Success Story Of SpaceXWe've seen SpaceX achieve incredible things and make huge progress towards space exploration in the last few years. It has progressed from launching small rockets into orbit that were destroyed upon landing to launching and safely landing the world's most powerful rocket. Elon Musk and his team even have ambitions to eventually leave our home planet and colonize Mars. But have you ever wondered, how SpaceX is able to get money?
Achievements Of SpaceX
SpaceX was found in 2002 and has since achieved various milestones, such as being the first privately funded company to launch and recover spacecraft into orbit. The first company to launch a reusable rocket. Most recently SpaceX launched and successfully landed the world's most powerful rocket "the Falcon Heavy". But SpaceX had to endure a lot of failure before their success, costing hundreds of millions of dollars and even their successful launches still cost tens of millions.
How SpaceX Earn Money?
From an outsider's view the market for launching things into space seems pretty small. So how does SpaceX afford so many launches and how does it make money?
In short SpaceX earn its money from launching satellites in orbit, by delivering cargo to the international Space station. SpaceX currently has contracts or three major types of customers - commercial tele-communication companies, NASA and the US military. They all have distinct requirements, but space can meet all of them at a cost that varies according to the complexity of the launch. SpaceX uses the Dragon spacecraft as well as two other rockets known as the Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy to complete these missions.
The Dragon capsule can be launched into space by one of these rockets to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS).
Amount Charge By SpaceX Per Launch
If you want to launch a satellite into space or deliver some cargo somewhere, then at the base rate for a Falcon 9 launch is 62 million dollars and can increase by up to extra 20 million dollars depending on how complicated the mission is.
The base rate for the Falcon Heavy is 90 million dollars and can be expanded upto 150 million dollars. As per records it has only launched one time only. Combining the launches of two rockets have a total of 50 successful launches and only two failures since 2010. Landing these Rockets is the hard part at this point but the success rates are quickly improving and the company is very close to perfecting the system.
Missions Accomplished By SpaceX
In 2017, SpaceX completed 18 missions and in 2018 it has completed 23 missions, 21 successful missions with 2 failures, including the first ever Falcon Heavy mission. The majority of these launches being for communication satellites for the commercial market including customers such as SES, Orbcomm, Thai Comm, AsiaSat and many others.
Falcon 9 And Falcon Heavy
The Falcon 9 was designed to launch satellites but it's also used to transport cargo to the ISS. Its height is 70 meters or 229.6 feet and diameter is 3.7 meter or 12 feet and Its mass is 5,49,054 kilograms or 12,07,920 pounds. It can carry payloads of upto 8,300 kilograms or 18,300 pounds to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit, payloads of up to 4,420 Kilograms or 8,860 pound to Mars and payloads of upto 22,800 kg or 50,265 pounds to low-earth orbit, where the ISS and most satellites are located.
On the other hand, the Falcon Heavy's height is 70 meters or 229.6 feet and diameter is 12.2 meter or 39.9 feet and Its mass is 14,20,788 kilograms or 31,25,735 pounds. It can carry payloads of upto 26,700 kilograms or 58,860 pounds to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit, payloads of up to 16,800 Kilograms or 37,040 pounds to Mars and payloads of upto 63,800 kilograms or 140,660 pounds to lower earth orbit.
SpaceX has built Starship rocket with height of 120 meter or 394 feet and diameter is 9 meter of 30 feet. It can payload of upto 100
+ ton or 220+ kilopounds to lower earth orbit.
Components Used In Falcon 9 And Falcon Heavy
Let's we look at their design, the Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy both have two stages in a fairing, at the top to carry the payload. The first stage of the Falcon 9 consists of nine SpaceX manufactured merlin engines at the bottom. SpaceX built the Merlin rocket engine family to use on its Falcon 1, Falcon 9, and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles. In a gas-generator power cycle, Merlin engines use RP-1 and liquid oxygen as rocket propellants. The Merlin engine was created with the intention of being recovered and reused. Both are able to emit 845 kilonewtons or 1,90,000 pound-force of thrust. Once it runs out of propellant it breaks off from the second stage and returns back to ground.
The second stage fires up a single Merlin engine and continues pushing the payload to its destination. The Falcon Heavy works the same way except it has two extra Falcon 9 cores attached to the sides.
Revenue And Profit Earn By SpaceX Per Launch
The company's founder and current CEO Elon Musk has reported multiple times that the cost of the first stage is around 35 million dollars and it's around 70% of the total rocket cost. This means that the second stage would cost fifteen million dollars and the entire rocket would cost around 50 million dollars. Because SpaceX does not provide financial details, so it's difficult to know how much the additional expenses total up to. But to keep it simple, let's just assume it costs at least 50 million dollars to launch the Falcon 9. If the price for a customer to send or launch anything to space is 62 million dollars. There would be a 12 million dollar profit for the first launch.
For the Falcon 9, reusing the first stage to bring the launch cost to around 20 million dollars, not including the depreciation and refurbishment cost. This increases the profit to 42 million dollars and eliminates the need and wastage of time to remanufacture components.
Since the Falcon Heavy is essentially the same thing as the Falcon 9 except on a larger scale. The first stage expendable cost can be estimated at 150 million dollars plus 15 million dollars for the second stage. The cost for the Falcon Heavy reusable launch is 90 million dollars. If they successfully landed all three cores after each launch they would profit 75 million dollars. Off course there are other expenses that would cut into their launch profits. The purpose of this is to show a rough estimate of the rocket pricing and potential profitability. There is no way to be certainity of any numbers until SpaceX releases their own financial information but this is just approximate estimation by using the informations what we have so far.
Currently, SpaceX does not reuse the second stage of either rocket, but they are working to improve the system so that they can reuse it in the future. If they will perfect this, there would be very little cost for launching a rocket and the process would be extremely quick and this is one of SpaceX's core goals.
Benefits Of Developing Reusable Rocket
If a rocket will be completely reusable then a rocket will be more like an airplane and just required refueling and some maintenance then there would be huge cost savings. Just imagine trying to buy a plane ticket, if a new plane had to be built for each flight.
Being able to reuse a rocket would not only cost significantly less, it would also potentially decrease turnaround time to less than 24 hours. If a rocket will successfully become reusable, at each of its stages and the payload fairing was recovered then they would just have to go through safety inspections and refueling before being ready for new flight.
However, contrary to popular belief SpaceX is not the first to attempt a reusable launch system. NASA's famous space shuttle program from 1969 to 2011 was an attempt to make a reusable spacecraft. The shuttle launched like an ordinary rocket but it returned to earth like a plane. It had a payload similar to the Falcon 9's and the vision behind the program was to lower the cost of space access, just like what SpaceX is trying to do now.
Although it was fairly successful in being reusable there were a lot of miss calculations in terms of operational costs and the speed at which they could do launches. It was technically reusable but it took a very long time to repair it and make sure it was safe for launch again. The cost for space access was never really reduced by a significant amount and there were still safety issues.
The program ended in 2011, SpaceX continued the goal of creating a reusable launch system. SpaceX has succeeded, where nasa has failed so far for multiple reasons. SpaceX is getting pretty good at landing rockets now. But it took a large investment to get to this point. The company persevered and never gave up despite the failures of the first few launches, as predicted. Investors stuck with them and new ones still came and eventually, in 2008 they successfully launched their first rocket "Falcon 1" into orbit. Making SpaceX the first privately funded company to do so. In 2012 they reached the ISS and in 2015 they were the first to land in orbital.
The reusability system's recent achievements have pushed SpaceX closer to its final goals, and the company's future profitability appears to be bright. SpaceX's revenue and profitability will skyrocket, once the reusable Launch System is finished and the company focus on its other objectives.
Plans And Goals Of SpaceX
One of its other plans is creating a satellite-based Internet Communication System called StarLink. This network would improve the accessibility of Internet across the planet while eliminating the need for regular internet companies to install or remove cable, needed for Internet service. This would disrupt the current internet marketing. This can be a large potential source of revenue for SpaceX. SpaceX revealed that it projects 40 million subscribers. The Starlink will earn more than 30 billion dollars in revenue by 2025.
SpaceX also has plans for space tourism. By the end of the year, the company intends to launch the first "all-civilian" trip into orbit. The project, called Inspiration4, would send billionaire Jared Isaacman, a qualified pilot and the CEO of digital payments startup Shift4Payments, and three people into low Earth orbit for two to four days, maybe more, aboard a Crew Dragon vehicle. Elon Musk estimates that there could be one tourism trip per year and eventually account for 10 to 20 percent of SpaceX's revenue.
Space tourism can also branch out to trips to low-earth orbit, the moon and even Mars. Part of this project's goal is to increase profitability for the company, allowing them to fund their next rocket.
The Starship after the Falcon Heavy is the next step for SpaceX. This use the same hardware that has been proven to work in the Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy but will be able to go to the Moon and Mars while still being able to do the things that other rockets do.
On a larger scale, another plan for profit involving the Starship is for earthbound travel. The Starship would launch a spaceship into orbit filled with passengers traveling to another city. It can reach cities across the planet in 30 minutes or less and would act like an airline. The spaceship would reach around 18,000 miles per hour, 10 times faster than the fastest commercial airplane. This can carry 80 to 200 people per trip.
If SpaceX could actually bring this to reality, successfully launch the Starship and perfect the reusable launch system. All of these ideas are very possible and can be seen sooner than we think. The main goals of SpaceX is to improve the cost and reliability of space access, develop a rapidly reusable Launch System. In the long term interplanetary travel and space colonization, these are big goals.
Just like most companies SpaceX plans for the long run, in fact they are even fine with taking little to no profit to achieve this. To achieve these goals they need to take losses like failed rocket launches. If they are successful in achieving these objectives, revenues and profitability will certainly skyrocket. Launch costs can potentially be reduced by tens of millions. SpaceX might operate with the same elegance as an airport if reusability and turnaround are mastered. Perfecting this process would open up so many possibilities and set SpaceX up to achieve all of their goals and secure them for the future.