Sophont
Thursday, February 05, 2004
 
HobbySpace - Space Log - Space For Everyone:
"Space myths of all kinds... Keith Cowing corrects Rick Tumlinson on his claim during the Senate Committee hearing this week that NASA vastly overpaid for a device to attach tethers during spacewalks: The Danger of Perpetuating False Urban Myths in Space - SpaceRef - Jan.30.04.

Keith makes a number of good points about being careful on such claims since analysis and experience may indeed show that there were excellent reasons for using an expensive, custom designed device instead of a cheap-off-the-shelf (COTS) item. Space is a whole new environment that can pull very unexpected and dangerous tricks on those designing equipment for space.

However, I think there is also a danger of encouraging the opposing myth held by many within NASA that whenever there are claims that a launch or space system could be done cheaper than they are doing it, this never holds true under detailed analysis. In fact there are several cases that can now be cited where the usual NASA and standard aerospace industry design and procurement system is shown to be far more expensive than necessary.

For example, just yesterday I was meeting with Pat Bahn who was back from Norman, Oklahoma where his TGV Rockets company now has a group of engineers doing detailed design studies of their Michelle B vehicle. While looking at cost estimates for their vehicle he decided to plug the numbers for the DC-X into the NASA Mission Operations Cost Model. (Pat should have the details of the DC-X since he has several former DC-X team members working as consultants.)

The NASA model predicts a development cost of '$4.461 Billion dollars, and a unit production cost of $68Million dollars.' A RAND airframe cost model was not as pessimistic, coming in at a mere $510M.

The entire DC-X design and production was actually completed for less then $70 million in 1989 dollars according to Pat. The DC-X program was famous for being run by Pete Conrad in a tightfisted X vehicle project style with a very small team and using COTS parts and software wherever possible. I've heard similar such estimates before at presentations made by DC-X managers who said the project cost was a factor of ten or so below what would have been the 'normal' price for such a project."

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