Since the beginning of time, man has been fascinated with the stars and sky. For the past few decades, we have been more focused on space travel. From landing on the moon for the first time in 1969 to watching the Challenger explode on live television, we have witnessed both the wonderful and disastrous possibilities space holds. Space exploration has been growing and expanding. More and more people are coming up with new ways on how to study the universe, but at what cost – literally? It seems the harder we work and more inventive we are, the more expensive space becomes.
Is It The Rocket or The Fuel?
It’s already been determined, going to space is expensive. very expensive. The question is, what makes it so expensive? Is it the rocket or the fuel to launch the rocket?
Easy answer: Yes for both. We can safely assume that rocket fuel is among one of the most expensive substances on Earth. Just by seeing how much fuel our cars take, imagine how much fuel it takes to not only get a rocket into another planet’s orbit, but also sustain the resources on the ship for the duration of it travel every single time it goes into space.
Rocket fuel is made up of both liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, which NASA buys separately. According to a NASA fact sheet from 2001 (the latest info available), the total cost to fuel a rocket for launch was $1.3 million. This doesn’t include the cost of fuel for cooling down the rocket.
The rocket that the fuel is propelling also costs a pretty penny. This isn’t just due to the man-hours, labor and supplies it takes to build the machine itself, but also because of the planning involved in designing the rocket for whatever specific purpose the team is looking to use it. Launching a rocket alone costs a relatively outrageous amount of money. “We’ve estimated somewhere around the $500 million number is what an average cost per flight is,” says Jody Singer, Deputy Project Manager of the Space Launch System (SLS) at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. That’s per flight. If a single project has around, let’s say, 10 flights altogether, that’s $5 billion just to get the rockets off the launchpad. When you consider the amount of money it takes to plan, build, and fuel a rocket for a mission, it all adds up to a pretty staggering amount. With the advances we are currently making in exploration and other companies like SpaceX starting launching their own programs, is there hope for bringing these costs down?
Going to Space is Expensive – Will it Always Be?
Programs like SpaceX have begun to be a little more inventive with their planning and execution processes for missions. Recently, Elon Musk announced that making their rockets reusable would cut back many of the costs, including future travel to Mars. Through new choices in engineering, design, and materials used for the rockets, SpaceX has brought down the normal cost of launching a rocket ($100 million – $260 million) to a mere $55 million. Not only is the Falcon 9 rocket super cheap, but it only burns around $200,000 worth of fuel. Each mission costs about $450 million less than each of the prior NASA launche That’s something we can all get behind, right?