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Aerospace guru explains why SpaceX reuses rockets – and it’s not to save money

Updated Jul 11th, 2017 9:59AM EDT

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SpaceX’s reusable rocket technology has been hailed as the future of space travel, and even the Russians have admitted that the company seems to be on to something, but when it comes to return on investment, one of SpaceX’s founding team members says that launching the same first stages multiple times isn’t actually where the company sees the boost to its bottom line. 

Jim Cantrell is the CEO of Vector Space Systems. He’s worked for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and was a founding member of both SpaceX and the Google Lunar X Prize-winning Moon Express. When it comes to the space industry, he’s the kind of guy who you should listen to, and in a recent response to a Quora question about exactly how much money SpaceX is saving by reusing its Falcon rocket, Cantrell revealed the real reason (he believes) the company has pursued reusable hardware so vigorously isn’t actually to save money, but to increase the number of launches the company is able to perform.

“Reusability allows a marked increase in flight rates,” Cantrell explained. “Reverse engineered financial models of SpaceX show that to reach a good strong positive cash flow, they need more than the traditional 10–12 launches per year that sized rocket has demonstrated. Reusability should easily double the amount of flights possible from a mere production and logistics standpoint.”

As far as the discounts being offered to clients whose devices and cargo is being launch on “flight-proven” rockets, “I am thinking that very few, if any, of the SpaceX Falcon 9 first stages are going to be re-used for more than 3 or so flights,” Cantrell said.  “SpaceX will therefore not break even on the reusability portion of the equation.”