With the launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 V1.1 Nov 25th (Assuming it succeeds), it will apparently be the first US Commercial launch (I assume to GEO, since Orbital, with all the commercial small sats they have been launching, would otherwise count) in four years.

Basically the entire market went to ILS with Proton, and ArianeSpace with Ariane V. (Some to China, if you could be ITAR free)

What happened to the US commercial launch market? I know that the Atlas V and Delta IV are 'expensive' but Ariane V is not particularly cheap, nor is Proton.

Gwynne Shotwell of SpaceX had noted that in 2012, every commercial satellite launch competition (that they competed for) had been won by SpaceX. So SpaceX will very clearly aim to change this situation.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm gonna take this opportunity here to invite everyone to our main chat room for the two launches today - also announced in the community bulletin, that yellow box you can see to the right - the launch of the Soyuz/Proton on a resupply mission to the ISS and about 2 hours later SpaceX Falcon 9/SES 8. We'll post links to live streams, chat about the two events, and so on. All welcome, should be an excellent day/night for space launches! :) $\endgroup$
    – TildalWave
    Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 16:32
  • $\begingroup$ @TildalWave I am greatly anticipating the SpaceX launch! Before bedtime for my son as well, perfect timing! $\endgroup$
    – geoffc
    Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 16:55

2 Answers 2


The loss of the commercial market is clearly caused by a series of bad decisions starting in the 1980's and 1990's.

With the advent of the Space Shuttle, it was US policy for a while to launch everything on the Shuttle. This made some kind of sense at the time, since they still lived under the illusion that they would be able to meet a high flight rate on the Shuttle (Max was 9 in one year, so never happened) and thus needed a large number of flights waiting to fly to sustain that rate.

In order to force this issue, the other commerical launchers were mostly shut down. Atlas 2, Delta 2, etc. (Titan was never really a commercial launcher).

Then once the Challenger example forced a reexamination of this policy, the various boosters were shut down but they resurected the Atlas 2 at least.

It flew a fairly large number of flights post Challenger.

But then with the advent of the Atlas 3/5 and Delta 4 in order to push usage of those boosters they pushed back on the Atlas 2, aiming for another shut down.

Each time they did this, prices went up and they priced themselves out of the market.

Europe at least kept the Ariane 4 running at affordable rates until the Ariane 5 was ready to take over.

SpaceX is aiming to turn that around again.



This is one of the better answers

Basically, the Atlas V and the Delta IV are significantly more expensive than an Ariane V or Proton. Also the former were designed mainly for the USAF and their payloads and they have structured their business that way.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ That and the Ariane and Proton are heavily subsidized by their respective governments. Not that American vehicles aren't, it is just a question of degree. $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 22:16
  • $\begingroup$ What evidence do you have that the Proton is subsidized? $\endgroup$
    – Mark Adler
    Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 22:23
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ The Proton was orginally an ICBM -- so it's entire initial development cost was subsidized... $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 20:43

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