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SpaceX success ‘little impact’ on satellite operators

February 8, 2018

The spectacular launch success of Elon Musk’s Falcon Heavy rocket is not likely to make much difference to SpaceX’s commercial customers, according to a report from equity analysts at investment bank Exane/BNPP.

The bank’s report says that Falcon Heavy is currently the most powerful rocket in operation as it can place 26.7 tons of payload into geostationary transfer orbit (Falcon 9 can place 4.85 tons on the reusable version and 8.3 tons on the non-reusable one). It has double the thrust of its nearest competitor (United Launch Alliance’s Delta 4 Heavy) and SpaceX charges customers 4 to 10x less (around $90 million per flight vs $400 million on ULA rockets).

The bank’s view says: “While this development fully underpins our view that launch costs are coming down, we do not expect the Falcon Heavy to have a significant impact on satellite operators. For one, we note that satellite operators are currently giving priority to lighter satellites as electrical propulsion, miniaturisation of components and digital payload help reduce the mass. SES and Eutelsat planned satellites all weigh less than 5 tons. Secondly, across the industry demand is currently turning to small Sats rather than larger assets. Delta 4 Heavy has only flown 9 times since 2004. Thirdly, Space X has already started the development of the Big Falcon Rocket which will dwarf the Falcon Heavy into the next decade (over 100 per cent increase in payload capacity).”

“Therefore, although we are long-term bearish on the ability of the industry to generate material revenue increases due to increases in capacity we do not expect a major impact from the well-publicised Falcon Heavy launch on European satellite operators,” adds the bank.

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