What are the launch costs? (with photos)

Spacecraft that are intended to be used once, such as the Soyuz capsule, are cheaper, albeit less capable, than reusable spacecraft.

Launch costs refer to the cost of sending a payload from the ground to outer space, specifically low earth orbit (LEO). Typical launch costs today are US$10,000 (USD) to US$25,000 per kilogram ($4,500 to US$11,000 per pound), although some countries subsidize space launches, occasionally reducing the cost as low as US$4,000. per kilo ($1,800 USD per pound). For a typical five-ton communications satellite, this totals between $20 million and $125 million. To launch the space shuttle, which weighs about 2,000 tons, costs about $800 million, or nearly a billion dollars. Including other expenses, the average total cost per space shuttle flight is around $1.5 billion. Clearly, this makes space activities expensive.

The Space Shuttle System, popularly known as the “Space Shuttle”, reused booster rockets in an attempt to reduce launch costs.

Launch costs have been about the same since the early days of space exploration, largely due to an unchanging underlying technology: chemical rockets. The costs of launching a chemical rocket have been reduced somewhat through innovation (private spaceflight) as well as equatorial launch services (such as Sea Launch). Launching a rocket from the equator can minimize the fuel needed by taking advantage of the Earth’s rotation, thus reducing launch costs by a significant margin. Launch costs can be reduced somewhat by using reusable launch vehicles, but the low cost performance of the reusable Space Shuttle has many questioning this idea. There is consensus that real progress in reducing launch costs will require using some new method of getting into space.

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The need to occasionally replace a space shuttle’s outer tiles added to its launch costs.

Ever since space travel began with the launch of Sputnik in 1957, scientists have been looking for ways to explore some method other than chemical rockets to get into space. It was determined that a sufficiently long cannon could be used to launch acceleration-resistant charges into space, but no country has yet attempted to build one, although some companies are trying. A similar concept, a launch loop, would accelerate a payload by using powerful magnets to escape the velocity and then launch it upward. Such an approach would also require acceleration-resistant loads, as the accelerations at the load would be in the range of thousands of gravities.

Launching a rocket from the equator can minimize the fuel needed by taking advantage of the Earth’s rotation.

Another proposed method of reducing launch costs is the construction of a space elevator, a concept that may receive some funding and attention in the United States and Japan. A space elevator would consist of an extremely long carbon nanotube cable, with a counterweight in geosynchronous orbit. While reaching orbit still requires expending the same amount of energy, it can be spent gradually rather than over the course of a few minutes, greatly expanding the number of options that can be used to put a payload into orbit.

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