Lower-Cost Options Enter Launch Market

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Two new commercial launchers expected to enter the market in the next year or two may place China’s Long March rocket into the unfamiliar position of being in the middle of the pricing range, according to industry officials.

Commercial launch prices can vary substantially depending on exchange rate fluctuations, how badly the launch-services provider wants to win a given customer’s business and other unpredictable factors in addition to standard issues such as satellite launch mass.

With those caveats, officials said the owner of a geostationary satellite weighing around 4,000 kilograms at launch can expect to pay some $70 million for a Chinese Long March, a price well under what International Launch Services (ILS) of the United States and Europe’s Arianespace consortium typically charge for their respective Proton-M and Ariane 5 rockets.

But China’s position as a low-cost provider is likely to change soon with the addition of Space Exploration Technologies’ Falcon 9 vehicle and the new version of India’s GSLV rocket. These vehicles are expected to cost $50 million and $60 million, respectively.

Neither the Falcon 9 nor the GSLV Mark 3 vehicle has yet flown, and it will take time for these vehicles to be accepted by the commercial market. Until they are, their low prices may be partially offset by much higher insurance premiums compared to the Ariane 5 or the ILS Proton.