In early November 2025, SpaceX has won a contract to launch the joint US-European Sentinel 6B radar satellite, five years after NASA also selected SpaceX to launch Sentinel 6A, the first of two similar satellites. Which was designed to use a radar altimeter to determine global sea level more accurately than ever before.
In October 2017, half a year after reusing SpaceX’s first Falcon 9 rocket booster and following cost savings, NASA provided SpaceX with a 1.1-ton (~2500 lb) 1.1-ton (~2500 lb) rocket for launch. $94 million awarded in a relatively short 1300 days.
Five years and two months later, NASA has awarded SpaceX $97 million to launch a nearly identical satellite into the same orbit, from the same launch pad, with the same rocket. SpaceX has effectively mastered Falcon booster and payload fairing reuse since half a decade ago.
It will join its twin satellite Sentinel-6 MF in #SeeingTheSeas!
— NASA's Launch Services Program (@NASA_LSP) December 20, 2022
SpaceX has reused Falcon boosters on 130 launches, including sensitive US military missions and NASA astronaut launches. SpaceX has launched nearly 70 internal Starlink missions without bankrupting the company.
CEO Elon Musk has said that the modest cost of a Falcon 9 launch is just $15 million, while another executive once estimated the total cost of a Falcon 9 launch with flight-proven hardware at $28 million. Perhaps most significantly, SpaceX won a contract in 2019 to launch NASA’s small IXPE X-ray telescope on a Falcon 9 for just $50 million.
SpaceX completed the mission in December 2021 by launching the 330 kg (~730 lb) spacecraft into an approximately 600 km (~370 mi) orbit. IXPE was initially expected to launch on Aerojet Rocketdyne’s troubled air-launch Pegasus XL rocket, which launched a small NASA spacecraft for about $55 million.
By and large, this may be the best explanation for SpaceX and its executives — both of whom have consistently reiterated that the company aims to radically reduce the cost of orbital launches without translating those higher costs into bigger price tags.
Simply put, despite the fact that SpaceX has openly discussed its intentions for more than a decade, there is no rocket on Earth that can beat the Falcon 9’s combination of performance, cadence, reliability, and affordability. In exchange for a sign of competitive pressure from the rest of the industry, particularly for contracts limited to US industry, SpaceX has decided it can justify those actions as much as it can generate profit.
To SpaceX’s credit, the reality is even grayer than some of the limited numbers. Over the past three years, SpaceX’s prices for Smallsat rideshare customers have repeatedly come down and become more flexible. Additionally, after five years of inflation, SpaceX’s $94 million Sentinel 6A contract would be worth about $114 million today.