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Launch costs to low Earth orbit, 1980-2100

This graph shows the declining costs of launching people and cargo into space. The figures provided here, adjusted for inflation, are for U.S. launch vehicles delivering 1 kg (2.2 lb) into low Earth orbit (LEO).

Traditionally, access to space has been extremely expensive. However, prices continue to fall with each passing decade as new technologies are developed and the sector becomes more commercialised. SpaceX, for example, has demonstrated the potential of reusable rockets. Other advances in the future may include lighter materials, the use of inflatable modules, new fuel types, space planes and/or more efficient engines.

If the overall trend continues, access to space may become relatively affordable to most people during the second half of this century. Visiting a space hotel could one day be as routine as a holiday overseas.

NASA has stated a long-term goal of making LEO accessible for tens of dollars per kilogram by 2040. The agency has also speculated that a space elevator (requiring 15 years to construct) would lower this cost even further, to just a few dollars per kilogram.

 

launch costs to low earth orbit future timeline trend graph prediction

 

 

Sources:

Space Transportation Costs: Trends in Price Per Pound to Orbit 1990-2000

"As of 2003, the average launch cost/lb of payload in the U.S for small, medium, and heavy launches was $8,445, $4,994, and $4,440 respectively."
An investigation of the performance potential of a liquid oxygen expander cycle rocket engine, by Dylan Thomas Stapp

Article from 2006: "A Falcon 1 launch costs US$6.7 million for up to 570 kilogrammes of payload delivered to orbit."
https://www.nature.com/news/2006/060327/full/news060327-2.html

Orbit: NASA's Space-Shuttle Program Ends

Comparison of orbital launch systems – Wikipedia

Much Lower Launch Costs Make Resupply Cheaper Than Recycling for Space Life Support

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falcon_Heavy

Article from 2000, discussing the potential for 2040:
"NASA's goal is to reduce the cost of getting to space to hundreds of dollars per pound within 25 years and tens of dollars per pound within 40 years."

"Potentially, we're talking about just a few dollars per kg with the elevator."
Audacious & Outrageous: Space Elevators

 

Image credits:

1981 – NASA

1995 – NASA

2006 – SpaceX [CC-BY-SA-3.0]

2016 – NASA

2017 – Official SpaceX Photos (Bangabandhu Satellite-1 Mission) [CC0 or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

2020 – SpaceX

2040 – Space X

2060 – NASA

 

Posted: 1st September 2018. Last updated: 1st September 2018.