SpaceX Reusable Starship Could Become Cheaper than Intercontinental Airplanes for Earth Cargo

SpaceX Reusable Starship Could Become Cheaper than Intercontinental Airplanes for Earth Cargo

Elon Musk has targeted an orbital launch cost of $10/kg for Starship, with propellant costs accounting for roughly one-third. Orbital launch cost would be about four times more than the cost of point to point on Earth rocket delivery costs. Point to point rocket delivery would only need the Starship upper stage. There are only six engines in the upper stage instead of 39 engines for the upper stage and the booster stage. The fuel usage would be four times less. This would mean point to point rocket delivery at $2.50 per kilogram.

Currently, Air cargo rates for international shipping typically range from $3.00 to $7.00 per kilogram. There are occasionally lower prices when the cargo delivery is trying to fill up an airplane load.

Nextbigfuture has covered how SpaceX can reach $10 per kilogram to orbit. The Raptor or LEET rocket engines can be brought to a $250,000 per engine cost. The rest of the rocket is at $5 per kilogram for the steel and other components can get to a total cost of $10-20 million. The major cost reduction would be more reuses of the rocket. Currently, the SpaceX Falcon 9 booster stages are reused about 20 times but could get reused for 50-100 times.

Citi has an analysis that the cost per kilogram to orbit for Starship would be $300 per kilogram for ten reuses and then $30 per kilogramn or less with a hundred reuses.

Bain Consulting estimates the reusable Starship could reduce cost per kilogram to low Earth orbit (LEO) by 50 to 80 times.

Details of Build Costs and Getting to $10 per Kilogram to Orbit

The first flight of SpaceX Starship would be for 100% of the cost. The initial reuse costs after a fully successful flights would be 10% of the costs. There would be more inspection, safety and maintenance checks. This would then head to about $300000 to $2 million for fuel and a 3 million or so for operations and long term maintenance. Certain fuel and operation costs would not reduce based upon the initial cost of the Starship. They would decline based upon improving efficiency with higher launch cadence. Fuel costs would reach a minimum until SpaceX started producing their own fuel using solar power and other systems.

A SpaceX Super Heavy Starship that cost $90 million to build in 2024 that is successfully flown five times over 2024-2025 would have about $50 million in costs over five flights. The average per flight costs would be $28 million per flight. The original build cost would be $18 million cost per five flights. This would be $90 per kilogram for 200 ton payloads.

A SpaceX Super Heavy Starship that cost $50 million to build in 2025 that is successfully flown ten times over 2025-2026 would have about $70 million in costs over ten flights. The average per flight costs would be about $12 million per flight. The original build cost would be $5 million cost per ten flights. This would be $25 per kilogram for 200 ton payloads.

SpaceX mass producing engines for $250,000 each would need about $10 million for 39 or 40 engines for the Booster and Starship. Mass production of a hundred to four hundred Starships per year and twenty to forty boosters could have the fixed production costs spread over 40 times the production volume.

A SpaceX Super Heavy Starship that cost $20 million to build in 2027 that is successfully flown 100 times over 2027-2028 would have about $200 million in costs over ten flights. The average per flight costs would be about $2.2 million per flight. The original build cost would be $0.2 million cost per one hundred flights. IF the reusable mode had 220 tons of capacity then the payload cost would be $10 per kilogram.

Ultra-Low Cost High Volume Rocket

SpaceX plans to make the Starship 20% longer and improve the engines. The payload capacity could increase to 200-250 tons in reusable mode. An expended Future Starship would have a payload of about 300 tons. The build cost of a future Starship would be about $2-5 million. If the Future Starship cost $2 million and the fuel and operations cost $2 million then the payload cost even in expended mode would be $15 per kilogram. A $5 Million Starship that can fly thousands of times would have costs that were the fuel costs for the flight and very little other overhead. Fuel costs could be reduced by having systems to synthesize the liquid oxygen on site. $500k per orbital flight for fuel and 250 tons of reusable payload would be about $2-4 per kilogram. $125k per transcontinental flight for fuel and 250 tons of reusable payload would be $0.5 to $1 per kilogram.

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