As SpaceX enthusiasts, we sometimes tend to overlook the great progress other private space companies are making in the field of providing space launch services.
One such a promising company is Rocketlab.
Rocket Lab was founded in 2006 by Peter Beck in New Zealand.
It became the first private company in the Southern Hemisphere to reach further than the boundaries of space after launching its Ātea-1 rocket in November 2009. The experimental payload was not retrieved but this was not mission-critical.
In 2013 the company moved to the USA, California to set up its operations there. Where in 2016 they launched their newest rocket called Electron.
A 1.2 meter wide and 17 meters long Carbon fiber hull rocket capable of delivering 250 kilos to low earth orbit.
In 2018 they started experimenting to reuse the first stage of their Electron rocket. This to enable them to save costs since they would not need to build so many first stages for their growing list of upcoming missions.
On April 8, 2020, they managed to snag the first stage gliding down with a parachute with a helicopter. This proved that for future missions they would be able to reuse their first stage and thus going a similar way as SpaceX by offering more cost-effective launch services to potential clients with flight-proven hardware.
We at SpaceXvision were thinking that perhaps with the help of Starship cargo. Rocket lab could perhaps also reuse their second stage.
When Starship cargo will become operation, which we suspect will happen around the beginning of 2022. Missions could have a secondary mission which is to return cargo from space to earth safely.
As the second stage of the Electron rocket reaches a stable orbit to release their cargo, they would still be in good condition. There could be collection points for these used second stages. Once this collection point has all their docking spaces filled with Electron second stages, a Starship cargo could then take them in its cargo bay and bring them safely back to earth for reuse.
This would not cost SpaceX much extra in fuel.
These types of return mission could work very well in combination with SpaceX launching a batch of Starlink satellites. Since the Starlink network will operate in low earth orbit. Starship will not need to use much fuel to reach the orbit of the Electron second stage collection platform.
The costs of a full Electron rocket is estimated at 6 million $. Perhaps the costs of the second stage might be around 500K to 800K $.
Around 20 could fit into the cargo bay of Starship. If SpaceX were to charge Rocket lab 250K for each safe return of a second stage, they could earn up to 5 million $ extra from their launch. Which would cover more than 5 times the total fuel costs of 900K $ for the entire Starship launch.
SpaceX would then basically launch its Starlink satellites for zero costs.
And Rocket lab would save a lot on cost as well.
We believe that in the end, the different commercial launch providers will have to see each other differently as just competition. For if they don’t most players in this field will be on the losing end since one will always come out on top. In this case, it would be SpaceX.
In the case of SpaceX and Rocket lab, there could be some interesting cooperation between the two companies which would help both financially achieve their goals.
We are all in this together to make humanity a space fairing civilization. So as Nasa is also collaborating with SpaceX, it might be time for other commercial launch providers to do the same.