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"Payload to Mars" Added to SpaceX Pricelist (spacex.com)
220 points by paulsutter on May 1, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 107 comments

One Apollo astronaut when criticised by a commentator that the NASA moon budget would be better spent on other humanitarian causes such as feeding the poor in Africa, his response was along the lines of:

The money spent annually on cosmetics in the USA dwarfs the amount spent on the NASA space program. (Can't find reference on the net.)

In 2015, the global cosmetics market was $61B USD [1], that's a roughly the cost of one thousand trips to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) with a 5,500 Kg payload, or a grand total of 5.5 mega tons to GTO.

We have the resources to become a spacefaring race (at least to the neighbouring planets in the solar system), we simply need to prioritise what's really important.

[1] http://www.statista.com/statistics/259217/global-make-up-mar...

This letter [0] from a NASA administrator in reply to a nun may not be what you were referring to, but it is related (and worth reading):

In 1970, a Zambia-based nun named Sister Mary Jucunda wrote to Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger, then-associate director of science at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, in response to his ongoing research into a piloted mission to Mars. Specifically, she asked how he could suggest spending billions of dollars on such a project at a time when so many children were starving on Earth.

Stuhlinger soon sent the following letter of explanation to Sister Jucunda, along with a copy of "Earthrise," the iconic photograph of Earth taken in 1968 by astronaut William Anders, from the Moon (also embedded in the transcript). His thoughtful reply was later published by NASA, and titled, "Why Explore Space?"

[0] http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/08/why-explore-space.html

Wow NASA had over 1% of the budget. Now it's much less - .48% if I recall.

Great letter by the way.

Why is a comparison to the cosmetics industry meaningful?

Any way, it boils down to the fact that Americans thinks NASA gets far more money than it actually does. In 2007 polling found that the on average Americans thought NASA received one fourth of the federal budget; the actual proportion was 0.58% http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2007/11/21/na.... This works out to a few bucks per year per person. It's amazing what NASA does with so little.

Because the word "cosmetic" is the quintessential indicator of something superficial.

Interestingly the word cosmetic, ultimately, descends from the Greek word κόσμος (kosmos) from which the word cosmos comes directly.

Good catch:

kosmetikos "skilled in adornment or arrangement" kosmos "order"


I wish there was a non-profit that just ran public education campaigns on these kinds of things... general ignorance is the biggest enemy of programs like NASA. Most people don't have a firm understanding of where the government spends its money, the various ways money is collected, and the value of these services.

General ignorance is the biggest enemy of any advance in policy, period.

As far as non-profits for public education, NPR comes pretty close to that.

Worth noting: surveys of Americans finds they think NPRs budget is 5% of the US annual budget.

Do they get ANY money from the federal government? I don't think they do.

NPR's finances are pretty open: http://www.npr.org/about-npr/178660742/public-radio-finances . They get about 5% of their income directly from federal, state, and local governments, and 13% from colleges and universities (which an accountant could probably tease apart to government spending and private spending. I'm not going to try). So yeah, they get a bit of government money, but it's not much of their budget, much less the US budget.

I was referring to things like education ads in mainstream media, to counter misinformation and promote general public awareness... people that tune in to NPR aren't really the problematic demographic.

The phrase "we simply need to prioritise what's really important" should indicate that the poster believes there are things that are objectively more important than others, that peoples current priorities do not match that list, and that cosmetics should be lower.

The general public doesn't know who Abraham Lincoln was or who the colonists fought the Revolutionary War against; I doubt that having a well informed electorate is realistic at the present time.

How about the cost of the F35 (~1.5 trillion projected) which is double the entire NASA budget from 1958-2011 (526 billion).

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budget_of_NASA

now that just pisses me off. What has or will the F35 deliver to all of humanity vs what NASA has done in its lifetime? If we shifted that money to NASA and other Space eXporation private companies, who knows where we'd be now.

You simply do not understand what cosmetics is about. As Many others in sub-replies to this one. One could say you do not understand human nature, DNA or anthropology. Cosmetics is not about something "unnecessary" it is about increasing your chances with reproduction.

And now tell me what more important thing that reproduction could be encoded in our genes? Second to reproduction is feeling well. For whatever strange reasons our history shaped society, people today have to live in it and they, of course tend to try to maximizes their happiness.

Some People feel better when they get attention (again DNA and anthropology). Of course YOU want to go to space. And by you I mean all in this thread who despise cosmetics in favour of space travel, simply. Because humans are not simple we have deep contradictions embedded in our DNA and society forged traditions.

Yes I agree with you all very much we should go to space BUT to be able to do so we first need to find consensus on each individual happiness weighted against the demands for happiness from other people, of the whole world. Its as simple as that. And I don't have to tell you that concepts like nations do not necessarily help in achieving that.

We are moving up the ladder(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kardashev_scale), towards a global society. In that we can not ignore a single persons mischief as we do today.

I hope you see see that its not about "superficial" cosmetics, but about us as humans. And how to be happy, all around the world. We can and should do it but it will look very different to what the world looks today. And of course our anthropology is fighting us here hard again. We want the result of change but not change what is necessary to do that, that is to change ourselves (To acknowledge other people, be more peaceful and thoughtful about resources, etc..)

So again what do you think about cosmetics?

Cosmetics is a cause that justifies itself, an escalation of "arms" that encourages others to race to the bottom in cosmetics spending, a race in which the richest are the fittest. There's no intuition for us to entertain the idea that a world without cosmetics is a world with less happiness or biological fitness, but this world would probably never happen.

Space travel, and with it, scientific understanding, space mining, and perhaps colonization, is an abstract thought that goes beyond thinking of local maxima, and that's what makes it deep, as opposed to the cosmetics arms race that is myopic in what it maximizes. That's what makes it shallow.

People naturally have many values, and these values often come in conflict. How we resolve these conflicts can demonstrate a direction toward broad vision and aforethought -- or shallow local maxima.

Anyways, I don't believe that the underlying point of cosmetics argument is about cosmetics. I think it's about the activity of moral posturing, as opposed to a sincere moral commitment toward moral results.

Yes exactly my point(people having conflicts) but to resolve them we can't simply "stop" doing cosmethics, we have to be concious about why we use so much of that ( human nature + history) and then think of alternatives.

If you like we need ome kind of migration or negoating strategy.

The problem is people do not live in a vacuum , we live in a attention economy. And people go straight for what they where thaught with ( tradions and values from social environment) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs

Love (cosmetics) is at a lower level ( which means it has a higher priority for most people) then Self-actualization or Self-transcendence (space). Do not forget where we came from, thousands of years there were concepts like cosmetics. But space is alien to most people they can not touch it, they can not percieve or concieve it.

Thats the problem we should tackle IMO.

Some would argue that going to space has much more to do with human survival than our current reproduction problem, which is actually an overpopulation problem rather than an underpopulation one.

> which is actually an overpopulation problem rather than an underpopulation one.

Serious question: what overpopulation problem is the human race currently facing? We have a distribution/underdevelopment problem, but not an overpopulation one as we have enough resources for not just 7 billion people, but multiples of that.

>So again what do you think about cosmetics?

There would certainly be no less reproduction, if cosmetics are given up. Also no general health loss, probably even improvements, with no more side effects. (and no more apes tortured to death by trying to remove the side effects)

From my point of view, cosmetics is about lying to each other, how we really look ... so you could argue, that it would be even better for the best genes to be choosen, if the real informations are not hidden and falsified with makeup etc

You might see cosmetics as an atempt to maximize the result of ones own reproduction potential.

About lying to each other, another contradiction. Of course everyone wants honesty, as long as it doesn't hurt oneself.

Yes, of course it is meant to maximize the potential of the individual ... but that doesnt mean it is useful from a objective view, meaning is it useful to humanity as a whole.

(The whole discussion is a theoretical "wouldn't it be nice if" ...)

For example we value clean skin ... maybe because people with clean skin are probably less likely to get skin cancer ... but with cosmetics people are just hiding their not perfect skin ... and maybe even improve their chances of skin cancer with side effects. So from a idealistic point of view, I think it would be better to accept that most of us don't have perfect clean skin, so what? Where is the point in spending so much effort in hiding it?

I don't think you can easily explain the use of cosmetics with things as fundamental as genetics. Not that it would be impossible to be sex specific, but the huge differences in use of cosmetics between sexes and also between societies and times strongly hints at social instead of genetic reasons.

Cosmetics are heavily used by women long past their reproductive age

Funny that some Apollo astronauts weren't fans of privatization of Space Exploration (and in turn, presumably, SpaceX).

Here's one of my favorite Elon Musk interviews (2012 CBS 60 minutes) that has a reference to the topic (at 11:40): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TmyT9y568Bc

> Funny that some Apollo astronauts weren't fans of privatization of Space Exploration (and in turn, presumably, SpaceX).

Probably more under the logic of "there should be public funding for space exploration" than "there should not be private funding for space exploration."

SpaceX fan btw. I think they have since rebounded, and Musk has met them :)

Buzz Aldrin was invited to the CRS-8 launch I believe.

According to Buzz's book, "Mission To Mars", he has done a complete 180 to support private enterprise(I was not aware of his opposition to private exploration). He even said it is essential, IIRC.

They’re more opposed to Boeing and Lockheed privatizing Space Exploration than to SpaceX

SpaceX acts as if it was publicly funded, practically.

Right, but cosmetics aren't paid for with tax payer money. Should probably spend less on the military if we want to expand NASA.

There's no reason (anymore) that space travel should only be funded with tax money.

There's also no reason it should be funded with so little tax money.

Hehe... surprised no one has pointed out your math error ;). 5500Kg*1000 is 5.5 Million Kilos, 5500 Tonnes not 5.5 mega tonnes.

Kilotonnes surely?

Why cosmetics? Why not pick on smoking, drinking, or even religion? Anyone can pick some thing they don't do/like and claim those wasted resources could be better spent on their dreams. Frankly, I'm betting that a great many people would rather have makeup than a men on Mars. Every time someone buys a fashion mag instead of mailing cash to NASA they make that choice.

Reusing the 1st stage seems to impose a massive penalty on the payload. Chopping it down to 1/3 for the Falcon Heavy to GTO (8000 kg vs 22000 kg).

In case I'm misunderstanding, do these term have these meanings?

mT = metric tonne? The standard symbol is "t". It's odd that they also use kg on the same table for the same quantity so maybe it really means something else? Not millitesla I'm sure :P

"fully expendable vehicle" means dumping the 1st stage into the sea instead of landing and recovering it?

Yes fully expendable means dumping the whole rocket like other launches.

It takes a good amount of fuel to kill all the horizontal velocity the first stage built up before detaching and then a bit more for landing. Due to just the physics you're losing some of the most effective (in terms of dV per unit mass of fuel) burn in the first stage.

So hopefully someone can answer this, but what's the reason they don't put the droneships WAY down range of the rockets?

So instead of having to fully stop and reverse, they position them so they can arc back down and only has to stop its momentum.

CRS-8 which was the one that successfully landed on the barge recently was going 6600 kmph at 71 km when the first stage cut off, most of that was horizontal speed. They have to reduce that speed to both not break apart in the atmosphere. They can't have a lot of horizontal momentum low in the atmosphere and still land straight up on the barge. The rocket has hard limits on how much it can control it's orientation inside the atmosphere because it only has small cold gas thrusters and the grid fins to really control roll pitch and yaw.

Reusing the 1st stage imposed a penalty but not a massive one. For the Falcon it means a 30% to 40% penalty, not a 66% one. The 22000kg to 8000 kg difference is due to the speed you need to send the payload out at. For a GTO the payload will be in an eliptical orbit traveling between 35,786 km and 120km. For a GEO launch it will just stay at 120km or so. The GTO orbit requires much more energy per kg of payload so the Falcon 9 can't launch as much mass to GTO as it can to GEO, that doesn't have anything to do with reusability.

Yes, American space companies use mT for metric tons. They normally use imperial units so please forgive them.

Yes, that's what fully expendable means.

Yes, apart from the coincidental sharing a name with Elon Musk's car company, a moderate amount of magnetic field strength is an odd thing to care about putting into orbit.

I think it's just some poor, ad-hoc made-up notation. I have a little bit of sympathy with Te (occasionally pronounced 'tunny') to distinguish ton from tonne, but really if you want other people to understand your units you have to go with what the BIPM recommend.

So the only numbers I can find on price for the Atlas V that delivered Curiosity to Mars is 20% of $2.5 billion. If I'm reading this right, a single Falcon 9 could have launched the same payload (3,893 kg) all the way to Mars for $62 million instead of ~$500 million. Am I reading this right?

No, as the Falcon Mars capability is theoretical and not before 2018.

It hasn't been added to the pricelist - it's been added to the rocket's capabilities.

Doing a bit of napkin math would get you a similar number.

It is playing off the press they've been getting about their next year launch. They're class and I love it.

So is it the same fuel load to LEO, GTO, and Mars? Just less mass to move?

Yes, it's the exact same rocket with the exact same fuel. The further you go the less payload you can carry because heavier means spending more fuel.

Where are the "to the moon" prices?

I assume they're about halfway between GEO and Mars (or does aerobraking on Mars save you enough mass that they are practically the same?)

Probably not a lot of market demand for it. Good question though.


... but no delivery mode specified. Mars orbit insertion or any landing is up to your 4020 kg of payload, I'm assuming. Wonder what delta-v you need to handle?

Assuming they'll deliver you onto a Mars transfer orbit, you need ~2 km/s for the Mars capture maneuver. Assuming you have an engine with ~300s Isp, you need a mass fraction of exp(-2/3) ~ 0.5. So you need your payload to be about 50% fuel by mass.

Also, this doesn't account for any aerobraking, which should save you some fuel.


> Assuming you have an engine with ~300s Isp, you need a mass fraction of exp(-2/3) ~ 0.5.

So would taking a longer earth-mars route that allowed the use of some more efficient drive (e.g. ion engine) improve the amount of payload that could be delivered?

Yes, definitely. If you had an engine with 3000s Isp, which according to Wikipedia wouldn't be unreasonable for an ion thruster, then your mass fraction would be about exp(-2/30) ~ 0.94. So you'd only need 6% of your payload for fuel in that case.


It's all fun and game to put the price online until you actually want to place an order and can't find the paypal button.

Is the pricelist there to market SpaceX itself because it doesn't seem like you would merely accept the price on the pricelist?

As I understand it, this price list is similar to the list prices you see for large commercial aircraft. That is, these prices have only a vague relation to the actual prices customers end up paying. With deals as large and complex as these, each one is a little different so it's inevitable that they get negotiated individually.

Sounds like dealing with Oracle. :)

"Modest discounts are available, for contractually committed, multi-launch purchases."

Those are probably the real numbers.

It's to give a ballpark guideline.

You might be thinking about a problem and go "oh actually, if we could send it to mars it might work". and instead of dismissing it out of hand you can say, "well that costs XYZ"

Yeah, the pricelist is there so they can say "look, we have a price list on our website". I'm sure nobodys paying those prices.

The price list also serves as a means of showing changes to prices as the result of innovation. Showing a side by side comparison of reused rockets vs new ones is a great marketing ploy.

I think it should read: "Call for Pricing" under Mars, as the Standard Payment Plan price is "to GTO"

For $90 million you can use their Falcon Heavy to send 8 tonnes to GTO.

SpaceX does not yet have a vehicle to take you to Mars. The idea is that your GTO payload would be such a vehicle supplied by the customer. The numbers below just shows the limits of what is possible, i.e. such a Mars Transfer vehicle could weigh up to 22 tonnes and possibly contain up to 13 tonnes of payload.

For comparison: The GTO vehicle for the Curiosity rover was about 8 tonnes. SpaceX is about half the price of Atlas V a few years ago.

They have plans to land a Dragon on Mars in 2018. They have the vehicles they need.

About $6600 to get 1kg to Mars "-)

That seems... surprisingly cheap. $6600 could also get you a small apartment for two months in NYC, about 10% of the way to the TSA randomizer app, or a lawyer for a day. Sending something to Mars is by far the most incredible of those things!

So the Falcon Heavy can get 13,600 kg to Mars for $90M.

By comparison, the Apollo 11 lunar (landing) module was 11,900 kg and the command/service module was 28,800 kg at launch. There were also other components that added at least 6000 kg. (according to some quick Wikipediaing)

So > 46,700 kg total.

Yes, the Saturn 5 was a truly ludicrously powerful rocket.

A single Rocketdyne F-1 engine from the bottom of the Saturn V had about the same thrust (about 1.5 million lbs.) as the whole first stage of a Falcon 9. And it had 5 of those. A proposed new version of the F-1 would produce even more thrust, 1.8 million lbs.

Also payload to Pluto: 2,900kg


Just curious, what happens if a rocket fails and the client's payload is destroyed?

That depends on the customer. In the case of most commercial launches, the insurance policy that was required by the investors financing the launch pays out. In the case of government launches (who didn't need to borrow money for the specific purpose of the launch), they just eat the cost of the payload.

Can we stake a claim on Mars yet? I figure it'd be relatively cheap to fly something to Mars, say you own the whole planet and recoup more than the $60 million to get there...

The outer space treaty says you can't stake a claim but your property rights are still respected under the treaty. That is, if you have a habitat on the surface of Mars, for all intents and purposes that land is yours though there is an obligation to provide for visits from representatives other countries on a reciprocal basis.

Does the treaty apply to private corporations? How does that work?

Why would anyone respect your claim?

You would have a hard time finding a court to enforce your claim too, since the Outer Space Treaty states:

Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.

Seriously, depending on how long your game is, it might make sense. You would expect at first the claim would be completely disregarded, and then in some number of centuries enough inter-planetary infrastructure could develop that includes a legal framework under which you could sue for damages. Or, something...

I wonder if you could send over some type of networking equipment, and then anticipate charging one heck of a bandwidth premium?

I have a feeling that those claims aren't valid if you, or your robots aren't standing on them.

If you can defend it, you can keep it

What would a group want to send to Mars at this point? I can imagine research equipment, but I'm wondering what else besides scientific interests.

some extremophiles from underneath the polar ice caps.

some billionaire has to be thinking that their ultimate "mark on the universe" would be to start seeding life on mars.

Call it the 21st century version of the Carnegie donation program. The Gates Path to Life. Sounds romantic.

For any sufficiently motivated person or group, it won't take a SpaceX Falcon to get a payload of extremophiles to Mars. A Cubesat (or other cheap, small satellite) on the Interplanetary Transport Network could work.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CubeSat https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interplanetary_Transport_Netwo...

For all we know, it may already have been done.

If we want to explore an uncontaminated Mars for native life, we have a very narrow window in which to do so. The ability to deliberately seed Mars with life is already amazingly cheap, and is swiftly become cheaper and more accessible.

> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interplanetary_Transport_Netwo...

But will this allow you to land on Mars, or just a flyby?

I'm pretty sure cargo like that is at the top of their rejection list in bold letters. Don't space agencies work super hard to disinfect and sterilize equipment that needs to land on other planets? It might actually be illegal to seed life on other planets, if I recall correctly.

I don't think it's illegal, but it is enforced by COSPAR's recommendations on Planetary Protection. Missions to Mars actually have a much higher threshold for avoiding contamination than, say, missions to the moon. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetary_protection

Nobody's gonna be enforcing that rule, even if it's in bold letters.

Given enough money and motivation, you can get microbes to mars.

Do the prices include tax?

It's customary in the US to list prices without tax, so I would guess not.

Since SpaceX has a presence in Texas, I wonder if they pay state sales tax?

Have issues of long term radiation and micrometeorite impacts been solved while I wasn't looking?

For unmanned payloads - the only type SpaceX has flown thus far - that's been solved since the 1970s.

I was thinking about Musk's planned 2018 manned mission.

2018 isn't manned it's just tossing an unmanned Dragon variant at Mars and landing it. It's a technology demo and test mostly.

My bad!

I do not recall that announcement involved human cargo. I believe a more realistic goal was a large equipment drop.

It's not manned.

Honest question:

Why do space rockets and rockets in general always so closely resemble penises?

Honest answer: to get to orbit, you've got to go really fast (like Mach 25) and there's a lot of air between you and outer space. Air resistance goes up as the cube of velocity, so you want to minimize frontal area. Balloons or propellers can't get you up to the necessary speed; you've got to use rocket engines. For aerodynamic stability reasons, those need to go at the other end of the vehicle; they also require lots and lots of fuel, and the aerodynamically best place to put that fuel is in a long cylinder behind the nose and atop the engines. The nose of a rocket is shaped the way it is because of a trade-off between aerodynamic drag at slow speeds through thick air near the ground and very high speeds through thin air higher up. The reason some rockets have a thicker section near the tip is because it turns out to be aerodynamically permissible to make the forward section fat, yielding more space for a physically larger payload while keeping the design of the engines and fuel tank section unchanged. Rockets with lots of weight up front are dynamically stable, too.

Maybe it's more interesting to ask, "why are penises so aerodynamic?"

because they're aerodynamic

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