The Cost of Orbital Rockets

Why is it so expensive to launch rockets? The average rocket launch may cost nearly a quarter of a billion dollars! Rocket manufacturers are not always willing to release costs to the public, so the following table is comprised of estimates with varying degrees of trustworthiness and accuracy just for the purpose of discussion. Generally speaking, private industry such as SpaceX is attempting to provide launch services at 25% to 33% of what nation states can provide (based on a data point of one), and nations competing against the United States are attempting to provide services at 75% of American cost…assuming we can trust their figures.

Vehicle Orig. Manuf. Payload mass to… (kg) Cost per kilogram of payload (2014) Total cost ( 2014)
LEO GTO LEO GTO
 Ariane 5ES EUR EADS Astrium 21,000 8,000 $10.5k $21.9k  $220M
 Atlas V 401 USA ULA  9,050 4,950 $13.8k $25.3k  $125M
 Delta IV M+ 4,2 USA ULA  11,750 5,740 $13.1k $26.8k  $154M
 Delta Heavy USA ULA  28,790  14,220 $13.0k $26.4k  $375M
 Falcon 9 v1.1 USA SpaceX  16,625  5,760  $4.1k $10.4k  $56M
 Falcon Heavy USA SpaceX  53,000  21,200 $2.5k $6.3k  $132.5M
 Long March 3 CN CALT  5,000  —  $13.0k  $65M
 Long March 5 CN CALT  25,000  14,000  ~$6k  ~$10.7k  ~$150M?
 Proton M RUS Khrunichev  21,600 6,150  $4.3k $27.1k $92.9M
 Saturn V USA Boeing, N. American, Douglas 118,000  —

47,000 (TLI)

 $10.3k  —  $1.2B
 SLS Block 2 USA Alliant, Boeing 130,000 *  $3.9M  $500M*
 STS USA Alliant, Martin Marietta, Rockwell 24,400 3,810  $18k**  $450M *
 Titan IV USA Lockheed Martin 21,682 5,761 (9,000 with upper stage) $13.8k $5.2k ($33k with upper stage)  $300M

* Estimate based on last flight in 2011

** Estimate based on splitting of fixed cost at 6 set flights per year + flyaway cost used when comparing to other rockets.

References

  1. FAA Semi-Annual Launch Report: Second Half of 2009. Federal Aviation Administration. https://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/ast/media/10998.pdf
  2. China ‘s big thrust rocket technology has been significantly beyond Japan _ Netease News Center“[专题]中国大推力火箭技术已被日本大幅超越_网易新闻中心”.
  3. Wikileaks Report on Rocket Launches. https://wikileaks.org/gifiles/attach/101/101944_ISS%20RESEARCH.doc
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