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How Cynical? Who, me? December 26, 2008

Posted by drspaceshow in Uncategorized.

This post is published as a courtesy to OldSpaceCadet, Dr. John Jurist, as he does not have his password to post this message. All comments regarding this post should be addressed to OldSpaceCadet.

How Cynical? Who, me?

A Christmas Eve Present from Rocket Man on http://www.rocketsandsuch.blogspot.com/ raises a very interesting issue:

The Emperor’s New Math

One metric ton is approximately 2204.6 lbs.

Twenty metric tons is therefore about 44092 lbs.

For $1.9B, Orbital Sciences may deliver 44092 lbs of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) over the course of eight launches of its non-existent Taurus II rocket. By the way, the first stage of this rocket is derived from the Ukrainian-Russian Zenit. The same Russians we are worried about helping us through the Emperor’s self-made “gap.”

Back to the chalkboard. We divide 44092 lbs into $1.9B and find that Orbital will charge about $43092 per pound under its new commercial services contract to take cargo to ISS.

The KSC website shuttle faq reports that a space shuttle flight costs about
$450M to launch. They also say that a space shuttle costs about $1.7B to build.

The Emperor’s book, “Space Vehicle Design,” states on page 241 that
a space shuttle can carry about 16 metric tons (35273.6 lbs) to ISS on each
flight. Using the $450M per flight number from the KSC web site, that works
out to about $12757 per pound.

To summarize, go Commercial for $43092/lb.

Or go NASA for $12757/lb. (gold plated toilets and hammers included).

Or we could build a brand new space shuttle that could almost launch all of this cargo at once for less than the cost of paying for just one of the two
commercial contracts just awarded. For the total $3.5B offered, using NASA’s
numbers, we could buy two brand spanking new shuttles, launch each with their requisite loads, complete the contract obligations, and have two only slightly used space shuttles left over for whatever comes next.

What is wrong with this picture?



1. Jonathan Goff - December 27, 2008

At least from what Jorge Frank pointed out on NASASpaceflight.com, was that this isn’t a real fair apples to apples comparison. What he suggested would be a better comparison is the amount of payload you could bring up in an MPLM. Which is far less than a full shuttle payload.

Also, you’ll note he didn’t do the numbers for the SpaceX bid numbers (which you’ll notice come out a lot better).

Also, the cost of keeping the space shuttle program around for another 6 years to handle contingencies would cost somewhere near 10x as much as either CRS provider’s total program is worth….

IOW, while it seems funny at first, the more you dig into it, the less substantial the claim appears to be.


2. Eric Haynes - December 27, 2008

I admit it, I’m baffled by this as well. I’m hoping the new administration will really take a hard look at discrepancies like this and make the appropriate changes.

There I go, hoping again…

3. Rand Simberg - December 28, 2008

It’s a terrible analysis, from a cost standpoint. As I explained over there, among many other issues, it’s nonsensical to imagine that we could build two more orbiters for $1.7B each. None of the tooling even exists to do so any more. That was how much they cost when they were in production, but there’s no way it’s the current marginal cost. He shouldn’t give so much credence to a KSC web site for cost numbers.

No, the COTS program, while not cheap, is a much better deal than extending Shuttle, and it offers a path to much lower costs in the future.

4. Eric Haynes - December 28, 2008

Another hope: Maybe NASA isn’t really looking for value here, they might be subsidizing both SpaceX and Orbital Sciences until they get up and running on their own.

All this in an attempt to get out of the LEO business altogether.

5. Thomas Olson - December 29, 2008

As I mentioned on the Space Show Sunday afternoon, it’s possible that a lot of reimbursement for R&D or other expenses was factored into the award, accounting for a significant proportion of the funds. Hence, that may not be a direct per-flight or per-pound launch cost. But without being able to read the precise wording of the award contract, that’s merely speculative. In any event, I’m still glad this discussion is happening. “New Space” is constantly claiming they can do it faster-better-cheaper than “Old Space”, if only they would be given the money/contract to let them prove it. The numbers need to be scrutinized in detail, and feet held to the fire if necessary.

6. anonymous - January 10, 2009

What’s sad is that Griffin “Ordered” Boeing and Lockheed
to not bid this work. Using the Delta 4, you could save
the R&D, and get a “Workmanlike” solution up now

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