SpaceX is saving a ton of money by re-using Falcon 9 rockets

The historic SES-10 mission rocket's first stage cost half as much as a new one.


SpaceX is deep into the development of reusable rockets to slash launch costs for future missions, so one has to wonder how much its historic SES-10 mission saved. At the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell has revealed that the company spent "substantially less than half" the cost of a new first stage for the Falcon 9 reflight. While she didn't mention specific figures, that means huge savings, since the rocket's first stage accounts for around 75 to 80 of its total cost.

Shotwell said the private space corporation managed to save money even though it did a lot of work examining and refurbishing the flight-proven booster. SpaceX expects those cost savings to grow, since they won't do as much work on future recovered rockets as they did for the SES-10 launch.

To be able to recoup its massive $1 billion investment into reusable rocket technologies, though, she admits that the company can't slash the full cost savings off the price clients have to pay. At the moment, it costs clients around $62 million per launch. Further, the company needs to be able to find a way to get recovered first stages ready for use within a day.

She explained:

"Looking forward for reusability, we don't believe it really, really counts unless you can turn it around rapidly, or almost as rapidly, as you turn around an aircraft. Our challenge right now is to refly a rocket within 24 hours. That's when we'll really feel like we've got reusability right."

SpaceX ultimately expects reusable rockets to shave 30 percent off launch costs, but United Launch Alliance chief Tory Bruno isn't so convinced. At the same event, he said the technology isn't necessarily a game changer and will likely only slash 10 percent off current launch prices.