Author Topic: What if Starship is unreasonably cheap?  (Read 191267 times)

Offline speedevil

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4406
  • Fife
  • Liked: 2761
  • Likes Given: 3369
What if Starship is unreasonably cheap?
« on: 09/20/2019 01:21 pm »
Looking at the Cocoa florida facility, there are ~150 cars there.
Assuming 100K per employee, that is $15M in total cost to SpaceX.
Elon has previously claimed Raptors can be made at $200K per.
Steel of the grade of rolls we have seen going into SS retails for $1M/SS or so.

Three starships per year looks conservative as to what that facility may be able to make as a raw shell, if they do not also have to cope with initial learning, or facility construction.
This would put the fixed costs of a basic SS at a rather ridiculous $7M or so per. ($15M/3+$1.2M+$1M)

By basic here, I mean one with no aerofeatures at all and little  else other than the bare skin, tanks, engines, and RCS.

Performance would be slightly better than nominal due to needing no aerofeatures, so ~180 tons, with 55 tons dry mass is probably plausible.

Nominal cargo Mars is something like SS takes off, is fully refuelled in ~LEO, burns for Mars, aeroenters with 150 tons of payload.

If we assume seven launches is this baseline scenario, what would be needed to equal this, with a vehicle incapable of aeroentry?

The harshest cargo scenario would be for example a launch in Jul 2020. This has an 8 month transit time, and enters at 5.6km/s.
Assuming no aerodynamic effects, a pure propulsive landing with 150 tons requires the tanks to be full at aeroentry.

Injection from LEO is another 3.6km/s, so if we are dealing with tanker/depots moving only when filled, we need somewhat under 4* the total mass at mars entry in LEO - 4000 tons.
Or, 22 launches.

Neglecting superheavy for the moment, this puts the total cost of cargo landed on Mars at ~$1000/kg, if we assume the cost per SS is actually $7M.

It puts the cost of cargo on the moon at under $300/kg. (Assuming ~5500m/s)
And cargo in a capture orbit around Mars below even that.

Very significant improvements for Mars surface (halving the cost) can be had if the vehicle can cope with a mach 9 aeroentry, as Elon has stated SH can manage without any special coatings.

There are issues I have omitted on the negative side - boiloff - but I have also neglected production speeding up as serial production gets underway.

I note that at the time of BFS unveiling, the cost of a CF SS was widely assumed to be of the same order as the above 20 'disposable' starships, meaning the economics of this would be basically the same as that case for the first couple of synods until SS starts coming back in numbers.

And of course - once you have serial production of starships ongoing, reentry trials with the tankers you're throwing up there just became really cheap.


Edit/Lar: Assume the premise of "unreasonable cheapness". Do not argue the premise.... rather, discuss implications of the premise.

 If you want to argue the premise, go here:
https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=49092.0
« Last Edit: 10/29/2022 04:34 am by zubenelgenubi »

Offline testguy

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 604
  • Clifton, Virginia
  • Liked: 625
  • Likes Given: 589
Re: What if starship is unreasonably cheap?
« Reply #1 on: 09/20/2019 01:42 pm »
Looking at the Cocoa florida facility, there are ~150 cars there.
Assuming 100K per employee, that is $15M in total cost to SpaceX.
Elon has previously claimed Raptors can be made at $200K per.
Steel of the grade of rolls we have seen going into SS retails for $1M/SS or so.

Three starships per year looks conservative as to what that facility may be able to make as a raw shell, if they do not also have to cope with initial learning, or facility construction.
This would put the fixed costs of a basic SS at a rather ridiculous $7M or so per. ($15M/3+$1.2M+$1M)

By basic here, I mean one with no aerofeatures at all and little  else other than the bare skin, tanks, engines, and RCS.

Performance would be slightly better than nominal due to needing no aerofeatures, so ~180 tons, with 55 tons dry mass is probably plausible.

Nominal cargo Mars is something like SS takes off, is fully refuelled in ~LEO, burns for Mars, aeroenters with 150 tons of payload.

If we assume seven launches is this baseline scenario, what would be needed to equal this, with a vehicle incapable of aeroentry?

The harshest cargo scenario would be for example a launch in Jul 2020. This has an 8 month transit time, and enters at 5.6km/s.
Assuming no aerodynamic effects, a pure propulsive landing with 150 tons requires the tanks to be full at aeroentry.

Injection from LEO is another 3.6km/s, so if we are dealing with tanker/depots moving only when filled, we need somewhat under 4* the total mass at mars entry in LEO - 4000 tons.
Or, 22 launches.

Neglecting superheavy for the moment, this puts the total cost of cargo landed on Mars at ~$1000/kg, if we assume the cost per SS is actually $7M.

It puts the cost of cargo on the moon at under $300/kg. (Assuming ~5500m/s)
And cargo in a capture orbit around Mars below even that.

Very significant improvements for Mars surface (halving the cost) can be had if the vehicle can cope with a mach 9 aeroentry, as Elon has stated SH can manage without any special coatings.

There are issues I have omitted on the negative side - boiloff - but I have also neglected production speeding up as serial production gets underway.

I note that at the time of BFS unveiling, the cost of a CF SS was widely assumed to be of the same order as the above 20 'disposable' starships, meaning the economics of this would be basically the same as that case for the first couple of synods until SS starts coming back in numbers.

And of course - once you have serial production of starships ongoing, reentry trials with the tankers you're throwing up there just became really cheap.
Yes Starship is low cost as compared to other launch options.  However, once more, as has already covered in another tread.  Your costs underestimate the true costs.
1.  Where are your costs for materials?
2.  Where are your costs for rentals?
3.  Your $100K figure per employee are again way too low.  You are neglecting the indirect costs that are included in overhead rates that must be included in the costs per employee.  A very conservative estimate of overhead rate would be on the order of 125%.  Therefore, a hourly employee making $60K/year would cost the company $135K. 
4.  You can't just count the cars on site and determine the number of employees on the project..  You are neglecting all the additional employees not on site.. I would imagine that there are well over 500 people charging to Starship today.  I can't verify that but I would estimate that to be a low number.

Your premise is correct but well underestimates the true costs.  I would imagine your number are off by a factor which may be as high as an order of magnitude.

Anyone else with Program Management experience want to express an opinion here?
« Last Edit: 09/20/2019 01:44 pm by testguy »

Offline speedevil

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4406
  • Fife
  • Liked: 2761
  • Likes Given: 3369
Re: What if starship is unreasonably cheap?
« Reply #2 on: 09/20/2019 01:51 pm »
Anyone else with Program Management experience want to express an opinion here?
I agree with many of the points made - however off site employees are constrained to production of things we have seen moved onto site, or design work. (and of course like material we will see in the future up till completion).

Design work 'doesn't count' if you are considering expanding serial production in a like manner.
Things we have seen moved onto site so far are - especially once you neglect the aerofeatures - very minimal and simple.

I note I am explicitly excluding engine construction, which at the most naive interpretation would eventually have >1000 people working on it at 700 engines per year and $200K per engine.
« Last Edit: 09/20/2019 01:53 pm by speedevil »

Offline wes_wilson

  • Armchair Rocketeer
  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 461
  • Florida
    • Foundations IT, Inc.
  • Liked: 535
  • Likes Given: 369
Re: What if starship is unreasonably cheap?
« Reply #3 on: 09/20/2019 01:53 pm »
Lots of program management experience, none of it in aerospace. 

But I think that misses the OP's very valid point which is that this is a multi-order of magnitude paradigm shift.  Quadruple all his costs if you want; pretend it costs $28 million to send a ship to Mars.   I think his point is we're all underestimating the magnitude of the change and disruption this may drive.

What can be done with this system? Compared to all our other capabilities of landing cargo on Mars...  (small rovers?)

If it works; it's going to be as if the computer industry went from 9.6K baud modems to Gigabit Ethernet within a year. 
@SpaceX "When can I buy my ticket to Mars?"

Offline speedevil

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4406
  • Fife
  • Liked: 2761
  • Likes Given: 3369
Re: What if starship is unreasonably cheap?
« Reply #4 on: 09/20/2019 01:56 pm »
Lots of program management experience, none of it in aerospace. 

But I think that misses the OP's very valid point which is that this is a multi-order of magnitude paradigm shift.  Quadruple all his costs if you want; pretend it costs $28 million to send a ship to Mars.
$150M - assuming no aerodynamic braking at all, and ~22 expended vehicles.
(And I am neglecting the operating costs of SH)

Offline wes_wilson

  • Armchair Rocketeer
  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 461
  • Florida
    • Foundations IT, Inc.
  • Liked: 535
  • Likes Given: 369
Re: What if starship is unreasonably cheap?
« Reply #5 on: 09/20/2019 01:58 pm »
To the original question?  What if starship is unreasonably cheap? 

I think you get a BOOM in space activity not unlike the dotcom boom that followed affordable internet; or the Florida construction boom that followed the invention of air conditioning; or the building boom that followed the discovery of gold in california and the completion of the transcontinental.

@SpaceX "When can I buy my ticket to Mars?"

Offline Neopork

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 176
  • Minnesota, USA
  • Liked: 596
  • Likes Given: 188
Re: What if starship is unreasonably cheap?
« Reply #6 on: 09/20/2019 02:02 pm »
Looking at the Cocoa florida facility, there are ~150 cars there.
Assuming 100K per employee, that is $15M in total cost to SpaceX.
Elon has previously claimed Raptors can be made at $200K per.
Steel of the grade of rolls we have seen going into SS retails for $1M/SS or so.

Three starships per year looks conservative as to what that facility may be able to make as a raw shell, if they do not also have to cope with initial learning, or facility construction.
This would put the fixed costs of a basic SS at a rather ridiculous $7M or so per. ($15M/3+$1.2M+$1M)

By basic here, I mean one with no aerofeatures at all and little  else other than the bare skin, tanks, engines, and RCS.

Performance would be slightly better than nominal due to needing no aerofeatures, so ~180 tons, with 55 tons dry mass is probably plausible.

Nominal cargo Mars is something like SS takes off, is fully refuelled in ~LEO, burns for Mars, aeroenters with 150 tons of payload.

If we assume seven launches is this baseline scenario, what would be needed to equal this, with a vehicle incapable of aeroentry?

The harshest cargo scenario would be for example a launch in Jul 2020. This has an 8 month transit time, and enters at 5.6km/s.
Assuming no aerodynamic effects, a pure propulsive landing with 150 tons requires the tanks to be full at aeroentry.

Injection from LEO is another 3.6km/s, so if we are dealing with tanker/depots moving only when filled, we need somewhat under 4* the total mass at mars entry in LEO - 4000 tons.
Or, 22 launches.

Neglecting superheavy for the moment, this puts the total cost of cargo landed on Mars at ~$1000/kg, if we assume the cost per SS is actually $7M.

It puts the cost of cargo on the moon at under $300/kg. (Assuming ~5500m/s)
And cargo in a capture orbit around Mars below even that.

Very significant improvements for Mars surface (halving the cost) can be had if the vehicle can cope with a mach 9 aeroentry, as Elon has stated SH can manage without any special coatings.

There are issues I have omitted on the negative side - boiloff - but I have also neglected production speeding up as serial production gets underway.

I note that at the time of BFS unveiling, the cost of a CF SS was widely assumed to be of the same order as the above 20 'disposable' starships, meaning the economics of this would be basically the same as that case for the first couple of synods until SS starts coming back in numbers.

And of course - once you have serial production of starships ongoing, reentry trials with the tankers you're throwing up there just became really cheap.

I am secretly hoping that is the case. It would be so satisfying to see a complete and utter disruption of the high-pork aerospace industry. They probably had/have very high costs for R&D of the SS/SH system, but if it proves to be successful they will have created an unprecedented payload size and weight capability with a rocket that is cheap to manufacture that can be reused many times. They will be able to undercut launch competitors so severely that those competitors will either fold or be forced to develop similar technologies in order to be able to compete on cost, but by that time SpaceX will have already captured a big portion of the launch market.
Nerd. Dad. Husband. MBA. 3D Artist. Patreon.com/Neopork
Twitter.com/Neopork85

Offline spacenut

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 5075
  • East Alabama
  • Liked: 2533
  • Likes Given: 2775
Re: What if starship is unreasonably cheap?
« Reply #7 on: 09/20/2019 02:05 pm »
To me, costs could decrease by using roll steel and having only one vertical weld per ring.  Less welding, less welders.  Eventually having a large building like the VAB with all building inside to minimize weather problems such as rain and wind, steady building could improve output and maybe save time also.  Having pre-cut nose pieces would minimize re-dos and make for quicker welding also.  Many things could improve speed of building with less labor.  However, the sunk costs of a huge multi-million dollar building would increase $/kg.  Horizontal construction in a horizontal building might be even cheaper. 

Offline laszlo

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 802
  • Liked: 1067
  • Likes Given: 433
Re: What if starship is unreasonably cheap?
« Reply #8 on: 09/20/2019 02:33 pm »
If it's unreasonably cheap, SpaceX will raise the price to customers until it's "reasonable" and pocket the profit for their own use.

Offline OldGold

  • Member
  • Posts: 22
  • North Carolina
  • Liked: 64
  • Likes Given: 0
Re: What if starship is unreasonably cheap?
« Reply #9 on: 09/20/2019 02:45 pm »
I think the point of Starship is that it’s unreasonably cheap.  When it’s fully reusable with no refurbishment, launch costs drop to basically fuel plus ground support.  Like, kilobucks instead of megabucks or gigabucks.  So cheap that launch cost and mass are no longer a constraint.  What the heck do we do with that?


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

Offline Neopork

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 176
  • Minnesota, USA
  • Liked: 596
  • Likes Given: 188
Re: What if starship is unreasonably cheap?
« Reply #10 on: 09/20/2019 02:49 pm »
If it's unreasonably cheap, SpaceX will raise the price to customers until it's "reasonable" and pocket the profit for their own use.

They have already set a bar with F9 launch costs, so for similar payloads that could fly on F9, the customer costs will likely be similar (or slightly lower to incentivize launching on a newer vehicle) to that of F9. For payloads that could not launch on any existing vehicle or that want to be the only payload launched, they could charge a dimensional premium or something (for the opportunity cost of not being able to rideshare).
I think prices will be set at a level that is the highest it can be while still making it nonsensical for customers to launch with a competitor rather than SpaceX. The incentive to lower it will come through competition as other players develop similar technologies. In the meantime, SpaceX would do well to figure out how to further minimize launch and manufacturing costs so by the time the industry catches up, they can cost-effectively reduce their pricing further. Good ol' competitive dynamics!
Nerd. Dad. Husband. MBA. 3D Artist. Patreon.com/Neopork
Twitter.com/Neopork85

Offline capoman

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 994
  • Ontario Canada
  • Liked: 1441
  • Likes Given: 1326
Re: What if starship is unreasonably cheap?
« Reply #11 on: 09/20/2019 03:00 pm »
I think the point of Starship is that itís unreasonably cheap.  When itís fully reusable with no refurbishment, launch costs drop to basically fuel plus ground support.  Like, kilobucks instead of megabucks or gigabucks.  So cheap that launch cost and mass are no longer a constraint.  What the heck do we do with that?


What do we do with that? Colonize Mars and explore the solar system!

Offline HarmonicGF2

  • Member
  • Posts: 50
  • moved my profile to supersonic71
  • Chennai
  • Liked: 46
  • Likes Given: 58
Re: What if starship is unreasonably cheap?
« Reply #12 on: 09/20/2019 03:10 pm »
If starship is unreasonably cheap expendable mode would give 2x the payload, maybe reusability will become old fashioned?     
But what is so revolutionary in manufacturing starship compared to falcon 9 that it is unreasonably cheap?
Sure you are building it outside, but it hasn't proven to be reliable yet. Why hasn't any other aerospace company be able to do it in the last 50 years? I think we should wait and watch before assuming starship will be unreasonably cheap.

Offline PADave

  • Member
  • Posts: 40
  • York PA
  • Liked: 44
  • Likes Given: 313
Re: What if starship is unreasonably cheap?
« Reply #13 on: 09/20/2019 03:13 pm »
There's a question I've been meaning to ask.

Assuming that Starship is really cheap to build and operate:

Outside of governments who develop for national security and multi-billionaires who develop because of childhood dreams. What's the financial incentive for any other company to develop Starship like abilities? If it's going to cost another tens of billions in development costs? How would they ever recoup the investment?

In other words if SpaceX can launch their spaceship for... let's just say $10 million, and still make ends meet, why would I spend $20 billion developing my spaceship 2.0? If I can only make $2 million margin on each of my future launches then I'd have to launch it 100,000 times just to earn back my initial investment.

Also, it means for me to even consider competing with SpaceX, I have to also do nearly 100% vertical integration. I have to build my own engines and so on because if I buy them from another supplier the markup I pay will make me non-competitive.

Offline Coastal Ron

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 8569
  • I live... along the coast
  • Liked: 9933
  • Likes Given: 11639
Re: What if starship is unreasonably cheap?
« Reply #14 on: 09/20/2019 03:25 pm »
I think the point of Starship is that itís unreasonably cheap.  When itís fully reusable with no refurbishment, launch costs drop to basically fuel plus ground support.  Like, kilobucks instead of megabucks or gigabucks.  So cheap that launch cost and mass are no longer a constraint.  What the heck do we do with that?

I was re-watching, for the umpteenth time, the Firefly episode "Out of Gas", where in a flashback it shows Captain Reynolds buying the used Firefly spacecraft the show takes place in, and it occurs to me that the point where space travel REALLY gets inexpensive is when spacecraft start showing up on the used vehicle market. All of the development costs have been amortized, so the real value is just the material value of the vehicle itself.

That will be the point where the risks will certainly be higher, but with the significantly lower costs the rewards will be higher too.
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 gefere

  • Member
  • Posts: 48
  • Brooklyn
  • Liked: 60
  • Likes Given: 36
Re: What if starship is unreasonably cheap?
« Reply #15 on: 09/20/2019 03:26 pm »
If it's unreasonably cheap, SpaceX will raise the price to customers until it's "reasonable" and pocket the profit for their own use.

They have already set a bar with F9 launch costs, so for similar payloads that could fly on F9, the customer costs will likely be similar (or slightly lower to incentivize launching on a newer vehicle) to that of F9. For payloads that could not launch on any existing vehicle or that want to be the only payload launched, they could charge a dimensional premium or something (for the opportunity cost of not being able to rideshare).
I think prices will be set at a level that is the highest it can be while still making it nonsensical for customers to launch with a competitor rather than SpaceX. The incentive to lower it will come through competition as other players develop similar technologies. In the meantime, SpaceX would do well to figure out how to further minimize launch and manufacturing costs so by the time the industry catches up, they can cost-effectively reduce their pricing further. Good ol' competitive dynamics!

I think there's a good chance prices will go much lower that Falcon 9, as SpaceX tries to grow the launch market. Making a lot on each launch is good, but making a bit on many, many launches is even better.

We've already seen this happen with their smallsat rideshare program: they started at $2M per ride with one launch per year, then cut the price in half and added a bunch of launches when demand was high.

Offline guckyfan

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 7435
  • Germany
  • Liked: 2332
  • Likes Given: 2875
Re: What if starship is unreasonably cheap?
« Reply #16 on: 09/20/2019 03:28 pm »
In other words if SpaceX can launch their spaceship for... let's just say $10 million, and still make ends meet, why would I spend $20 billion developing my spaceship 2.0? If I can only make $2 million margin on each of my future launches then I'd have to launch it 100,000 times just to earn back my initial investment.

The Chinese would, ESA might. Boeing because Congress gives them $50 billion to promote really, really free and fair competition between US companies.

Offline speedevil

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4406
  • Fife
  • Liked: 2761
  • Likes Given: 3369
Re: What if starship is unreasonably cheap?
« Reply #17 on: 09/20/2019 03:58 pm »
I think there's a good chance prices will go much lower that Falcon 9, as SpaceX tries to grow the launch market. Making a lot on each launch is good, but making a bit on many, many launches is even better.

We've already seen this happen with their smallsat rideshare program: they started at $2M per ride with one launch per year, then cut the price in half and added a bunch of launches when demand was high.

In the scenario posited above, SpaceX decide to go all-in on inexpensive starship before getting reusability working, as it saves financially over F9 launches, and allows interesting projects like Mars at the same cost as was baselined in 2017.

They have a baseline vehicle constructable at a rate of dozens a year with a skilled workforce.

Once they nail reusability, and can with most of the same skilled workers and facilities pivot over to reuse, not expend, things for other vendors go from terrible to utterly reliant on governmental and corporate restrictions on not launching on spacex.


Offline docmordrid

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 6325
  • Michigan
  • Liked: 4202
  • Likes Given: 2
Re: What if starship is unreasonably cheap?
« Reply #18 on: 09/20/2019 04:26 pm »
And let's not forget that Musk tweeted the next generation vehicle is probably 18 meters,

https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1166856662336102401

which ISTM puts an internal gravity centrifuge on the table.

Reinforced by this 2018 tweet

https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1004936605797212160

Which should make the Ceres, Jovian moon and Titan missions much easier wrt crew health.

https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1170983609492103168
« Last Edit: 09/20/2019 04:36 pm by docmordrid »
DM

Offline gefere

  • Member
  • Posts: 48
  • Brooklyn
  • Liked: 60
  • Likes Given: 36
Re: What if starship is unreasonably cheap?
« Reply #19 on: 09/20/2019 04:44 pm »
I think there's a good chance prices will go much lower that Falcon 9, as SpaceX tries to grow the launch market. Making a lot on each launch is good, but making a bit on many, many launches is even better.

We've already seen this happen with their smallsat rideshare program: they started at $2M per ride with one launch per year, then cut the price in half and added a bunch of launches when demand was high.

In the scenario posited above, SpaceX decide to go all-in on inexpensive starship before getting reusability working, as it saves financially over F9 launches, and allows interesting projects like Mars at the same cost as was baselined in 2017.

They have a baseline vehicle constructable at a rate of dozens a year with a skilled workforce.

Once they nail reusability, and can with most of the same skilled workers and facilities pivot over to reuse, not expend, things for other vendors go from terrible to utterly reliant on governmental and corporate restrictions on not launching on spacex.

So to wander back on topic: even at two months per Starship --- much faster than currently --- you'd have  ~24 Starships by the 2022 synod. Using your figure of 22 refueling flights/Mars landing, you're burning most of your fleet to land a single payload on Mars. That doesn't leave many Starships for customer launches, which are, after all, the ones that make money.

The launch timing is a bit strange, too. Would SpaceX spend two years stockpiling Starships to launch all at once? It's that, or figure out how to store propellant on-orbit for months or years.

Personally I think reusabillity comes sooner than orbital propellant transfer on the roadmap.

Tags: SpaceX Starship SLS 
 

Advertisement NovaTech
Advertisement Northrop Grumman
Advertisement
Advertisement Margaritaville Beach Resort South Padre Island
Advertisement Brady Kenniston
Advertisement NextSpaceflight
Advertisement Nathan Barker Photography
1