Last weekend, a SpaceX launch rocket failed to correctly return to Earth after launching a satellite. However, in truth the rocket correctly landed almost exactly on target (on a floating barge), upright and sufficiently softly, but then a leg strut gave way and the landed rocket fell over and exploded.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk posted an immediate Tweet that said at least this failure left larger rocket debris that could be examined!
This is the third-time unlucky for a SpaceX barge landing, but was undoubtedly the most successful in that landing speed was correct, and the rocket arrived on target and stayed upright for those few seconds.
A landing in December on dry land in Florida was 100 per cent successful, and few observers doubt Musk’s commitment to getting the landing right, and thus the ability to re-use the upper stage of the rocket. The difference to SpaceX’s launch costs – once he solves the problem – is huge.
Equity analysts at investment bank Jefferies have looked carefully at the cost structure of building and launching a SpaceX rocket, and come to the conclusion that costs to satellite operators of using a SpaceX rocket could easily come down by about 40 per cent, while leaving Elon Musk’s profit margins in a very healthy state.
Jefferies says that the overall launch costs of the new ‘heavyweight’ Falcon-9 could tumble by some $30 million (and presumes about 15 re-uses) or 40 per cent of today’s typical $61.2 million/launch.
Luxembourg-based SES is expecting SpaceX to launch its SES-9 craft later this month from Cape Canaveral. This is an ‘all-original’ launch rocket, which again SpaceX hopes to re-land after use.