Full re-use would revolutionize the economics of space flight.
Following his company’s first successful re-use of the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket, and its first-ever recovery of a protective nose cone, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk revealed on Friday that he was aiming to be able to reuse every part of the rocket by late 2018.
If and when it proves possible, reuse of all of the major components of a rocket would have a profound effect on SpaceX’s bottom line, and on the economics of space more broadly. The sticker price of a Falcon 9 launch is $61.2 million, which analysts have estimated would come down about 20% with re-use of only the first stage, while increasing SpaceX’s profit margin per launch by around 50%.
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Those benefits would only be amplified by full reusability, which would leave fuel—at $200,000-$300,000 per mission—as the primary material cost for launches.
The CEO of SpaceX competitor Arianespace, though, has said the full upside of reusability would only be realized if components were launched 35 to 40 times a year. Since 2013, SpaceX has completed fewer than ten launches per year.
SpaceX certainly seems to be aiming for greatly increased launch volume. Musk has said he hopes to achieve 24-hour turnaround on reusable rockets soon, ultimately creating what some have described as an interplanetary railroad that would take humans to Mars and beyond.