General Question

timtrueman's avatar

How much does it cost to launch a satellite into space?

Asked by timtrueman (5740 points ) February 20th, 2010

How much does altitude affect cost? (e.g. low-earth orbit or geosynchronous orbit)

I realize a lot of the number are going to vary on payload but I’m looking for as many different examples (especially on the low-end of the cost spectrum). If I could get an empty payload cost that would be ideal.

Also, how has price changed over time? Is it dropping rapidly or more or less staying the same?

Bonus points:
1. What kind of time frame is involved for launching a satellite?
2. How many locations can used for launching satellites? Is it only a handful of sites or is it just about anywhere?

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19 Answers

poisonedantidote's avatar

$10.000 for each half kilo.

timtrueman's avatar

I really want total cost for a payload-less launch vehicle.

ETpro's avatar

You have to at least specify what payload you want to put into orbit, if any. The cost of a vehicle to launch a small satellite and the one needed to carry a payload like the Hubble Space Telescope is quite different.

I’ll take a stab at bonus question 2. Satellites can be launched from any location with adequate accessibility and decent weather, but the closer the launch site is to the equator, the less total energy is required to achieve orbit. That is because the earth’s rotational movement adds its initial velocity to the rocket.

Shuttle128's avatar

I’ll answer bonus question number 2.

You can launch rockets from just about anywhere on Earth, and depending on the orbit you want to achieve you will want to launch from differing locations. However, it is most advantageous to launch a rocket near the equator because the Earth’s rotation near the equator adds roughly an extra 1100 mph to the rocket velocity.


ETpro's avatar

@Shuttle128 Ga! Great minds work in similar directions. :-)

Shuttle128's avatar

My answer is almost exactly the same in ever way…..that kinda freaks me out as well….

I did some googling to find the equatorial speed though so ya beat me.

timtrueman's avatar

@ETpro Smallest possible satellite.

Shuttle128's avatar

Well, technically, anything that orbits the Earth would be considered a satellite so you couldn’t really determine what ‘smallest’ means without knowing what the satellite is there to do. If you just want a radio transmitter like Sputnik then it would not need to be much bigger or heavier than a thermos.

poisonedantidote's avatar

if you are going to launch from the equator, keep in mind you have to add the cost of transporting everything to the equator from wherever it was to start with.

small satellites will cost about 10 to 20 million to put in orbit, larger ones can cost a couple hundred million. and time frames vary from months to years depending on the project.

something like the international space station will set you back about 150 billion, with about 10 billion going on initial paper work alone.

timtrueman's avatar

Let’s go with a Sputnik-sized satellite.

ETpro's avatar

@timtrueman It’s in the early planning stages, but DARPA has a project to build a largely reusable low-cost launch vehicle capable of putting a 1,000 pound payload into a circular reference orbit of 28.5 at 100 nautical miles high. The target cost is $5,000,000 per launch excluding the payload and payload preparation costs. What does that end up with typical defense contractor cost overruns? Your guess is as good as mine. :-)

poisonedantidote's avatar

well, i dont know about the original sputnik. but now days you could build something that would do the same job and be much much smaller. you could probably put it in orbit cheap by hitching a ride with an already scheduled launch for around a couple of million.

EDIT: sputnik 1 was 83.6 kilos. so going on the 10k per half kilo price, thats about 1.6 million.

Cruiser's avatar

Ralph Kramden did it for free….“POW…Zoom to the Moon Alice!!!”

ucme's avatar

An astronomical figure. I mean with inflation rocketing the sum is truly sky high.

RocketGuy's avatar

For a large geostationary satellite launch, it will be >$100M. What do you get for that?:
a big rocket –
fueling service for both the satellite and rocket
streamlined fairing
adapter to go between the satellite and rocket
launch service to geostationary transfer orbit

1) Takes about a year to order and build the rocket. About a month to get the satellite and rocket set up at launch base for launch.

2) Commercial launch sites are:
Cape Canaveral, FL 28.5°N
Kourou, near equator
SeaLaunch (before they went bankrupt), at equator
Tanegashima, 30°N
Xichang, 28°N
Baikonur, 46 N

Rarebear's avatar

@timtrueman I asked @rocketguy to answer this question as he designs satellites for a living. You won’t get a more accurate answer than that.

RocketGuy's avatar

Most of the answers above were pretty good. I just added a few insider details. Definitely the size of the satellite dictates the size of the rocket. The smallest rockets are really cheap, while the largest are really expensive.

Then there is the incremental cost for an incremental increases in mass. i.e. if one is already at the limit of a certain rocket, an additional few kg will necessitate the next larger rocket, which will cost additional millions of dollars. Things can get complicated very quickly.

dabbler's avatar

SpaceX expects to reduce cost per pound to LEO down to $858.
To enjoy that rate with a Sputnik-size payload you’d have to share the mission with some other satellites.

bagojunk's avatar

You can get launches today for just over 100k per kg

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