Advanced Television

Falcon 9 vs Starship: Launch cadences

February 15, 2024

Each very well established and highly reliable Falcon 9 rocket can carry 23 Starlink satellites into their transfer orbits. The much larger – but as yet unproved – Starship rocket can carry about 50 satellites.

Satellite watcher Ken Kirtland, an industrial designer at Formation Design Group, has compared and contrasted the cost vs effectiveness equation for the SpaceX team. Kirtland fully admits that his numbers are (reasonably well constructed) guesstimates.

He says that SpaceX’s internal costs for each Falcon 9 rocket comes out at about $15 million (€13.9m) per launch. He calculates that the cost to SpaceX for a launch of a Starship “needs to be” $92.4 million “or less” in order to undercut a Falcon 9 launch.

Kirtland suggests that each Starlink can carry 50-54 Starlinks, but SpaceX’s FCC filings talk about 50 satellites per launch. Therefore, he suggests, 86 Starlink flights on Falcon 9 rockets would lift a potential 118,680 Gb/s of extra capacity.

But bringing Starship into the equation would only require 14 flights to lift the same 118,680 Gb/s of extra bandwidth.

It will be interesting to see how SpaceX utilises its two launch vehicles over the next few years to both boost the size of the Starlink fleet, and yet minimise launch costs or at least maximise overall efficiency.

The next few weeks will see the third test flight of a Starship rocket.

Categories: Blogs, Inside Satellite, Research, Satellite

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