Declining Cost of Accessing Space

For as long as human civilization has existed we have always sought to explore the world around us. Our innate desire for exploration and discovery is what makes us unique as a species.

However, our world as we know it is about to become a whole lot bigger. Thanks to a number of pivotal breakthroughs in rocket technology over the past 10 years we are now on the cusp of a space revolution that will begin to see the human race explore deep space and ultimately colonize other planets in our solar system.

Currently, the biggest obstacle preventing us from exploring outer space has been the cost of getting to orbit. Historically, the price tag of building and sending a rocket to orbit has been between $100 million to $300 million, and this has kept the pace of launches stuck around 80 launches per year.

But in order to become a true spacefaring civilization, the cost to access space must fall exponentially to the point where the number of launches will go from 80 per year to one per day.

Thanks to the pioneering work by SpaceX in developing reusable rockets, the cost of launches have begun dropping significantly [see Figure 1].

A chart outlining the declining launch cost (per kilogram of cargo) into space from 1967, with the Saturn V, to the estimated cost of the Falcon Heavy in 2018
Chart:  Launch CostsDeclinding

SpaceX has proven that you can get to space on the cheap, by bringing down the cost of launch by a factor of 10, from hundreds of millions of dollars to tens of millions of dollars.

As a result, the declining cost in rocket manufacturing has begun to drive the launch market significantly [see Figure 2]. A dozen space startups are now chasing SpaceX to build their own rockets, companies such as Rocket Lab, Vector Space Systems, and Blue Origin.

Rocket Lab and Vector plan to launch small satellites into low earth orbit, charging between $1M to $5M per launch. Blue Origin is developing their own reusable rockets for both space tourism and eventually deep space exploration.

A critical component of launch vehicles and a significant factor in maximizing payload capacity are composite pressure vessels (CPV). These tanks are used to store propellant fuel and also function as pressurant tanks. CPVs are also used in satellites and probes as part of the spacecraft propulsion system. They’re also used as oxygen storage tanks in orbiting space stations.

The economics of launches are highly sensitive to the vehicle weight. For example, for every kilogram saved on a rocket traveling to low earth orbit, this would translate to a savings of $8,000 per kilogram on the overall launch costs (see Figure 3). Therefore, CPVs need to be as lightweight as possible yet strong enough to withstand the

A chart showing planned space vehicle manufacturing revenue overtime over the figure 1 chart above.
Chart: Declining Space Vehicle Cost

demands of pressurized fuel storage. In fact, the explosion of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket in September 2016 was caused by a composite overwrapped pressure vessel (COPV) liner failure that led to an ignition of super chilled oxygen which caused the catastrophic explosion.

Infinite Composites Technologies’ (ICT) simplified all-composite design eliminates the liner, which is a leading failure point among CPVs. As a result, this provides users with up to 10% more fuel storage compared to other composite tanks and is up to 90% lighter than traditional metallic pressure vessels.

When comparing CPVs in the industry, ICT has the best pressure vessel efficiency ([burst pressure x volume]/weight) or PV/W of any known vessel, based on data from more than 140 pressure vessels (see figure 4). This efficiency is how the industry compares tanks on an apples-to-apples basis. The pressure vessel efficiency of the leading tank manufacturers tops out at around 1.24 million. The higher the number, the better the efficiency. ICT’s current best PV/W is 1.57 million, representing a 26.6% improvement, which directly translates to an overall lower vehicle and operational costs.

If you’re interested in learning more about our pressure vessels and how we can meet your tank requirements, please contact us to schedule a call with our engineering team.

A visual graphic demonstrating the cost per kilogram from Low Earth Orbit at $8,000 per kilogram, to GEO at $27,000 per kilogram, to the Lunar surface at $1.2 million per kilogram, and finally $2.7 million for one kilogram to the surface of Mars.
Graphic: Cost per Kilogram from Low Earth Orbit to Mars