and welcome) contrast to my last post, witness the power of this fully armed and operational free market:

Today, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) successfully completed its first geostationary transfer mission, delivering the SES-8 satellite to its targeted 295 x 80,000 km orbit. Falcon 9 executed a picture-perfect flight, meeting 100% of mission objectives.

Falcon 9 lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at 5:41 PM Eastern Time. Approximately 185 seconds into flight, Falcon 9’s second stage’s single Merlin vacuum engine ignited to begin a five minute, 20 second burn that delivered the SES-8 satellite into its parking orbit. Eighteen minutes after injection into the parking orbit, the second stage engine relit for just over one minute to carry the SES-8 satellite to its final geostationary transfer orbit. The restart of the Falcon 9 second stage is a requirement for all geostationary transfer missions.

As one might expect, the Wall Street Journal had a bit more coverage of the business angle. Here’s the (literal) money bit:

Before the mission, SpaceX said by 2015 it planned to double rocket production to about 24 annually.

If SpaceX achieves its goals, it will vindicate a host of satellite manufacturers, operators and space agencies that have revised business plans based on the availability of the Falcon 9. In some cases, SpaceX foresees competing head-to-head with Europe’s Arianespace, which often launches dual satellites aboard its heavy-lift Ariane 5 ECA rocket.

SpaceX emphasizes that it developed the original Falcon 9 for under $300 million—or roughly half of the Pentagon’s overall cost to launch a single spy satellite on the heavy-lift version of the Delta IV rocket initially developed by Boeing.

Industry officials estimate SES got a discount from the roughly $60 million SpaceX officials have talked about as the typical price tag for such a launch. Many industry officials, though, predict SpaceX’s prices eventually will climb to about $100 million per launch.

Keep in mind these “industry officials” are almost certainly just spouting the company line while hoping it comes true, particularly if SpaceX pulls off a successful recovery and reuse of a Falcon 9 first stage next year. If that happens, that crashing sound you hear will be the Borg Collective Boeing/LockMart/USAF/NASA launch business model collapsing.

No power in the ‘verse can stop it.

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