In one hand, ICBMs used fancy, dangerous, poisonous chemicals as propellant. That must be more expensive as fuel, and might necessitate more expensive infrastructure than liquid hydrogen or kerosene. Plus the old problem: "a hammer from a hardware store is \$5; a hammer made by military contractor for the army is \$5000"

On the other hand, unlike with most civilian rockets, manufacture of ICBMs was streamlined. They were produced in thousands. That's a massive economy of scale.

Of course ICBMs being suborbital don't have a "natural" payload-to-orbit value. OTOH they carry quite heavy payloads (warheads), so either replacing these payloads with yet another stage, or even just reducing the payload, most of them could be used as space launch vehicles. The START-1 system is an example of such a conversion (but of course the actual cost is hidden in the fact military surplus rockets were used, which would have to be scrapped otherwise, so the launch costs doesn't really reflect the manufacturing costs).

I wonder how they compare cost-wise in that case. Do the military prerequisites drive the costs up more than the bulk production drives them down - comparing to civilian rockets?

  • $\begingroup$ Beside the point, but: Tools from the hardware store are generally a small step from scrap metal. Propper professional tools are easily worth 10-100 times as much. $\endgroup$ Apr 28 '16 at 12:53

Nuclear warheads are relatively light payloads by modern standards.

A single US W88 warhead and its reentry vehicle are probably in the ballpark of 250-300kg.

Minuteman III carries 3 such, i.e. less than 1 ton of suborbital payload, with a unit cost of \$7 million.

Trident II/D-5 carries up to 14 of them, less than 4.2 tons of suborbital payload -- possibly much less -- with a unit cost of \$37 million.

I don't know what the exact ∆v yield of a long-range ICBM is, but I believe it's fairly close to orbital.

Those costs are hardware only, not launch logistics cost. The figures seem broadly in line with general orbital launch costs, possibly somewhat more expensive.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.