The Cost of Space Flight Before and After SpaceX
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The Cost of Space Flight Before and After SpaceX

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The Cost of Space Flight Before and After SpaceX

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The Cost of Space Flight Before and After SpaceX

On December 21, 2021, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launched a cargo capsule to deliver supplies and Christmas gifts to astronauts in the International Space Station.

Just eight minutes after liftoff, the rocket’s first stage returned to Earth, landing on one of SpaceX’s drone ships in the Atlantic Ocean. This marked the company’s 100th successful landing.

Like other companies such as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, and Ball Aerospace, SpaceX is designing and building innovative spacecraft that are speeding up space delivery by making it more routine and affordable. But how much does it cost to launch a cargo rocket into space, and how has this cost changed over the years?

In the graphic above we take a look at the cost per kilogram for space launches across the globe since 1960, based on data from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The Space Race

The 20th-century was marked by competition between two Cold War adversaries, the Soviet Union (USSR) and the United States, to achieve superior spaceflight capability.

The space race led to great technological advances, but these innovations came at a high cost. For instance, during the 1960s NASA spent $28 billion to land astronauts on the moon, a cost today equating to about $288 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars.

In the last two decades, space startup companies have demonstrated they can compete against heavyweight aerospace contractors as Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Today, a SpaceX rocket launching can be 97% cheaper than a Russian Soyuz ride cost in the ’60s.

The Cost of Space Flight Before and After SpaceX

The key to increasing cost efficiency?

SpaceX rocket boosters usually return to Earth in good enough condition that they’re able to be refurbished, which saves money and helps the company undercut competitors’ prices.

Space Tourism

Although competition has brought prices down for cargo flights, human space transportation is still pricey.

During the last 60 years, roughly 600 people have flown into space, and the vast majority of them have been government astronauts.

For a suborbital trip on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and Blue Origin’s New Shepard, seats typically cost $250,000 to $500,000. Flights beyond that to actual orbit—a much higher altitude—are far more expensive, fetching more than $50 million per seat.

The Future of Space Flight

In a SpaceX press briefing, SpaceX Director Benji Reed said, “We want to make life multi-planetary, and that means putting millions of people in space.”

This may still seem like a stretch for most people. But, given the decreasing cost of space flights over the last two decades, perhaps the sky won’t be the limit in the near future.

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Space

The Celestial Zoo: A Map of 200+ Objects in Our Universe

This detailed map highlights 200+ celestial objects that astronomers have discovered about our universe and provides facts about each one.

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Detailed Map of Outer Space and the Known Universe

The Celestial Zoo: A Map of 200+ Objects in our Universe

Humans have been observing the universe for thousands of years.

And while we haven’t figured out all the answers quite yet, we’ve made some remarkable discoveries when it comes to learning about outer space.

What are some of the most notable observations that scientists have discovered so far? This map of outer space by Pablo Carlos Budassi highlights more than 200 celestial objects in our universe and provides details and facts about each one.

The Types of Celestial Objects Mapped

To create this graphic, Budassi used a combination of logarithmic astronomical maps from Princeton University, as well as images from NASA.

The visualization highlights 216 different celestial objects that are color-coded and organized into five overarching categories:

  • Moons and Asteroids
  • Planets
  • Galaxies
  • Star System
  • Great Scales/Superclusters

At the center of the map is the Sun, which is the largest object in our Solar System. According to NASA, the Sun’s volume is equivalent to 1.3 million Earths. The Sun is the powerhouse of life here on Earth—its energy provides our planet with a mild, warm climate that keeps us alive, keeping the Earth from becoming a frozen rock.

While the Sun is the only star in the Solar System, there is a neighboring star system called Alpha Centauri that’s approximately 4.37 light-years away. It’s made up of three stars—Proxima Centauri, Alpha Centauri A, and Alpha Centauri B.

Proxima Centauri, as the Latin name indicates, is the closest of the three to Earth and has an Earth-sized planet in its habitable zone.

The Life of a Star

In a star’s early stages, it’s powered by hydrogen. However, when its hydrogen stores are depleted, some stars are able to fuse helium or even heavier elements.

Stars similar to the size of the Sun will grow, cool down, and eventually transform into a red giant. The Sun has about 5,000 million more years before it reaches its red giant stage, but when that happens, it will likely expand to the point where it swallows up the Earth.

While stars emit energy for years, it’s important to note that they don’t shine for eternity. Their exact life span depends on their size, with bigger stars burning out faster than their smaller counterparts.

But as light from distant objects millions of light-years away takes a long time to reach us here on Earth, the largest of stars shine for hundreds of millions of years after they die.

Just How Big is Our Universe?

Some experts believe that the universe is infinite, while others argue that we can’t yet know for certain because current measurements aren’t accurate enough.

However, scientists believe that our observable universe extends about 46 billion light-years in every direction, giving it a diameter of roughly 93 billion light-years.

But just how much of the universe extends beyond what we can see? We may never find out.

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Technology

All of the World’s Spaceports on One Map

This map is a comprehensive look at both existing and proposed spaceports and missile launching locations around the world.

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Mapped: The World’s Rocket Launch Sites

From Sputnik 1 to today’s massive satellite constellations, every object in space was launched from just a handful of locations.

The map above, from BryceTech, is a comprehensive look at the world’s spaceports (both orbital and sub-orbital) as well as ballistic missile test sites.

ℹ️ In sub-orbital spaceflight, a spacecraft reaches outer space, but it doesn’t complete an orbital revolution or reach escape velocity. In orbital spaceflight, a spacecraft remains in space for at least one orbit.

The World’s Major Spaceports

Though the graphic above is a detailed list of many types of rocket launch sites, we’ll focus on major sites that are sending satellites and passengers into sub-orbit, orbit, and beyond.

Launch FacilityLocationCountry
Cape Canaveral Space Force StationFlorida🇺🇸 U.S.
Cape Canaveral SpaceportFlorida🇺🇸 U.S.
Kennedy Space CenterFlorida🇺🇸 U.S.
Cecil Field SpaceportFlorida🇺🇸 U.S.
Colorado Air & Space PortColorado🇺🇸 U.S.
Vandenberg Air Force BaseCalifornia🇺🇸 U.S.
Mojave Air and Space PortCalifornia🇺🇸 U.S.
Oklahoma Air & Space PortOklahoma🇺🇸 U.S.
Poker Flat Research RangeAlaska🇺🇸 U.S.
Pacific Spaceport ComplexAlaska🇺🇸 U.S.
Spaceport AmericaNew Mexico🇺🇸 U.S.
Launch Site One (Corn Ranch)Texas🇺🇸 U.S.
Houston SpaceportTexas🇺🇸 U.S.
Midland Air & Space PortTexas🇺🇸 U.S.
SpaceX Development and Test FacilityTexas🇺🇸 U.S.
SpaceX StarbaseTexas🇺🇸 U.S.
Spaceport CamdenGeorgia🇺🇸 U.S.
Mid-Atlantic Regional SpaceportVirginia🇺🇸 U.S.
Wallops Flight FacilityVirginia🇺🇸 U.S.
Reagan Test SiteKwajalein Atoll🇲🇭 Marshall Islands
Naro Space CenterOuter Naro Island🇰🇷 South Korea
Sohae Satellite Launching StationNorth Pyongan Province🇰🇵 North Korea
Kapustin YarAstrakhan Oblast🇷🇺 Russia
Plesetsk CosmodromeArkhangelsk Oblast🇷🇺 Russia
Vostochny CosmodromeAmur Oblast🇷🇺 Russia
Yasny Launch BaseOrenburg Oblast🇷🇺 Russia
Arnhem Space CentreNorthern Territory🇦🇺 Australia
Whalers Way Orbital Launch ComplexSouth Australia🇦🇺 Australia
Koonibba Test RangeSouth Australia🇦🇺 Australia
Bowen Orbital Spaceport Queensland 🇦🇺 Australia
Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1Wairoa District🇳🇿 New Zealand
Baikonur CosmodromeBaikonur🇰🇿 Kazakhstan
Space Port OitaŌita🇯🇵 Japan
Tanegashima Space CenterKagoshima🇯🇵 Japan
Uchinoura Space CenterKagoshima🇯🇵 Japan
Taiki Aerospace Research FieldHokkaido🇯🇵 Japan
Hokkaido SpaceportHokkaido🇯🇵 Japan
Ryori Launch SiteIwate🇯🇵 Japan
Sonmiani Satellite Launch CenterBalochistan🇵🇰 Pakistan
Integrated Test RangeOdisha🇮🇳 India
Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching StationKerala🇮🇳 India
Satish Dhawan Space CentreSriharikota🇮🇳 India
Guiana Space CentreKourou🇬🇫 French Guiana
Barreira do Inferno Launch CenterRio Grande do Norte🇧🇷 Brazil
Alcântara Space CenterMaranhão🇧🇷 Brazil
Stasiun Peluncuran RoketWest Java🇮🇩 Indonesia
Jiuquan Satellite Launch CenterGansu Province🇨🇳 China
Taiyuan Satellite Launch CenterShanxi Province🇨🇳 China
Wenchang Spacecraft Launch SiteHainan Province🇨🇳 China
Xichang Satellite Launch CenterSichuan Province🇨🇳 China
Palmachim AirbaseCentral District🇮🇱 Israel
Imam Khomeini Space Launch TerminalSemnan🇮🇷 Iran
Qom Lauch FacilityQom🇮🇷 Iran
El Arenosillo Test CentreHuelva🇪🇸 Spain
Spaceport SwedenLapland🇸🇪 Sweden
Esrange Space CenterLapland🇸🇪 Sweden
Andøya SpaceNordland🇳🇴 Norway
SaxaVord SpaceportShetland Islands🇬🇧 UK
Sutherland SpaceportSutherland🇬🇧 UK
Western Isles SpaceportOuter Hebrides🇬🇧 UK
Spaceport MachrihanishCampbeltown🇬🇧 UK
Prestwick SpaceportGlasgow🇬🇧 UK
Snowdonia SpaceportNorth West Wales🇬🇧 UK
Spaceport CornwallCornwall🇬🇧 UK
Orbex LP1Moray🇬🇧 UK
Spaceport Nova ScotiaNova Scotia🇨🇦 Canada

Editor’s note: The above table includes all sites that are operational, as well as under construction, as of publishing date.

The list above covers fixed locations, and does not include SpaceX’s autonomous spaceport drone ships. There are currently three active drone ships—one based near Los Angeles, and the other two based at Port Canaveral, Florida.

Two of the most famous launch sites on the list are the Baikonur Cosmodrome (Kazakhstan) and Cape Canaveral (United States). The former was constructed as the base of operations for the Soviet space program and was the launch point for Earth’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1. The latter was NASA’s primary base of operations and the first lunar-landing flight was launched from there in 1969.

The global roster of spaceports has grown immensely since Baikonur and Cape Canaveral were the only game in town. Now numerous countries have the ability to launch satellites, and many more are getting in on the action.

Wenchang Space Launch Site, on the island of Hainan, is China’s newest launch location. The site recorded its first successful launch in 2016.

Location, Location

One interesting quirk of the map above is the lack of spaceports in Europe. Europe’s ambitions for space are actually launched from the Guiana Space Centre in South America. Europe’s Spaceport has been operating in French Guiana since 1968.

Low altitude launch locations near the equator are the most desirable, as far less energy is required to take a spacecraft from surface level to an equatorial, geostationary orbit.

Islands and coastal areas are also common locations for launch sites. Since the open waters aren’t inhabited, there is minimal risk of harm from debris in the event of a launch failure.

As demand for satellites and space exploration grows, the number of launch locations will continue to grow as well.

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