Design | Development | Commercial Prospects

May 30, 2023 UPDATE – The report has been updated and now includes a 23 page addendum on the SpaceX Starship: First Integrated Flight Test.

It’s been the dream of space advocates for decades – reusable rockets and spacecraft that could provide safe, routine, frequent and affordable access to space. Vehicles that could launch to space, return to Earth and fly again with minimal refurbishment. In short, spacecraft and boosters with airplane-like operations that would open up space to a broad range of activities.

In the 1970’s, NASA envisioned a fleet of fully reusable Space Shuttles that would fly 50 times per year. What NASA built was a partially reusable system that cost billions of dollars per year to operate, required significant refurbishment between flights, and did nothing to bring down the cost of launching to orbit. Around the world, governments continued to launch people and payloads into space using multi-million dollar launch vehicles that were thrown away after accomplishing their tasks.

When Elon Musk founded SpaceX in 2002, he aimed to develop a small rocket that would generate profits by taking micro-satellites to orbit. Yet even then, his paramount long-term target was Mars. And not for scientific probes but for humans who would settle the Red Planet. To achieve such an epic task, Musk knew SpaceX must one day develop a rocket that would decrease the cost of space travel by two to three orders of magnitude. That is, from roughly ten thousand dollars to tens of dollars per kilogram placed into low Earth orbit (LEO).

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