Wednesday, December 24, 2008

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?

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ding!

Anonymous said...

There's nothing wrong. Regardless of the per flight costs and the actual flight rate, Shuttle costs NASA $4-5 billion (with a "B") per year to keep around. Over five years (2011-2015), that comes to $20-25 billion. Even if all the options are exercised on both, the OSC and Space-X contracts come to to less than $4 billion. That's $16-21 billion in net savings to NASA and the taxpayer. There's no reason to spend that kind of additional money on Shuttle for these kinds of basic medium-lift/ISS berthing capabilities. For once, Griffin is doing the right thing here.

The important question is what to spend those savings on. Having NASA attempt to poorly duplicate these LEO lift capabilities over the next five-plus years with the Ares I/Orion boondoggle? Or leveraging these LEO lift capabilities (and/or EELVs and/or truly Shuttle-derived vehicles) over the next five years with new national capabilities in heavy lift, in-space propellant management, lunar transport systems, etc.? That's where Griffin's strategy is very misguided and deserves much criticism.

Anonymous said...

Shuttle only need cost $2B a year to keep around when overlapped with Constellation's staffing needs. We are also going to be paying the Europeans, the Japanese, and the Russians for services as well to meet total US requirements. Point taken that there may be some savings, but its not as big as you think. For sure, we are misappropriating what little savings may result on this two-way gamble.

Jake said...

The CRS payload figures are net, but the Shuttle payload figures are gross. To compare accurately, you have to subtract out the mass of the MPLM, payload support structures, etc.

NASA spent $4B on the space shuttle in 2008, and flew four times. $4B divided by four flights gives $1B per flight, not $450M.

So yes, if you grossly inflate the payload capability of the space shuttle and grossly understate the cost, it looks like a better deal.

Anonymous said...

Of course, if you do the transition right, you can get that non-recurring down.

Anonymous said...

Methinks that Griffin gave his former employer a fat juicy contract, and will find a padded chair waiting for him there when his current employment ends.

Rand Simberg said...

There is no way to build additional orbiters for that cost per vehicle. It's based on what the original fleet cost, when all of the subs were up and running in the seventies and early eighties. Many of them have gone out of business. The only reason that we could afford to build Endeavor after the loss of Challenger was because NASA had procured structural spares before the lines shut down. I'm not sure that the tooling even exists any more for the spar and keel, for example. So it would cost a lot of money to recreate those parts, for a production run of only two? I don't think so.

As others have pointed out, there are implicit assumptions in those KSC numbers (particularly per-flight costs, which are highly sensitive to annual launch rate) that have to be considered. We have to get on to new systems (though I'm no big fan of Orbital or Taurus II). And if Orbital can't perform, SpaceX can pick up some of their business, at even lower prices.

kT said...

There is no way to build additional orbiters

Why build more orbiters? Isn't three enough? 14 serviceable SSMEs and 50 odd flight set spares on the shelves isn't enough to fly those things out?

Cancel Constellation and you can have COTS A, B, C, D, ISS Cargo, fly both EELVs, both COTS vehicles, buy all the Soyuz' you need, fly all three shuttles, and still have enough left over to do some second generation rocket science with and remaining SSMEs and their spares.

Anonymous said...

That hate for ULA/EELVs at NASA must be palpable; they wouldn't even throw a dog a bone. I'd imagine they'd burn the heretics at the stake if they could.

Anonymous said...

NASA told Lockheed to not Bid COTS.

i expect in a few months lochkeed will
see COTS cancelled

Anonymous said...

Cancel COTS and CRS and do what? Pay the Russians instead?

Also, this is CRS, not COTS and Lockheed was already in the bid with PlanetSpace proposal.

John Kavanagh said...

"i expect in a few months lochkeed will see COTS cancelled"

And, consequently, ISS reduced to a skeleton crew for lack of supplies?

Anonymous said...

This erroneous ire for the CRS selection process makes me think that maybe there really is NOTHING to conspiracy theories. The blogosphere is looking in the wrong place this time. This cigar really is just a cigar.

Anonymous said...

All of the commenters missed the ironic point of the write-up. Commerical services offer no bargains and only add to the risk of keeping ISS in orbit.

With an extra flight being added for AMS, its not that hard to envision the shuttle huggers adding another two or three flights to upload spares and supplies and meet all of the CRS obligations in 2011. The extra flights will help in the still-to-be-figured-out transition and come in under $2B if managed well.

After that, little stuff will find its way up on ATV. HTV, and Progress with a much higher probability of success than the so far unflown amateurs.

Anonymous said...

Don't you get it? This is a FAR 12 commercial buy. NASA is now committed to spending this money. It doesn't go away unless the contractors screw up (T for D). T for C, NASA is out 3.5B.

All this talk of cancellation or use of Shuttle or foreign is ignorant.

Anonymous said...

"After that, little stuff will find its way up on ATV. HTV, and Progress with a much higher probability of success than the so far unflown amateurs."

While for SpaceX I will grant you the right to call them amateurs still, Orbital has been in the business for what... 26 years?
Exactly at which point does one stop being an amateur? Yeah, their new vehicle is unflown as of yet, but so was ATV up to several months ago - did that make ESA amateur?

Anonymous said...

Don't go blaming the contractors on this one except for having suffered a severe case of synaptic flatulence for having bid the job in the first place.

The customer is dictating the design while the contractor inputs, comments, hints, concerns et al are being totally ignored. After all when Glenn writes it, it must be good!

I am going to ask for my money back on my education because it did not enable me to completely redesign a successful machine into a totally new, man-rated rocket with virtually no practical experience to my credit! Oh, the pride and smugness they must feel.

kT said...

After that, little stuff will find its way up on ATV. HTV, and Progress with a much higher probability of success than the so far unflown amateurs.

After 8 or 12 consecutive failures, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences might indeed want to rethink their approach to launch.

Anonymous said...

1st shuttle flight each year cost 3.5 billion. All the rest are free.

Anonymous said...

you need to use NASA Ares math.
lbs/No. Launch vehicle +.344/4*1.98/3*87.33 + N = cost perlaunch

Anonymous said...

It took Europe ten years to dvelop and fly the ATV. Oribtal and SpaceX thnk they can do the same in three years time. The other partners need to agree before they let these privately developed cargo ships get anywhere near their multi-billion dollar modules. BTW - The contract is closer to IDIQ than anything else. If Orbital and SpaceX fail to meet their miltestones (which they surely will), NASA pays nada.

Anonymous said...

Rocket Man: Used your piece on today's Space Show (www.thespaceshow.com) Who are you, please contact me. There might be a Space Show in this subject. Thanks.

David Livingston
The Space Show
www.thespaceshow.com

Anonymous said...

kT said: "After 8 or 12 consecutive failures, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences might indeed want to rethink their approach to launch."

And what is your basis for such "optimism" apart from arm-waving? My, my... the cynism abounds.

kT said...

The other partners need to agree before they let these privately developed cargo ships get anywhere near their multi-billion dollar modules.

One day someone somewhere will be launching their own multi million dollar modules with their own built in bumpers on their own hundred million dollar launch vehicles, into equatorial orbit, and suddenly these hundred billion dollar space stations and billion dollar launch vehicles will find themselves to be irreversibly obsolete.

The sooner the better as far as I'm concerned, we can't afford more hundred billion dollar trash cans.

kT said...

And what is your basis for such "optimism" apart from arm-waving? My, my... the cynism abounds.

My optimism is based upon the simple idea that they may wish to exit the launch business long before they reach a world record of eight to twelve consecutive launch failures.

Three consecutive launch failures by a startup company with no previous launch experience, while developing an entirely new launch vehicle, is something we expect. Eight to twelve consecutive launch failures by established and operational aerospace organizations would certainly have to give the funding agencies pause for thought.

Any further thoughts on program failures of this magnitude, for instance, failure before a single launch, would be much appreciated.