Cost of a single launch
From Launch vehicles: an economic perspective:
The 1994 study of DOD launch vehicles (mainly Titan and Atlas) showed
the breakdown of the various components of a launch. The vehicle was
only about half of the total cost. The remainder was divided among
operations (30%), payload integration (5%) and “other” government
Production cost: 114m (not launch cost, based on Arianespace's purchase of 35 rockets for 4bn) (in €, 2009)
Upper stage: ~20m
EPC (first stage incl. Vulcain), VEB (control system on top of second stage), fairing: 69m
Production cost is subject to a cost curve: if the first rocket to be built costs 100%, the second will be (roughly) 90% of that, the third will be 90% of the second.
The curve will look like this:
So the 200th rocket costs 50% of the first one to build. In rocket terms, that's a huge production run.
To produce a rocket, you need expensive tooling:
- A building large enough to maneuver the stage in.
- E.g. to weld the first stage, you need a welding fixture large enough to hold the entire stage, and accurate to within millimeters, if not less.
- if you use carbon composites, you need an autoclave (vacuum oven) large enough for the largest piece you make. Some rockets have the outer skin of entire stages built as a single piece of carbon composite.
- milling and welding equipment for exotic materials, like the high-temperature alloys used in rocket engines.
- inspection equipment (again, huge systems to inspect an entire first stage tank).
All this tooling has to be paid off over a small (in terms of mass production) number of rockets built. The tooling can cost on the order of billions.
Because of the small production run, you can't automate everything. So there's lots of highly-qualified labor involved.
The cost of the materials is only a small part of the production cost.
Again, Ariane 5, from 'Europäische Tragerraketen, band 2', Bernd Leitenberger:
Studies and tests 125
solid boosters 355
H120 first stage 270
HM60 (Vulcain) engine and test stands 738
other elements of the first stage and boosters 95
upper stage and VEB 200
ground support in Europe 80
Buildings and other structures in Kourou (launch pad) 450
Test flights 185
ESA and CNES management 102
This was the budget in million €, as set in 1985. Final cost was on the order of 120% of this budget.