"No one is as cocky as they once were in the way they think about SpaceX," said Marco Caceres, director of space studies for aerospace and defense analysts Teal Group, referring to SpaceX's competitors. "In fact, they're paying SpaceX the highest compliment by trying to copy SpaceX in terms of their model."
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That model, from the company's founding in 2002, has centered on driving down cost, and in that respect,SpaceX has proved wildly successful. Though what a given customer pays a launch services provider for a ride to orbit is typically a closely guarded secret, analysts typically peg SpaceX's prices around 20 percent to 30 percent lower than its competitors for a commercial satellite launch. For a launch that could easily run $100 million or more by industry standards, that discount is meaningful. (Tweet this)
But SpaceX—which declined to comment on this story—has impacted the marketplace in ways that extend beyond the raw cost of a Falcon 9 launch. Through its willingness to bundle multiple smaller customers into a single launch aboard its larger-payload rockets, it has opened up the growing small satellite industry as well, expanding its potential customer base there. It has slowly but steadily improved its launch frequency, building widespread confidence in its vehicle. And it has made visible steps toward recovering and reusing its first-stage rocket boosters—something that could significantly drive down launch costs even further if SpaceX engineers can make it work.
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All that has quickly put SpaceX in a position to compete in nearly every segment of the launch market—from civil to commercial and soon military/intelligence. And it has also made SpaceX the launch company to beat. Throughout the industry the new realities created by SpaceX are beginning to manifest themselves in other companies as they retrench, adjust their business models and bring new, lower-cost technologies to market in hopes of eroding SpaceX's competitive advantage.