The economic projection below is calculated to produce an all-in operating cost model and is based on listed assumptions. Our critical measure is cost per pound to low Earth orbit. The values used were judged reasonable by experts involved but are highly sensitive to exit velocity and robustness of operation. That is, at higher exit velocities, costs go down dramatically from smaller booster rockets for the necessary delta V. At lower exit velocities, costs go up. Similarly, with operational robustness greater than projected, costs will go down and conversely if the system is not robust and needs significant maintenance, costs can become significant.
Excluded are the substantial up-front capital costs provided in an assumed public and private partnership, ongoing research and development costs, external security costs and taxes.
An automatic loading quench launcher design is assumed with robust performance requiring only minimal inspection maintenance for this magnetically levitated system. Related necessary operations such as maintenance of vacuum, cooling, loading and exit door (and exit membranes if needed) are included as shown. Fitment of nose cones and solid rocket motors are also included. Production of Nose Cones and rocket motors are included as outside purchases.
Operation in a remote location is assumed.
The power generation economics assume the continuous charging capability of the launch tube, a key benefit of the storage capability of a quench launcher design. It assumes high efficiency for the launcher and very substantial energy use for cooling to 30 degrees K (to allow for highest performance of the HST’s) along with power for vacuum maintenance and related facilities.
Given a location in a remote location, analysis showed solar with utility scale storage as a lowest cost approach. In practice, this may well be best augmented with wind turbines and back up gas generators. Or possibly, entirely replaced by one of the new generation Small Modular Reactors. For simplicity, this study only considers solar generation. The large solar array required would be one of the top ten existing solar arrays already in use by size.
All other power, including significant cooling, vacuum maintenance, and facilities is estimated to be equal to that of the launch power requirement. Operating costs for power generation are based on data as confirmed by NREL (The National Renewable Energy Laboratory) Operating costs for a utility scale system are broken into fixed and variable operating maintenance costs (FOM and VOM). NREL estimates variable operating costs at near zero, with fixed operating costs at 2 ½% of CAPEX, and can be managed at purchase though warranty agreement.
Based on 35% of Carnot efficiency to 20 degrees Kelvin
The composite delivery cylinder itself is considered a deliverable to LEO. Users of the launch system are expected to provide raw materials in cylinders to EML launch specifications. Re-use or up cycling of composite materials on orbit is a key unsettled economic issue.
VP Quality Assurance
Administrative Assistants (3)
Six Executives + three admins = $2.5m / yr.
Launch Inspection and Maintenance
Facilities Inspection and Maintenance
Vendor and Raw Materials
Ten directors plus three admins = $2.5 m / yr.
10 Logistics, Purchasing, Accounting
15 Loading and component assembly
4 Information Technology
20 Security (non-DoD)
10 Fire Control
10 Power Generation
10 Vacuum Generation
20 Facilities and residence support
149 Operating Staff = $19m
Total estimated staff cost = $24m per year
3,500 square feet, Austin area at $250,000 per year
Travel, to remote site, and as needed (10 person trips / week x $2,000 per trip / 50 weeks per year) $1,00,000 x 2 for private aviation for trips to / from remote location) Other misc. expenses $1,000,000 + per year. Total = $4,000,000
Capital Costs as a necessary and federally funded “public good” project.
Depreciation & Amortization
Loss of .5 km/s from friction is added to the required 8.0 km/s Delta V
The typical specific impulse from a solid propellant is 220-280 s depending on propellant. Corresponding ideal nozzle exit velocities are 2150-2740 m/s, ignoring gravity, this gives propellant mass/launch mass = 1exp (Delta_v/exhaust_velocity). Based on simulations run in Octave the amount of solid fuel is increased in weight and cost from the initial specification by 50%. Minimal communications, guidance, and control equipment, although presumed to be necessary, are an assumed, not a calculated, value in this projection.
Full Capacity to LEO = 93,456,000 pounds / year (38,940lbs x 8/day x 6 days / week x50 weeks)
½ Capacity to LEO = 46,728,000 pounds / year
Staff Operating Staff Costs = $24,000,000 / year (Treated as fixed costs)
Electrical Generation Maintenance Cost = Warranty cost at time of purchase + staff as listed
Composite Solid Rocket Fuel (5.6 Km/s exit) = $75,000 / launch ($90m to $180m /year)
Communication, guidance, control kit = $20,000/ launch ($24m to $48m / year)
Listed consumables per flight = $11,000 / launch ($13.2m to $26.4m / year)
Misc. Expenses = $4,000,000 / year
Total Op Expense at Full Capacity = $282,400,000 per year or $3.02 per pound
Total Op Expense at ½ Capacity = $155,200,000 per year or $3.32 per pound
An examination of the potential economics underscores the possibility, even at a multiple of the estimated cost, that a quench launch system has the capacity to transform the economics of delivery to low earth orbit. The value to a space economy of a regular low-cost delivery service probably can’t be overstated and is comparable to the value of a highway or railroad system to a modern economy.