If a human space mission or even a very valuable space telescope, gets into trouble, an extra launch from Earth might save the mission. But launchers today have to be prepared for months in advance. How much of the launch cost would it typically require to keep a rescue launcher ready? It would only be consumed if needed, but there are preparation costs in any case.

If the payload and the launcher aren't actually launched, but only prepared, how expensive would that be? Maybe there's useful data about costs for preparing today's large launchers from the occasional mishaps when they are refitted and refueled for another day. Does the preparation and readiness of a crewed rescue mission need to be much more expensive?

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    $\begingroup$ Only as an addendum, lets remember that Soyuz 19 ASTP had a back-up rocket and spacecraft ready for launch, with cosmonauts Filiptchenko and Rukavishnikov aboard. The hardware was not lost, since Soyuz 19 back-up flew later, in 1977, as Soyuz 22 - an Earth resources research mission. Also, there was a special Apollo CSM available for a possible Skylab 3 and 4 rescue flight - but its preparations would take a few days or weeks for be ready for launch. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 8, 2015 at 17:37
  • $\begingroup$ How close to ready are you talking about? Is a single day sufficient? Or does someone need to be able to walk in to the rocket and launch? $\endgroup$
    – PearsonArtPhoto
    Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 22:32
  • $\begingroup$ @PearsonArtPhoto I mean as ready as need to be in order to rescue a failed crewed launch. Which means pretty much at the same time, or an Earthly spin later. ICBMs are ready on the minute, if we are to believe the military propaganda. $\endgroup$
    – LocalFluff
    Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 22:49
  • $\begingroup$ I've been to a Titan Missile (Museum), the launch took a minute if they were prepared, and somewhat longer if they weren't. Still, that's a somewhat different scenario, it's easier to launch an ICBM than it is something to a specific orbit. $\endgroup$
    – PearsonArtPhoto
    Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 22:50

1 Answer 1


There are a few variations on this, so let me talk about some of the limitations. I don't have a good grasp on the exact numbers, but hopefully this will give you an idea. I'm going to start with things that would allow you to re-use a mission, and what are some of the factors.

The first step is to have a rocket in assembly that can have it's mission changed. This would allow you to do a turn around a rocket as quickly as you make them, and doesn't add a lot of up front cost. It would cost quite a bit if you excersized the option, but if you need it, then it's available.

Next would be to have a rocket on the launch site. This would require a location to store the rocket. They are usually stored in a clean room of sorts. The expense is in building a second room, basically it would double the operating costs of the facilities at the launch location. This could still prove useful as it would allow you to do almost twice as many launches, processing two rockets at the same time. If you have one waiting in continual readiness, it reduces this effectiveness, but would allow you to launch a rocket even sooner.

Beyond this, you could have a mission on the pad, but not fueled. This would probably allow for a launch within a few hours. This could not be kept up for a long time, as the rocket would rust eventually, or have to be taken in due to weather constraints. If one of these two items happened, it would add considerably to the cost.

Finally, you could have a fully fueled rocket on the launch pad, ready to go. This would cost quite a bit extra. For the Space Shuttle, a scrub costs $1.2 million. Other vehicles are less, but it is still expensive. Thermal cycles add stress to the equipment, eventually leading to the potentials of failures. Also, keep in mind that this assumes a launch over a short period of time. If one were to leave the rocket exposed ready to launch for a longer period of time, the cost would go up.

Bottom line is, it all just depends how much you want to pay. I suspect that the readiness for the scenario you described wouldn't require anything more than having a backup rocket at the launch site. This allows for fairly quick turnaround of a launch, but not that quick. It doubles the cost at the pad, and might have some more subtle effects in increased maintenance for the rocket, but overall wouldn't break the bank.

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    $\begingroup$ $0.0012 billion? That's nothing. No wonder Shuttle launches were scrubbed so often if it was so very cheap. That's less than what NASA spends every hour day and night. $\endgroup$
    – LocalFluff
    Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 22:59
  • $\begingroup$ Note that they say $500k in fuel, $700k in wages for people involved in the launch. A backup rocket wouldn't have personnel standing by for the launch and thus wouldn't incur most of this cost. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 21:00

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