PARIS — Europe’s Arianespace launch consortium and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. of the United States dispute which of them charges less to deliver a kilogram of cargo to the international space station, but they agree that SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is, in general, less costly to build and operate than Europe’s Ariane 5 on a per-satellite basis.
How big is the difference? Jean-Yves Le Gall, who until mid-2013 was chief executive of Evry, France-based Arianespace and is now president of the French space agency, CNES, addressed the point in Feb. 25 testimony to the French Senate.
According to Le Gall, launching a satellite on an Ariane 5 costs around 100 million euros ($137 million). After subtracting the amount of European Space Agency subsidies to Arianespace, the per-satellite cost drops to about $100 million, he said.
Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX, he said, would charge $60 million to $70 million to launch the same satellite aboard the Falcon 9. In fact SpaceX has charged even less than that to its first few commercial customers.
Le Gall said the per-launch cost objective for Europe’s future Ariane 6 rocket was fixed at 70 million euros because of the SpaceX price point. While 70 million euros is $96 million at current exchange rates — still more than today’s SpaceX price — Le Gall said the European launch service should be able to trade on its record for reliability and customer service to remain competitive.
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