SpaceX is disrupting the space industry so all future launch systems must be reusable, use additive manufacturing
SpaceX is disrupting the space industry worldwide. All launch providers including in China and India now have to rethink their approach to drive down cost.
Launcher companies, which put satellites, cargo and humans in space, are seeking to bring prices down 50 percent or more.
In April, SpaceX landed the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket back on a drone barge about 200 miles off the U.S. Atlantic coast. It has since made two other successful landings, after sending payloads into the upper atmosphere. It will try again on June 14.
Long considered a brash upstart nipping at the heels of staid aerospace giants, SpaceX is coming of age 14 years after it was founded by Musk with the lofty, and many have said unrealistic, goal of revolutionizing spacecraft and colonizing Mars. SpaceX is now within striking distance of becoming dominant in the payload business. It says it plans to fly 18 missions this year, triple the number in 2015.
The California-based company said it plans to use a previously-flown Falcon 9 booster stage later this year and cut the flight price further down from the current $61 million it says it charges for commercial payloads. Arianespace, one of the world’s biggest commercial satellite launchers, which will use the Ariane 6, claims its prices will be close to those of SpaceX.
The space industry represents 38,000 jobs in Europe, most of them in France, according to Aerospace Defense Industries, an industry group. The space payload launcher market is a $6 billion global market.
While the cost of re-usable rockets, technical hurdles and market viability have yet to be tested, SpaceX is so well advanced that Europe must move faster.
On June 1, the CNES and Airbus Safran Launchers, Europe’s biggest space company,unveiled an engine project, dubbed “Prometheus,” which will make the future Ariane 6 rocket reusable and send payloads in space for a quarter of the price offered by the current launcher, Ariane 5. The engine will be first tested in 2020.
The problem for Europe is that while SpaceX is already testing its reusable rockets and slashing prices, a reusable Ariane 6 is just a glimmer in the eyes of scientists.
“What we want it is to stand ready should re-usability become a reality,” Le Gall said, pledging to ask European partners for more than the current 100 million euros ($115 million) the region has so far earmarked for the program.
French space minister Thierry Mandon is seeking European support in developing a reusable, liquid-oxygen, liquid-methane engine called Promethee (Prometheus).
Asked if Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX’s recent multiple successes in landing its Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage constituted a decisive step forward in the race to the future, Mandon said:
“They have achieved multiple successes in recovery, which is only the beginning of the process. Now they’ve got the stages back – very good. The next challenge is: How do you use them again? I don’t know if we’re too late, or behind, but I do know we need to move forward and Promethee, Prometheus, is a good way to go about this.”
Spacex Will Continue to Race Ahead to lower costs. The modified SpaceX Falcon 9 can get as cheap as $1233 per pound to launch to low earth orbit. The larger SpaceX Falcon Heavy could reach $750 per pound to launch to low earth orbit.
SpaceX is developing more advanced Raptor engines. Raptor is the first member of a family of cryogenic methane-fueled rocket engines under development by SpaceX. It is specifically intended to power high-performance lower and upper stages for SpaceX super-heavy launch vehicles.
The engine will be powered by liquid methane and liquid oxygen (LOX), rather than the RP-1 kerosene and LOX used in all previous Falcon 9 rockets, which use Merlin 1C and 1D engines. Earlier concepts for Raptor would have used liquid hydrogen (LH2) fuel rather than methane.
The Raptor engine will have several times the thrust of the Merlin 1D vacuum engine that powers the second stage of the current Falcon 9, the Falcon 9 Full Thrust.
The broader Raptor concept "is a highly reusable methane staged-combustion engine that will power the next generation of SpaceX launch vehicles designed for the exploration and colonization of Mars"
3D printing of rocket parts could enable engine designs with simpler designs and few parts. This could ultimately contribute to reducing launch costs by 50%. The reuse of the first rocket stage could reduce costs by about 40% initially. Full reusability of all rocket stages could reduce launch costs by 100 times.