Running some numbers

I had a comment to yesterdays post highlighting the official NASA line they “intend to rent Russian seats to get to space until a private shuttle is ready.” Rather than crafting a reaction inline I thought I might make a more thorough response.

I perceive it will be more expensive and less flexible. There is no active private shuttle project that is officially beyond the concept phase.

The average shuttle mission costs $450 million all in [1]. Lift and return as many as 8 (but more often 7) people along with 25 metric tons in the payload bay [2]. One way to do the math is to say 7 people at $64 million each, you get the payload for free, and could launch up to 12 times per year (using all three orbiters) if demand called for it.

The NASA deal with RFSA over 2013-14 calls for only 6 seats at $56 million and then only 12 seats in 2014-15 at $63 million each [3]. A 50 kg payload per person is included in that price.

Being as the NASA Ares I rocket was cancelled earlier last year [4] they must now “outsource” that too. They can always buy a RFSA Proton rocket at $85 million each (not including launch costs) as that has a similar payload launch capability as the shuttle (but without the payload return capability). The European Ariane 5 rocket also has a similar launch capability at a slightly higher price [5]. And NASA currently has no capsule to put at the top of either of these options [4].

Any way you look at it human space flight is taking a drastic decline. I suppose it did from 1972 to 1981 as well. I imagine nerds like me were sad then too. At least they knew the shuttle was being built.

[1] http://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/about/information/shuttle_faq.html#10
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_orbiter#Shuttle_Orbiter_Specifications
[3] http://www.space.com/11125-nasa-russia-soyuz-deal-spaceflights.html
[4] http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/space/nasa/4343791
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_heavy_lift_launch_systems

Some more numbers as an afterthought:

USA bank bail out = $700 billion [6] (equivalent to 1555 shuttle launches)
EU bank bailout = $2.8 trillion [7] (equivalent to 62,222 shuttle launches)
GM USA bailout =$50 billion [8] (equivalent to 111 shuttle launches)
GM Canada bailout = $10.5 billion [9] (equivalent to 23 shuttle launches)

I am absolutely convinced NASA exhibits a better and more innovative “trickle down effect” than big banks or stagnating car companies.

[6] http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/01/31/us-usa-economy-bailout-idUSTRE60U09L20100131
[7] http://www.financialriskstoday.com/EU-bank-bill.php
[8] http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2011/06/10/truth-about-gm-bailout/
[9] http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/business/bailout-keeps-gm-canada-alive-46706887.html

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2 Responses to Running some numbers

    • kaan says:

      It is amazing what can be done with statistics to skew them to support a point of view. Here is what my own twist was compared to the Globe and Mail.

      G&M:
      Total cost of space shuttle program to date = $196 billion for 135 missions = $1.4 billion per flight.
      That includes the costs to reserach, design, and build the shuttles, the launch platforms, the boats that retrieve the solid rocket boosters, etc.

      My rant numbers:
      Incremental cost to launch including a 90 day long refit process between launches and upgrades and maintenance, launch consumables, labour, operational costs, etc = $450 million per flight

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