In an interview with the magazine "Der Spiegel" the CEO of the Ariane group Alain Charmeau makes the following statement:

Entschuldigung, aber das stimmt nicht. Man sollte sich fragen, warum SpaceX der US-Regierung pro Start 100 Millionen Dollar in Rechnung stellt, Starts für europäische Kunden aber viel billiger anbietet. Warum machen die das?


Sie machen das, um Europa aus dem Weltraum zu kicken. Und die Öffentlichkeit und unsere Politiker sollten das wissen. Es geht um die Frage, ob Europa auch morgen noch im Weltraum aktiv ist. Unsere US-Freunde unterstützen das nicht wirklich. Ich unterschreibe auf der Stelle Verträge mit europäischen Regierungen für 100 Millionen Dollar pro Start. Das ist der Preis, den SpaceX von der eigenen Regierung verlangt. Wenn aber Deutschland Starts partout billiger einkaufen will, profitiert davon unser US-Wettbewerber.

My english translation:

Excuse me, but that is not true. One should ask why SpaceX charges the US government $100 million per launch, but offers launches to european customers much cheaper. Why do they do that?


They do that to kick Europe out of space. And the public and our politicians should know that. It's about whether Europe will still be active in space tomorrow. Our friends from the US don't really support that. I'll immediately sign contracts for $100 million per launch. That is the price SpaceX charges their own government. But if Germany insists on buying launches cheaper, our US competitor benefits from that.

Is it true that SpaceX charges the US government more than it charges commercial customers and other governments?

Unfortunately the interview doesn't address any specifics, but I would interpret this claim to be about somewhat comparable launches. Supplying the ISS or launching national security payloads would not be comparable to launching a simple satellite.

  • Am I reading this right? The claim is that SpaceX charges less to Europe than to the United States, and that this hurts Europe? What is the logic here?
    – Kip
    May 25, 2018 at 19:09
  • 2
    It removes incentive to develop own launch systems and/or draws business away from existing ones. At least that's how I interpret the statement. This is called "dumping", and is an argument hardly unique to space launch systems. May 31, 2018 at 11:33

1 Answer 1


Yes, it's true that that SpaceX charges NASA and the USAF higher rates... but there's a good reason.


In a March 21 interview on TheSpaceShow.com, Shotwell appeared to address one of the critiques regularly leveled at SpaceX by its European rival, Arianespace of France. When SpaceX aims at the commercial launch market, it is mainly targeting Arianespace’s market share, now around 50 percent.

Arianespace and French government officials have said Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX is able to undercut Arianespace’s pricing by amortizing Falcon 9’s fixed costs with its large book of U.S. government — up to now, just NASA — business, for which the company charges more.

SpaceX states that the reason for this is that these customers have additional, expensive requirements.

“It’s more expensive to do these missions,” she said of U.S. government launches compared with commercial missions. “The Air Force asks for more stuff. The missions we do for NASA under the [NASA Launch Services] contract are also more expensive because NASA asks to do more analysis.

“They have us provide more data to them. They have folks that basically reside here in SpaceX, and we need to provide engineering resources to them and respond to their questions. So by definition, the way the government buys missions is more expensive.

“It depends on each individual mission, but the NASA extra stuff is about $10 million. The Air Force stuff is an extra $20 million. And if there is a high security requirement, that can add another $8 million to $10 million. All in, Falcon 9 prices are still well below $100 million even with all of this stuff.”

The claim of "They do that to kick Europe out of space" strikes me as unlikely. Charging NASA the lower, normal rate wouldn't help European launchers be any more competitive - they'd still be priced out. American competitors like ULA are similarly struggling with SpaceX's pricing.

The Ariane launcher gets its own government subsidies, too.


The ESA decision on Ariane 5 price supports, which will total 240 million euros ($318 million) over two years, drew an immediate reaction from Arianespace’s principal competitor, International Launch Services (ILS).

  • 2
    Agree with everything until "Charging NASA the lower, normal rate wouldn't help European launchers[...]". If indeed SpaceX was cross-subsidizing European launches (charging more in the US to charge less in Europe), a reduction in US fees would lead to an increase in European fees, "helping" European launchers.
    – FooBar
    May 22, 2018 at 11:14
  • @FooBar Sure, but even if SpaceX launches jumped to $80-90M in Europe, Ariane etc. still wouldn't be price-competitive. flightglobal.com/news/articles/… indicates an Ariane 5 launch costs "$165-220 million".
    – ceejayoz
    May 22, 2018 at 13:54

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