How Much Does It Cost to Launch a Rocket? The Historical Data of the Space Shuttle, Saturn V, Falcon 9 Launch Costs & More

Introduction

While space launch vehicles exhibit diverse characteristics, their fundamental objective remains consistent: ensuring the secure placement of payloads into Earth’s orbit.

Distinct differences between these vehicles, such as overall lifting capacity and the incorporation of reusable components, can significantly influence launch expenses.

This dataset compares launch costs among space launch vehicles by incorporating various vehicle attributes into a singular metric: the expense to launch one kilogram of payload mass into low Earth orbit (LEO) through a dedicated launch.

All cost assessments are represented in terms of fiscal year 2021 dollars. Adjustments for inflation within this dataset utilize the GDP Chained Price Index as provided by the Office of Management and Budget.

Launch Cost Methodology

Approaching the task of estimating costs for space launch vehicles is often intricate and nuanced. Numerous scenarios involve private or classified contracts to facilitate space launches.

In certain instances, launch service providers may present costs for a specific configuration of a launch vehicle, despite having a diverse array of vehicle variants that offer greatly varying capabilities to potential clients. Notably, the very concept of “launch cost” can be subject to interpretation and variability.

Within this dataset, the per-kilogram launch cost generally aligns with the “unit flyaway cost,” a term adopted from the aviation industry.

As indicated by the RAND Corporation, the unit flyaway cost encompasses both direct and indirect manufacturing expenses, along with their corresponding overhead. This cost also factors in recurring engineering, the maintenance of essential tooling, and quality control.

Typically, the unit flyaway cost further incorporates provisions or allocations to account for system and program management, engineering changes including software updates, and the associated testing.

Moreover, nonrecurring tooling, manufacturing, and engineering expenditures are also included in this calculation.

However, for older launch vehicles that were frequently funded directly by civil space agencies and military services, unit flyaway costs might not always be available.

In such instances, one-time expenses like research and development could be included in the figure. As a result of these variations, the data source is presented on a per-vehicle basis within the interactive chart.

It’s worth noting that in this dataset, the count for “number of successful orbital launches” encompasses all launches that occurred before December 31, 2019, and is based on the rocket’s first successful orbital launch.

The Data

Cost per KG for Launching Space Vehicles to LEO Based on First Successful Launch:

  • 🇺🇸 Falcon Heavy: $1,500
  • 🇺🇸 Falcon 9: $2,600
  • 🇨🇳 Angara: $4,500
  • 🇨🇳 Zenit 2: $5,100
  • 🇺🇸 Saturn V: $5,400
  • 🇨🇳 Long March 3B: $6,200
  • 🇨🇳 Long March 4B: $7,600
  • 🇨🇳 Long March 5: $7,900
  • 🇷🇺 Proton: $8,200
  • 🇨🇳 Long March 2C: $8,300
  • 🇷🇺 R-36: $8,400
  • 🇮🇳 PSVL: $8,500
  • 🇷🇺 Zenit 3SL: $8,900
  • 🇨🇳 Long March 2D: $9,100
  • 🇷🇺 DNEPR: $9,600
  • 🇨🇳 Long March 2E: $9,900
  • 🇮🇳 GSLV: $10,000
  • 🇺🇸 Delta IV: $10,400
  • 🇯🇵 H-II: $10,500
  • 🇨🇳 Long March 11: $10,600
  • 🇺🇸 STRELA: $11,200
  • 🇺🇸 Delta IV Heavy: $11,600
  • 🇺🇸 Falcon 1: $12,600
  • 🇷🇺 Kosmos: $14,900
  • 🇨🇳 Shian Quxian: $17,300
  • 🇨🇳 Long March 2A: $17,500
  • 🇷🇺 Soyuz: $17,900
  • 🇪🇺 Ariane 44: $18,300
  • 🇺🇸 Atlas II: $18,700
  • 🇷🇺 SHTIL: $19,100
  • 🇪🇺 Athena 1: $19,200
  • 🇪🇺 Vega: $20,000
  • 🇷🇺 ROKOT: $20,600
  • 🇷🇺 Titan III+: $21,000
  • 🇺🇸 Delta 3000-Series: $21,400
  • 🇷🇺 START: $23,600
  • 🇺🇸 Minotaur IV: $30,500
  • 🇷🇺 Titan II: $30,600
  • 🇷🇺 Titan IV: $30,800
  • 🇷🇺 Shavit: $31,000
  • 🇺🇸 Delta 3910: $32,800
  • 🇯🇵 Epsilon: $34,500
  • 🇺🇸 Delta II: $38,800
  • 🇺🇸 Pegasus: $41,000
  • 🇯🇵 M-V: $45,800
  • 🇺🇸 Space Shuttle: $65,400
  • 🇺🇸 Minotaur I: $73,100
  • 🇺🇸 Scout: $118,500
  • 🇺🇸 Delta E: $177,900
rocket launch cost data: Falcon 9 launch cost, space shuttle launch cost, etc
Credit: Center for Strategic and International Studies

Conclusion

In terms of FY21 dollars, more contemporary launch vehicles generally exhibit reduced expenses compared to older counterparts, with a gradual decline spanning from 1957 to 2005, followed by a more pronounced decrease between 2005 and 2020.

In nominal dollars, per-kilogram costs saw an increase from 1957 to 2005 and generally witnessed a decline from 2005 to 2020.

These trends highlight the cost trajectory of space launch vehicles, reflecting the technological advancements that have driven down expenses for more recent launches, ultimately contributing to the growing accessibility of space exploration.

Source

Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Space Launch to Low Earth Orbit: How Much Does It Cost?” Aerospace Security Project, CSIS, 2021

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