Shotwell: SpaceX Could Reduce Launch Costs By 30 Percent by Reusing First Stage

Gwynne Shotwell
Gwynne Shotwell

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said earlier this week the company could reduce launch costs substantially by reusing the first stage of its Falcon 9 booster.

SES of Luxembourg, SpaceX’s biggest backer among the large commercial satellite fleet operators, has said it wants to be the first customer to fly with a reused stage. But SES Chief Executive Karim Michel Sabbagh said here March 8 that SES wanted a 50 percent price cut, to around $30 million, in return for pioneering the reusable version.

Shotwell said it was too early to set precise prices for a reused Falcon 9, but that if the fuel on the first stage costs $1 million or less, and a reused first stage could be prepared for reflight for $3 million or so, a price reduction of 30 percent – to around $40 million – should be possible.

Shotwell also expressed surprise at the shape that the first stage booster that SpaceX landed at Cape Canaveral in December was in after its flight.

“[Y]ou pull off the cover and that wire harness is pristine,” she said. “The metal is still shiny. You pull off the thermal protection system that we have near the engine, and that engine is beautiful. It is perfectly clean.

“It was extraordinary how great it looked. In fact we didn’t refurbish it at all. We inspected it and then three days later we put it on the test stand and fired it again. The goal is not to design a vehicle that needs refurbishing. It is to design a vehicle that we can land, move back to the launch pad, and launch again. Hopefully our customers will get comfortable flying the third or fourth time.”

She also believes that SpaceX has overcome the problem with loading densified liquid oxygen into the Falcon 9 that caused multiple delays during the most recent Falcon 9 launch attempt.

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