Author Topic: SpaceX vs BlueOrigin - Whose Approach / Business Strategy is Better?  (Read 124990 times)

Offline Nomic

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This article seems related. I believe it is by our own vaporcobra....

https://www.teslarati.com/spacex-vs-blue-origin-titans-new-space/  "SpaceX vs. Blue Origin: The bickering titans of new space"

Good article, I would suggest the genius part of SpaceX was to "slap some legs on to" very simple and cheap stage, initially might only be reusable once or twice, but once it is being reliably landed can add more expensive parts (Ti grid fins, inconel heat shields etc), to make to reusable more times.

Its worth remembering just how simple the Falcon is, think there was a Bill Sweetman article in Aviation week, where he called the Falcon a really good V2, think about it, room temperature liquid fuel, aluminium structure, gas generator engines and road transportable. New Glenn has none of these advantages (BFR has the same problem on an even bigger scale). So I don't think Blue are going to be doing any expendable flights, are going to have a very low tolerance of LOV with a "gradatim" development, probably with a bunch of self funded flights.

The launcher glut deserves more attention than its given, over the last 10 years there has been on average 76 launches per year, of which 40 to 50 are commercial. Reusable systems need to be flying at least once per month, really once per week to make sense while India and China are bringing new lower cost systems to market. Clearly lowering the price to orbit will spur demand, but that takes time. Ariane and maybe ILS look to have the most to lose, Ariane against lower costs, while ILS face a more reliable competitor.

Offline Lar

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The launcher glut deserves more attention than its given, over the last 10 years there has been on average 76 launches per year, of which 40 to 50 are commercial. Reusable systems need to be flying at least once per month, really once per week to make sense while India and China are bringing new lower cost systems to market. Clearly lowering the price to orbit will spur demand, but that takes time. Ariane and maybe ILS look to have the most to lose, Ariane against lower costs, while ILS face a more reliable competitor.

People keep trotting this  "reuseable flights have to be at a certain frequency" thing out. I don't buy it. Yes, your fixed costs are spread over fewer flights but I suspect that F9 reuse costs are so low that even once every 3 months would make money. That's not the SpaceX plan, but it could.

As for the launcher glut? Starlink is going to soak up a LOT of capacity. So I don't think I see that one either. There is room for Blue. IF they can get to operational status before a new entrant comes along and blows past them.
« Last Edit: 11/13/2017 10:53 AM by Lar »
"I think it would be great to be born on Earth and to die on Mars. Just hopefully not at the point of impact." -Elon Musk
"We're a little bit like the dog who caught the bus" - Musk after CRS-8 S1 successfully landed on ASDS OCISLY

Offline Raptor 42

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While both of these companies have contributed tremendously to reusable rockets,SpaceX is more set in creating reusable rockets and seems like they have quite a better plan for the future compared to Blue Origin. However, on the other hand Blue Origin has more money especially with help from the ULA, NASA (SpaceX also gets some) and Bezos's own pocket. Plus the Raptor engines that SpaceX are planning on building seem a lot better than the Blue Orgin as they have close to 4 times the amount of thus that the BE-4 is going to have.

Offline Lar

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Plus the Raptor engines that SpaceX are planning on building seem a lot better than the Blue Orgin as they have close to 4 times the amount of thus that the BE-4 is going to have.
Thrust is not the only determinant of how good an engine is. No single metric is. A good engine balances
- Thrust
- Thrust to weight ratio
- Isp
- development cost
- manufacturing cost
- (possibly) refurbishment cost
- number of possible lifetime cycles
- Fuel/oxidizer cost
- likely failure rate

and stuff that I'm forgetting

also I think BE4 has higher thrust per engine.
« Last Edit: 11/13/2017 05:31 PM by Lar »
"I think it would be great to be born on Earth and to die on Mars. Just hopefully not at the point of impact." -Elon Musk
"We're a little bit like the dog who caught the bus" - Musk after CRS-8 S1 successfully landed on ASDS OCISLY

Online Coastal Ron

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The launcher glut deserves more attention than its given, over the last 10 years there has been on average 76 launches per year, of which 40 to 50 are commercial.

Remember though that one of the measures of success for reusable transportation systems is that because of their lower cost they should be EXPANDING demand for launches, not just servicing an existing set amount.

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Reusable systems need to be flying at least once per month, really once per week to make sense...

I'm with Lar on this, that math is not correct.

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...while India and China are bringing new lower cost systems to market.

Unless they are reusable transportation systems then they are just adding to the list of launch providers that will be #3 on the list of preferred launch providers - with SpaceX already #1, and in the early 2020's Blue Origin could be #2.

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Clearly lowering the price to orbit will spur demand, but that takes time.

Which is one of the reasons it makes sense to create your own demand, like with the commsat business SpaceX is starting by manufacturing and launching their own smallsats.

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Ariane and maybe ILS look to have the most to lose, Ariane against lower costs, while ILS face a more reliable competitor.

Currently the expendable Ariane 5 and Proton round out the top three preferred launch providers, so those are the providers that will likely lose business against new expendable launch systems. But I do think the race is on to see who will be the LAST launch service provider to build their own expendable rocket...
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Offline Oli

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Reusable systems need to be flying at least once per month, really once per week to make sense...

I'm with Lar on this, that math is not correct.

~50 launches per year is pretty much the number everybody has come up with who has done the math. Starting with the guys who analyzed the economics of the Shuttle.

Personally I think that number is somewhat lower for SpaceX because Falcon can fly in expendable and reusable mode, serving different markets.

Offline edkyle99

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Reusable systems need to be flying at least once per month, really once per week to make sense...

I'm with Lar on this, that math is not correct.

~50 launches per year is pretty much the number everybody has come up with who has done the math. Starting with the guys who analyzed the economics of the Shuttle.
Even before that.  Von Braun's team studied Saturn 1 first stage recovery before it was even named "Saturn".  The answer was similar.  What has changed is that SpaceX uses vertical landing recovery rather than Saturn's parachute plus ocean landing rocket recovery.  There is still a number, but it is likely a different number.

 - Ed Kyle

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Reusable systems need to be flying at least once per month, really once per week to make sense...

I'm with Lar on this, that math is not correct.

~50 launches per year is pretty much the number everybody has come up with who has done the math. Starting with the guys who analyzed the economics of the Shuttle.
Even before that.  Von Braun's team studied Saturn 1 first stage recovery before it was even named "Saturn".  The answer was similar.  What has changed is that SpaceX uses vertical landing recovery rather than Saturn's parachute plus ocean landing rocket recovery.  There is still a number, but it is likely a different number.

 - Ed Kyle
Sorry but every time this 'number of flights/year for reusability to make sense' is tossed around I fail to understand its foundations, especially since its treated like a magic number true in every occasion. Makes sense economically related to what, other expendable systems, the same system but in expendable configuration? And calculated on what? Development costs for reusability? Incremented costs per mission to make the rocket reusable? Projected operative costs? Projected profit margins on each mission? Costs of refurbishment? These parameters are far for being the same for different rockets, developed in different eras, by different companies and operated in far different markets. They also vary within the same vehicle with time and development. So how can this number be taken seriously without being further researched and tailored for the system we are talking about? Is there something I'm missing?
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Online Coastal Ron

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~50 launches per year is pretty much the number everybody has come up with who has done the math. Starting with the guys who analyzed the economics of the Shuttle.

If "everybody" includes ULA's numbers, and "the guys who analyzed the economics of the Shuttle", then I'm not going to believe what they say.

And I have similar questions to what AbuSimbel asked, since comparing 1960's era government reusability assumptions (like what edkyle99 suggests) to the realities of a commercial company today don't make sense as a starting point.

Drawing on my manufacturing background I would say it also depends on what else the company is spreading their overhead on, since if a reusable Falcon 9 was the only revenue stream then maybe a higher number of reusable launches would be needed. But we know there are other SpaceX products and services that could use the same workforce, so the number of reusable flights required to break even would be less.

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Personally I think that number is somewhat lower for SpaceX because Falcon can fly in expendable and reusable mode, serving different markets.

Block 5 Falcon 9 is not meant to be expendable. If more performance is needed payloads will be shifted to a Falcon Heavy, which will always be able to recover all three 1st stages.

Ignoring the overhead costs of the entire SpaceX organization, and only looking at the manufacturing costs, I'd say the breakeven point is closer to 3-4 launches.
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Offline Lar

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SpaceX knows what their "flights per year needed" number is for F9. If there was a way to know for sure what it is, I'd bet on very long odds that it is a LOT lower than 50... ... for F9, 50 is a **laughable** number. I would be surprised if it was higher than 10, frankly. [1]...

- F9 isn't Shuttle. It also isn't Saturn. FAR less refurb needed than Shuttle, already, and they are nowhere near done with changes, we haven't seen Block 5 yet.
- SpaceX isn't ULA.  SpaceX is 4x as efficient (wild guess but I bet it's on the low side) so costs are lower.

Recipe for me to instantly not take you seriously? Trot out Shuttle reuse numbers in any way that suggests you think they are at all applicable to this.

1 - I like Ron's 3-4 number

« Last Edit: 11/14/2017 04:52 PM by Lar »
"I think it would be great to be born on Earth and to die on Mars. Just hopefully not at the point of impact." -Elon Musk
"We're a little bit like the dog who caught the bus" - Musk after CRS-8 S1 successfully landed on ASDS OCISLY

Offline edkyle99

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Sorry but every time this 'number of flights/year for reusability to make sense' is tossed around I fail to understand its foundations, especially since its treated like a magic number true in every occasion. Makes sense economically related to what, other expendable systems, the same system but in expendable configuration? And calculated on what? Development costs for reusability? Incremented costs per mission to make the rocket reusable? Projected operative costs? Projected profit margins on each mission? Costs of refurbishment? These parameters are far for being the same for different rockets, developed in different eras, by different companies and operated in far different markets. They also vary within the same vehicle with time and development. So how can this number be taken seriously without being further researched and tailored for the system we are talking about? Is there something I'm missing?
My take is that one would compare an equally-capable expendable system against the partly recoverable system.  An equally-capable expendable Falcon 9 wouldn't need to be as heavy or tall at launch, wouldn't need as many engines on the first stage, etc.  It would be cheaper to build and cheaper to launch than the recoverable Falcon 9.  Recovery costs not just for its $1 billion development and for its drone ship and recovery navy crew and for refurbishment, but also for the lost capability given up each time a recovery profile is flown.   Recovery has an annual cost.  At some point the savings of re-flying stages makes up for that cost.  My guess is that SpaceX hasn't crossed that threshold just yet.

 - Ed Kyle
« Last Edit: 11/14/2017 05:37 PM by edkyle99 »

Offline Lar

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I don't believe the 1B development cost for recovery/reuse. I think Elon just threw that out there, and it represents not just that but a goodly fraction of the total F9 development cost.

Also I think the "wasted capacity, the rocket is bigger than it needs to be" is a canard. As discussed before. The cost difference for a 30% smaller but otherwise identical is not going to be 30%. Far less.... because you have the same engineering operations, the same assembly steps, and so forth. The only cost differences are in the margins, things like material (a very small fraction of the total) and slightly more expensive transport costs because your vehicle is a bit longer, and propellant (again, a very small fraction of the total)...

Ed is making the same mistake Dr. Sowers did.
« Last Edit: 11/14/2017 07:01 PM by Lar »
"I think it would be great to be born on Earth and to die on Mars. Just hopefully not at the point of impact." -Elon Musk
"We're a little bit like the dog who caught the bus" - Musk after CRS-8 S1 successfully landed on ASDS OCISLY

Offline edkyle99

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Without first stage recovery, SpaceX could do the same missions with a "Falcon 7".   That's 40 fewer Merlin engines each year to build/test/integrate/clean/inspect/refurbish compared to Falcon 9 (20 flights per year example).  Thus, SpaceX doesn't even start to break even until it recovers and re-flies at least five first stages (45 engines recovered and reflown), as I see things.  That doesn't include the costs of recovery, recovery development, etc., but I suspect that it gives a clue about where the crossover point might start to appear.  My guess is they have to fly used stages on at least half the flights in this 20-launch example to give the concept a chance to pay off.

 - Ed Kyle
« Last Edit: 11/14/2017 07:40 PM by edkyle99 »

Online LM13

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Without first stage recovery, SpaceX could do the same missions with a "Falcon 7".   That's 40 fewer Merlin engines each year to build/test/integrate/clean/inspect/refurbish compared to Falcon 9 (20 flights per year example).  Thus, SpaceX doesn't even start to break even until it recovers and re-flies at least five first stages (45 engines recovered and reflown), as I see things.  That doesn't include the costs of recovery, recovery development, etc., but I suspect that it gives a clue about where the crossover point might start to appear.  My guess is they have to fly used stages on at least half the flights in this 20-launch example to give the concept a chance to pay off.

 - Ed Kyle

But some of the Falcon 9 payloads even now require it to be expendable--that is, Falcon 7 would be unable to lift Echostar 23, Inmarsat, or Intelsat.  They'd want to standardize production on the launcher that can handle the entire GTO market in some fashion, so they'd end up flying Falcon 9 even on missions that don't require its full payload (as they do now). 

Offline AncientU

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I don't believe the 1B development cost for recovery/reuse. I think Elon just threw that out there, and it represents not just that but a goodly fraction of the total F9 development cost.

Also I think the "wasted capacity, the rocket is bigger than it needs to be" is a canard. As discussed before. The cost difference for a 30% smaller but otherwise identical is not going to be 30%. Far less.... because you have the same engineering operations, the same assembly steps, and so forth. The only cost differences are in the margins, things like material (a very small fraction of the total) and slightly more expensive transport costs because your vehicle is a bit longer, and propellant (again, a very small fraction of the total)...

Ed is making the same mistake Dr. Sowers did.

The 'standard' size of F9 FT is actually more cost competitive against its toughest competition in USG market, Atlas V 531/541/551, and in the commercial market, Ariane 5, because of its 'wasted capacity'.  The high end of the launch market would have been given away for last few years to these competitors if F7 or F9 v1.0 was the SpaceX top offering.  FH will make reuse practical on the heaviest payloads that these competitors can fly, but that reuse is a byproduct of F9 (especially Ft) being reusable.  BFR only can be built affordably because it is following the development trail-breaking reusability of F9.

What Ed is advocating is that everyone should go back to the 'sensible' world where all rockets were thrown away after each use... sure, that makes perfect sense to me! ::)
« Last Edit: 11/14/2017 08:00 PM by AncientU »
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Offline DreamyPickle

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Sorry but every time this 'number of flights/year for reusability to make sense' is tossed around I fail to understand its foundations, especially since its treated like a magic number true in every occasion. Makes sense economically related to what, other expendable systems, the same system but in expendable configuration? And calculated on what? Development costs for reusability? Incremented costs per mission to make the rocket reusable? Projected operative costs? Projected profit margins on each mission? Costs of refurbishment? These parameters are far for being the same for different rockets, developed in different eras, by different companies and operated in far different markets. They also vary within the same vehicle with time and development. So how can this number be taken seriously without being further researched and tailored for the system we are talking about?
The number of flight/year for reusability to be profitable is definitely specific to each system. The relative amounts spent on upper/lower stages and tanks/engine is likely extremely different between SpaceX and ULA, though SpaceX and Blue Origin might be similar. SpaceX claims it's profitable and I'm not sure there is much point in second-guessing them without any of the relevant cost information.

My take is that one would compare an equally-capable expendable system against the partly recoverable system.  An equally-capable expendable Falcon 9 wouldn't need to be as heavy or tall at launch, wouldn't need as many engines on the first stage, etc.  It would be cheaper to build and cheaper to launch than the recoverable Falcon 9.
The expendable Falcon 9 exists and has flown 3 missions this year, those missions could not have flown on a smaller launcher. I think the expendable variant is already very close to the maximum performance possible using their current engine and tank technology and you can't make it much lighter or cheaper while keeping equal capability. The ability to fly expendable with close to zero impact from reusability is a feature that most other RLV proposals don't have.

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Recovery costs not just for its $1 billion development and for its drone ship and recovery navy crew and for refurbishment, but also for the lost capability given up each time a recovery profile is flown.
Payloads come with fixed sizes which don't perfectly match vehicle performance so "lost capability" always happens. You can try to segment the market by offering various fairing sizes, upper stages, SRB counts and so on but such complexity comes at considerable cost. Reusability as implemented by SpaceX also behaves like market segmentation: when the performance of the full expendable rocket is not required then they recover and fly the booster again at reduced cost.

While public prices are not currently different it should be clear that the F9-RTLS, F9-ASDS and F9-Expendable profiles vary in both capability and internal cost to SpaceX.

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Without first stage recovery, SpaceX could do the same missions with a "Falcon 7".   That's 40 fewer Merlin engines each year to build/test/integrate/clean/inspect/refurbish compared to Falcon 9 (20 flights per year example).  Thus, SpaceX doesn't even start to break even until it recovers and re-flies at least five first stages (45 engines recovered and reflown), as I see things.  That doesn't include the costs of recovery, recovery development, etc., but I suspect that it gives a clue about where the crossover point might start to appear.  My guess is they have to fly used stages on at least half the flights in this 20-launch example to give the concept a chance to pay off.

 - Ed Kyle

They will likely refly 5-7 stages in 19-20 flights this year (the very first year of reuse), so I'm not sure why you seem to consider 5/year a high bar. Even 50% reuse is only 2 flights per core, which is very low compared to most accountings of the number of reflights required to break even on reuse.

SpaceX is moving rapidly towards a future where 90-95% of flights are on used boosters with each being flown 10 to 20 times. Based on the current rapid acceptance of used boosters, I think they can reach this level in 3-4 years if the Block 5 turnaround is even a few weeks. Probably even sooner if they can really do a 24h refurb.

Offline hplan

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Without first stage recovery, SpaceX could do the same missions with a "Falcon 7".   That's 40 fewer Merlin engines each year to build/test/integrate/clean/inspect/refurbish compared to Falcon 9 (20 flights per year example).  Thus, SpaceX doesn't even start to break even until it recovers and re-flies at least five first stages (45 engines recovered and reflown), as I see things.  That doesn't include the costs of recovery, recovery development, etc., but I suspect that it gives a clue about where the crossover point might start to appear.  My guess is they have to fly used stages on at least half the flights in this 20-launch example to give the concept a chance to pay off.

 - Ed Kyle

This analysis seems to assume that the total cost of a first stage is in the engines. If a first stage launch costs $62 million but the engines only cost $1 million each, it may be that the cost of those extra 40 Merlins a year is covered by only one launch.

In reality, the economics of reuse are much more complex than simply counting the retail price of the bits reused. Reuse enables SpaceX to do more launches in a year. The profit from each launch together with the SpaceX launch costs and fixed costs probably add up to more than the cost of the rocket itself. So you have to look at the total financial picture.

For example, suppose SpaceX is able to manage 10 more launches next year than they would have been capable of without reuse. That's at least $620 million added revenue, getting through their backlog faster, and gaining further advantage over competitors by securing more of the market. The cost to them is 10 upper stages, 10 fairings, 10 first stages refurbished, and handling 10 extra launches. I'd be surprised if that ends up costing them more than $200 million beyond fixed costs.


Offline Lar

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We're at a fork in the road. You can use technologies to make cheaper expendables, or use to make more expensive reusables. (SX kinda confuses this a bit in having a bit from both worlds.)

Ed's world is the former, AncientU/Lar's world is the latter.

Ed will be right if you don't find much in the way of significant new uses/applications for space.

AncientU/Lar will be right if they do find such.

Ed can't be proved wrong and AncientU/Lar right if it isn't tried, ergo he has the easy win if he says there's no point.

Starlink! I win.  (and so does everyone else)
Luna! I win.  (and so does everyone else)
Mars! I win. (and so does everyone else)

This is (surprise!) not the right thread for generic reusability arguments. Blue and SpaceX both are committed to reusability. At this point everyone else is now an also-ran... forever doomed to playing catchup. Or fading away into history.  They may not be willing to admit it. They may not even realise it, but that ship sailed. Expendables are a dead end.

That said and I blame myself here too, maybe draw a line under general reusability arguments?
« Last Edit: 11/14/2017 08:53 PM by Lar »
"I think it would be great to be born on Earth and to die on Mars. Just hopefully not at the point of impact." -Elon Musk
"We're a little bit like the dog who caught the bus" - Musk after CRS-8 S1 successfully landed on ASDS OCISLY

Offline edkyle99

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What Ed is advocating is that everyone should go back to the 'sensible' world where all rockets were thrown away after each use... sure, that makes perfect sense to me! ::)
Certainly not!  That is not my point of view, even if you wish it were.  I am offering a surrogate for figuring out where the crossover point might be for reuse payback.  I agree that such a crossover point exists, and I'm not suggesting that SpaceX or others might not be closing or even crossing that gap soon.  I merely suggested that they haven't done it quite yet.

 - Ed Kyle

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