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Why “Dollars per Kilogram” is a Poor Way to Estimate Launch Costs

Why “Dollars per Kilogram” is a Poor Way to Estimate Launch Costs

By Elizabeth Driscoll, Senior Director, Business Development

With increasingly launch suppliers getting into the market, some within the trade are starting to more and more view launch as a commodity. It’s pure to need to evaluate apples-to-apples launch prices and get the bottom value. If apples are $.99/lb at one retailer, and $.79/lb at one other, it’s a simple selection.

But launch companies aren’t produce, and the traditional approach of assessing launch prices on a dollars-per-kilogram foundation isn’t a good measure of the price of launch.

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Photo credit score: Space-X Transporter-1 mission (SXRS-3) lifts off in January 2021.

Simply put, the mass of a spacecraft is just the start of calculating prices. Satellite producers are appropriately centered on their spacecraft mass, however for launch functions, they want to additionally think about a number of different components:

  1. The total quantity. Volume is simply as essential as mass when calculating launch prices of any satellite tv for pc. For instance, we will put microsats flying on a SpaceX Falcon 9 on a port of one in all our Sherpa OTVs which makes them simpler to match with different satellites — which may decrease the general value. If the shape issue of the satellite tv for pc is uncommon or precludes a satellite tv for pc being built-in on an adjoining port, the worth goes up. For further giant or uncommon type issue satellites, we will mount them on the ahead (or prime) port.
  1. The complete mass of adapter buildings and {hardware}. Dispensers and sequencers have mass and the launch car has to get these up on orbit as properly. We’ve discovered that many first-time flyers are sometimes stunned to uncover the added mass and value of those. For instance, an 8” Motorized Light-Band (MLB) used to deploy the satellite tv for pc can weigh up to 2 kg, and the price of that mass, plus the ~$100k value of that adapter should be added.
  1. The use of port adapters. We make the most of a Tetris strategy: the extra satellites we will “Tetris” on to a launch car, the decrease the worth. If the spacecraft is sufficiently small, we will put it on a port adapter and dramatically drop the fee. We typically use a twin or multi-port adapter and might get two or extra spacecraft on one port for optimum effectivity. However, if the satellite tv for pc is giant and wishes a whole port – properly, you get the concept. The foundation of a rideshare mannequin is effectivity and cost-sharing.
  1. The launch car and alternative for rideshare “backfill.” As many small launchers enter the market, pricing by mass turns into much more nuanced. The actuality is, it is tougher to “Tetris in” greater than a sure variety of 100kg satellites in a small launcher. Buying a whole rocket is all the time an choice, however rideshare is about filling the utmost quantity of house with the utmost quantity of payloads to deliver the prices down for everybody.
  1. Expertise with integration, transportation, and licensing: Another motive mass can’t present the complete story for launch pricing is that you simply’ll additionally want to account for integration companies. If you’re quoted a value per kilogram from a launch car supplier, they’re almost definitely quoting the worth for the journey alone. This doesn’t embrace the end-to-end integration prices of flying an skilled group to the launch website to correctly and safely combine the spacecraft onto the launch car. It additionally wouldn’t embrace the prices of getting the spacecraft to the launch website — transportation, delivery prices and licensing are usually not insignificant issues. These are all features our Mission Management group will help handle — they usually don’t usually scale with the scale or mass of the spacecraft. And, how do you place a value on the price of having your spacecraft dealt with and managed by skilled professionals who’ve finished this many instances?
  1. Being prepared when alternative knocks. Sometimes we’ve last-minute alternatives or offers we will supply if, for instance, a buyer drops off a launch as a result of their spacecraft isn’t prepared. This can open up further house for another person who is prepared to go. Just as airways supply last-minute airfare offers to fill empty seats on a aircraft, we’re typically trying to replenish an empty slot on a launch car.

So when you ask me how a lot it is going to value to launch a 100kg satellite tv for pc, my reply will probably be: It actually relies on a entire host of things. Price per kilogram is perhaps a good start line for the dialogue, nevertheless it’s solely the start. Anyone who tells you in any other case is going to offer you sticker shock as you begin including on the complete suite of companies required to get a spacecraft on orbit.

Read more How to calculate the cost of space travel – Indochina Airlines

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