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 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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
|Cape Canaveral Space Force Station||Florida||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|Cape Canaveral Spaceport||Florida||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|Kennedy Space Center||Florida||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|Cecil Field Spaceport||Florida||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|Colorado Air & Space Port||Colorado||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|Vandenberg Air Force Base||California||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|Mojave Air and Space Port||California||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|Oklahoma Air & Space Port||Oklahoma||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|Poker Flat Research Range||Alaska||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|Pacific Spaceport Complex||Alaska||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|Spaceport America||New Mexico||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|Launch Site One (Corn Ranch)||Texas||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|Houston Spaceport||Texas||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|Midland Air & Space Port||Texas||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|SpaceX Development and Test Facility||Texas||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|SpaceX Starbase||Texas||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|Spaceport Camden||Georgia||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport||Virginia||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|Wallops Flight Facility||Virginia||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|Reagan Test Site||Kwajalein Atoll||🇲🇭 Marshall Islands|
|Naro Space Center||Outer Naro Island||🇰🇷 South Korea|
|Sohae Satellite Launching Station||North Pyongan Province||🇰🇵 North Korea|
|Kapustin Yar||Astrakhan Oblast||🇷🇺 Russia|
|Plesetsk Cosmodrome||Arkhangelsk Oblast||🇷🇺 Russia|
|Vostochny Cosmodrome||Amur Oblast||🇷🇺 Russia|
|Yasny Launch Base||Orenburg Oblast||🇷🇺 Russia|
|Arnhem Space Centre||Northern Territory||🇦🇺 Australia|
|Whalers Way Orbital Launch Complex||South Australia||🇦🇺 Australia|
|Koonibba Test Range||South Australia||🇦🇺 Australia|
|Bowen Orbital Spaceport||Queensland||🇦🇺 Australia|
|Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1||Wairoa District||🇳🇿 New Zealand|
|Baikonur Cosmodrome||Baikonur||🇰🇿 Kazakhstan|
|Space Port Oita||Ōita||🇯🇵 Japan|
|Tanegashima Space Center||Kagoshima||🇯🇵 Japan|
|Uchinoura Space Center||Kagoshima||🇯🇵 Japan|
|Taiki Aerospace Research Field||Hokkaido||🇯🇵 Japan|
|Hokkaido Spaceport||Hokkaido||🇯🇵 Japan|
|Ryori Launch Site||Iwate||🇯🇵 Japan|
|Sonmiani Satellite Launch Center||Balochistan||🇵🇰 Pakistan|
|Integrated Test Range||Odisha||🇮🇳 India|
|Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station||Kerala||🇮🇳 India|
|Satish Dhawan Space Centre||Sriharikota||🇮🇳 India|
|Guiana Space Centre||Kourou||🇬🇫 French Guiana|
|Barreira do Inferno Launch Center||Rio Grande do Norte||🇧🇷 Brazil|
|Alcântara Space Center||Maranhão||🇧🇷 Brazil|
|Stasiun Peluncuran Roket||West Java||🇮🇩 Indonesia|
|Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center||Gansu Province||🇨🇳 China|
|Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center||Shanxi Province||🇨🇳 China|
|Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site||Hainan Province||🇨🇳 China|
|Xichang Satellite Launch Center||Sichuan Province||🇨🇳 China|
|Palmachim Airbase||Central District||🇮🇱 Israel|
|Imam Khomeini Space Launch Terminal||Semnan||🇮🇷 Iran|
|Qom Lauch Facility||Qom||🇮🇷 Iran|
|El Arenosillo Test Centre||Huelva||🇪🇸 Spain|
|Spaceport Sweden||Lapland||🇸🇪 Sweden|
|Esrange Space Center||Lapland||🇸🇪 Sweden|
|Andøya Space||Nordland||🇳🇴 Norway|
|SaxaVord Spaceport||Shetland Islands||🇬🇧 UK|
|Sutherland Spaceport||Sutherland||🇬🇧 UK|
|Western Isles Spaceport||Outer Hebrides||🇬🇧 UK|
|Spaceport Machrihanish||Campbeltown||🇬🇧 UK|
|Prestwick Spaceport||Glasgow||🇬🇧 UK|
|Snowdonia Spaceport||North West Wales||🇬🇧 UK|
|Spaceport Cornwall||Cornwall||🇬🇧 UK|
|Orbex LP1||Moray||🇬🇧 UK|
|Spaceport Nova Scotia||Nova 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.
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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