Innovation

SpaceX rival reveals a hidden advantage to reusing rockets

"We're really trying to smash down those barriers"

SpaceX is on a mission to reuse rockets, but it's not the only one in the race.

Rocket Lab, a California-based firm focused on small satellite launches, has been perfecting its helicopter-based booster recoveries. But while SpaceX wants to save its rockets to reduce the costs of spaceflight, Rocket Lab has identified another bonus: it won't need to build so many rockets.

“If we can get [the rocket] back even once, essentially, we've doubled our production rate,” CEO Peter Beck tells Inverse.

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SpaceX has focused on saving boosters to reduce flight costs. CEO Elon Musk stated in 2013 that reusing a Falcon 9 rocket saves around three-fourths of its $62 million price tag. Every little helps in the relatively small rocket launch industry, where CNBC reports SpaceX earned around $2 billion in revenue in 2018.

This, plus initiatives like the Starlink internet constellation, will help pay for Musk's planned city on Mars. Musk has estimated it could cost between $100 billion and $10 trillion.

For Rocket Lab, which launches much smaller rockets, the benefits are different. Watch the company's mid-air helicopter recovery demo from April below:

An average Rocket Lab mission costs around $7.5 million, which means it's already cheaper than other rockets. But reusing a rocket means Rocket Lab doesn't need to build so many factories, hire so many people, or build so many rockets.

That, in turn, would allow Rocket Lab to launch small satellites on its small rockets more often.

“We're really trying to smash down those barriers to allow commerce and innovation on orbit like never before,” Beck says.

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