Author Topic: Why is space so expensive  (Read 15484 times)

Offline Skamp_X

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Why is space so expensive
« on: 09/08/2017 12:20 AM »
This is going to be a rant so sorry in advance.

Why is space stuff so expensive....
I can understand research and development at first, making components able to withstand the harshness of space, vacuum , temperature , radiation etc .... , is gonna be very expensive
Need specially made labs and production lines to craft these things. Fine .
But as the knowledge is gathered , wouldn't it become cheaper over time.
Establish a working system that is able to put out components able to handle most conditions if not all.
I just don't understand these crazy numbers they come up with to make space probes.
Mission to Europa with a lander 2+ BILLION dollars , where do these numbers come from.
That is just a insane number to me, why so expensive, I know you can not build something like that in your garage but come on.
Why I get the feeling that for every new mission they are re-inventing everything, new components , new cpu's , transistors, ccd's , new everything and it again becomes a 90% cost on R&D.
I might embarras myself with lack of knowledge but I'm frustrated with the lack of progress on space stuff, while there is just so much more out there to do.



Offline savuporo

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Re: Why is space so expensive
« Reply #1 on: 09/08/2017 12:49 AM »
Why is space stuff so expensive....

High specialization with little commonality with other technologies and industries. That includes specialist relatively expensive skills and manhours, and then the entire chain of components, technologies, facilities, equipment and solutions that it all relies on, layers upon layers of suppliers.

Also low volumes of everything

And to add:
Why I get the feeling that for every new mission they are re-inventing everything, new components , new cpu's , transistors, ccd's , new everything and it again becomes a 90% cost on R&D.

You are wrong  on that. Anything in space that needs to fly a more complex mission than a cubesat relies heavily on heritage designs and components, to lower the risk for the mission of any single element bringing the whole thing down. Getting new components and technologies flight qualified is hard and expensive. Nobody redesigns a heritage thruster, valve or power distribution unit unless there is a strong reason to.
« Last Edit: 09/08/2017 04:42 AM by savuporo »
Orion - the first and only manned not-too-deep-space craft

Offline Eric Hedman

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Re: Why is space so expensive
« Reply #2 on: 09/08/2017 01:04 AM »
There are many reasons.  If you start with the unmanned probes to the planets you first of all don't do them very often.  Each of the planets we send a probe to is different and there are different things you are looking for.  The technology available advances rapidly between missions and you want to get the maximum science you can each time which means updating resolution of sensors, bandwidth for transmission, finding new was to do more science in a tight budget of power available all require lots of R&D.  Mission planning to get the most out of what you are going to look at costs lots of manpower.  If the spacecraft needs to increase in size you often as has happened on Mars need to change how it can enter the atmosphere and land.  All of this costs money.  The cost of launches and when the launch windows are available reduce the frequency you can launch probes.  Probes to the outer planets require RTG power which uses our scarce supply of plutonium.  All of this prevents mass producing standard probes.

On the human spaceflight side it is expensive to develop vehicles that are going to be reliable and safe.  If you compare the cost of R&D for space capsules they are in the billions of dollars and are going to fly in the next decade only a handful of times a year.  Compare that to what Detroit does with new model cars.  If they do a major model upgrade it can cost 2 to 4 billion dollars, but the costs are spread out over millions of cars.  A space capsule is for more complex than a car and usually only a handful are built.

For most of the last fifty years there has been no financial incentives in most spaceflight.  We don't sell our planetary probes.  We get data back.  We haven't reaped any great direct windfall from sending people into space yet.  The indirect benefits have been significant.  No politician can bank on getting reelected by indirect benefits.

Have patience.  Things are changing.  But it will still take time to build economies of scale.  It is happening a step at a time.  In a few years Blue Origin will be joining SpaceX in flying reusable rockets.   Costs will come down with healthy competition.  Space is still hard and dangerous.  I will reach a point where more and more money can be made by going into space.  Markets have ways of developing a their own pace when the time and technology is right.

Offline ulm_atms

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Re: Why is space so expensive
« Reply #3 on: 09/08/2017 01:51 AM »
Your question can be answered in a simple equation:

Speciality hardware R&D + no economies of scale in manufacturing (see first item) + cost-plus contracts for just about everything space related (government side)

Add those together and the costs just explode. 

#1 will always be true for probes for the foreseeable future.

#2 on the rocket side is starting to try and happen, which is causing a general decrease on all rockets from all nations/makers.

And #3...we are finally starting to see a turn for the better for that also.

But this makes me think of a saying I heard one time:  The fastest things take the longest times.  This is very true for spaceflight  :D

Online KelvinZero

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Re: Why is space so expensive
« Reply #4 on: 09/08/2017 01:45 PM »
One headline that made me think about this just a day or two ago: Thousands of flights cancelled for Hurricane Irma. I guess that is merely several days in one fraction of the globe.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2016_in_spaceflight#Orbital_launch_statistics
85 launches, 82 successful worldwide (and very little reuse)

Remember to look up the next time you hear a passenger jet crawling slowly through the sky. That is really a pretty fantastic piece of technology made possible only by a scale of commercial travel we don't often think about.

Online Nibb31

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Re: Why is space so expensive
« Reply #5 on: 09/08/2017 03:16 PM »
Physics.
Getting to orbit requires accelerating every kilogram from zero to 25000 km/h. Whichever way you do it, that is always going to take a huge amount of energy. And when you are handling huge amounts of energy, you will need to spend huge amounts of money to handle it in a safe manner.

Offline edkyle99

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Re: Why is space so expensive
« Reply #6 on: 09/08/2017 05:28 PM »
Why is space stuff so expensive....
Mission to Europa with a lander 2+ BILLION dollars , where do these numbers come from. ...
The cost is largely labor, in person-hours.  Europa is a one-off machine that requires research and development to design and test before it flies.  R&D is really expensive.  It costs up to $6 billion to develop a new automobile model, for example.  It cost Boeing more than $30 billion to develop the 787 Dreamliner.  Etc.  The difference between these and Europa or similar projects is that they only build ONE Europa, so all of the R&D cost is assigned to that project.

 - Ed Kyle
« Last Edit: 09/08/2017 05:29 PM by edkyle99 »

Offline SWGlassPit

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Re: Why is space so expensive
« Reply #7 on: 09/08/2017 05:41 PM »
Your question can be answered in a simple equation:

Speciality hardware R&D + no economies of scale in manufacturing (see first item) + cost-plus contracts for just about everything space related (government side)

Add those together and the costs just explode. 

#1 will always be true for probes for the foreseeable future.

#2 on the rocket side is starting to try and happen, which is causing a general decrease on all rockets from all nations/makers.

And #3...we are finally starting to see a turn for the better for that also.

But this makes me think of a saying I heard one time:  The fastest things take the longest times.  This is very true for spaceflight  :D

While cost-plus contracting may provide some upward pressure, I'm not sure it's as big an influence as you make it out to be.  Up until only fairly recently, there just wasn't a good business case for a company to risk its own future and funds to develop a launch vehicle or spacecraft that is just not going to have many customers (yes, SpaceX is doing well, but we need only look at the laundry list of failed predecessors over the past decades).  This holds doubly so when the US government is potentially the only customer, whether due to regulation or simple economics.  Cost-plus contracting allows the government to assume the development risks and gives the government the ability to closely (micro?) manage the development itself.  Fixed-price puts all that risk on the contractor, with essentially no upside (historically speaking).  For something of the scale of Apollo or Shuttle development, the bid prices that a contractor would have had to come up with to cover their risk would have been such sticker shock that those programs probably never would have happened.

It should be noted as well that NASA's transition to fixed-price contracting for recent programs has not been without growing pains.  The NASA culture is very accustomed to being able to dictate design and requirements changes on the fly (sometimes very late in the development process).  From a cost-plus perspective, the contractor would happily oblige, as it's NASA's money.  This also feeds into NASA's recent history of operating sustaining programs (shuttle and station), in which the scope of work is ongoing and indefinite.

On a fixed-price contract, the requirements and scope of work are baked into the contract (since they ultimately drive the bid price), so the contractor is more likely (and well within their rights) to push back on any NASA-demanded changes. Depending on the scope of the change, that could be anywhere from dipping into a pre-negotiated "special study" pot of money contained within the contract, to requiring a separately-negotiated contract modification, to flat out refusing the change.  This is a way of doing business that NASA (particularly the human spaceflight part) is unaccustomed to, and it has not been without its struggles.  I think as future development projects have more underlying knowledge baked in from the beginning, the development risk will remain low enough (for some, not all) programs for fixed-price to continue as a viable option going forward.

Offline blasphemer

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Re: Why is space so expensive
« Reply #8 on: 09/08/2017 06:17 PM »
It is not an embarrassing question. To a certain degree there is no good reason for space being so expensive. It was always done the expensive way ever since Apollo was drowning in money, and the culture never changed. If current trends with NewSpace continue, we may yet see some very significant cost decreases, both launch costs and payload costs.

Offline Jim

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Re: Why is space so expensive
« Reply #9 on: 09/08/2017 06:38 PM »
It is not an embarrassing question. To a certain degree there is no good reason for space being so expensive. It was always done the expensive way ever since Apollo was drowning in money, and the culture never changed. If current trends with NewSpace continue, we may yet see some very significant cost decreases, both launch costs and payload costs.

Dead wrong and total nonsense.  Ed nailed it.    Don't need these types of posts.  It is much like political parties talking about each other.  A lot of rhetoric and no real truth.


« Last Edit: 09/08/2017 06:40 PM by Jim »

Offline Kansan52

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Re: Why is space so expensive
« Reply #10 on: 09/08/2017 06:48 PM »
Plus, cost-plus does not always break the bank. We don't hear about the projects on time, on/under budget unless we work at it.

Offline blasphemer

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Re: Why is space so expensive
« Reply #11 on: 09/08/2017 07:01 PM »
Dead wrong and total nonsense.  Ed nailed it.    Don't need these types of posts.  It is much like political parties talking about each other.  A lot of rhetoric and no real truth.

Excerpt from Elon Musk biography:

Quote
"In addition to building its own engines, rocket bodies, and capsules, SpaceX designs its own motherboards and circuits, sensors to detect vibrations, flight computers, and solar panels," Vance wrote. "The cost savings for a homemade radio are dramatic, dropping from between $50,000 to $100,000 for the industrial-grade equipment used by aerospace companies to $5,000 for SpaceX's unit."

So I stand by my statement. The question is "Why is space so expensive" and I do not think the answer would be complete without mentioning this aspect. You can call it rhetoric, but it needs to be mentioned.
« Last Edit: 09/08/2017 07:01 PM by blasphemer »

Offline RonM

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Re: Why is space so expensive
« Reply #12 on: 09/08/2017 07:36 PM »
Dead wrong and total nonsense.  Ed nailed it.    Don't need these types of posts.  It is much like political parties talking about each other.  A lot of rhetoric and no real truth.

Excerpt from Elon Musk biography:

Quote
"In addition to building its own engines, rocket bodies, and capsules, SpaceX designs its own motherboards and circuits, sensors to detect vibrations, flight computers, and solar panels," Vance wrote. "The cost savings for a homemade radio are dramatic, dropping from between $50,000 to $100,000 for the industrial-grade equipment used by aerospace companies to $5,000 for SpaceX's unit."

So I stand by my statement. The question is "Why is space so expensive" and I do not think the answer would be complete without mentioning this aspect. You can call it rhetoric, but it needs to be mentioned.

It's a lot cheaper to pay your own staff to do R&D and low rate production than buy it from someone else. Assuming your company has the resources to do the work in house, which can cost a lot of money. I bet the $5,000 per unit cost doesn't include the investment to be able to do the work at SpaceX.

Offline john smith 19

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Re: Why is space so expensive
« Reply #13 on: 09/08/2017 07:48 PM »
Physics.
Getting to orbit requires accelerating every kilogram from zero to 25000 km/h. Whichever way you do it, that is always going to take a huge amount of energy. And when you are handling huge amounts of energy, you will need to spend huge amounts of money to handle it in a safe manner.
Bono & Gatland in "Frontiers of Space" put this myth to bed in the late 60's, but it still keeps turning up.

The actual energy involved to get to orbit, per unit mass, is just about the same as needed to do a round trip between London and Sydney.

Propellant, or energy have little to do with it.

Now if you threw the whole plane away after each flight...

Or each flight had roughly a 1 in 50 chance of blowing up on route (partly because it's impossible to know what really fails and what actually has quite generous safety margins)...

You might be on to something.  :(
"Solids are a branch of fireworks, not rocketry. :-) :-) ", Henry Spencer 1/28/11  Averse to bold? You must be in marketing."It's all in the sequencing" K. Mattingly.  STS-Keeping most of the stakeholders happy most of the time.

Offline edkyle99

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Re: Why is space so expensive
« Reply #14 on: 09/08/2017 07:50 PM »
Dead wrong and total nonsense.  Ed nailed it.    Don't need these types of posts.  It is much like political parties talking about each other.  A lot of rhetoric and no real truth.

Excerpt from Elon Musk biography:

Quote
"In addition to building its own engines, rocket bodies, and capsules, SpaceX designs its own motherboards and circuits, sensors to detect vibrations, flight computers, and solar panels," Vance wrote. "The cost savings for a homemade radio are dramatic, dropping from between $50,000 to $100,000 for the industrial-grade equipment used by aerospace companies to $5,000 for SpaceX's unit."

So I stand by my statement. The question is "Why is space so expensive" and I do not think the answer would be complete without mentioning this aspect. You can call it rhetoric, but it needs to be mentioned.
You do know that SpaceX has acknowledge that it spent, or is spending, a cool $1 billion just to develop first stage recovery?  Given that number, it seems likely that Falcon 9 itself has and is costing multiple billions of dollars to develop.  Don't kid yourself about what this stuff costs.  SpaceX may have found a more cost-efficient path to develop its big rockets than others, but it still isn't cheap!

 - Ed Kyle

Offline Semmel

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Re: Why is space so expensive
« Reply #15 on: 09/08/2017 08:04 PM »
Apart from political stuff.. there are three simple reasons as far as I see it.

1. The launch it self is expensive because your payload either rides a bomb to orbit or your payload is dead. That makes the launch it self expensive because it absolutely has to work and there is only so much try and error you can do.

2. Once in orbit, you cant tinker with it any more. Even the smallest of mistakes or errors and your payload is either dead or useless. So you have to absolutely make 100% sure that it will work. And thats because of 1. The ride is so expensive that you dont want to need a second try and dont get started by running astronauts up to fix your stuff. Thats even MORE expensive, see Hubble.

3. The environment of space is very different from what your every day life experience is here on earth. Hard vacuum has many surprises for you. Zero gravity likewise. Then there is the sunlight. The radiation is just a minor thing in comparison really. And because of 2, you absolutely have to make sure that your stuff works in an evnironment where your intuition breaks down. You need specialists for even the tiniest of simple stuff. These are expensive and you cant find them lying around in the job market.

So really, its a combination of unintuitive environment, cant tinker until it works and the launch it self to get to 8 km/s in the first place.

Offline obi-wan

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Re: Why is space so expensive
« Reply #16 on: 09/08/2017 08:31 PM »
Physics.
Getting to orbit requires accelerating every kilogram from zero to 25000 km/h. Whichever way you do it, that is always going to take a huge amount of energy. And when you are handling huge amounts of energy, you will need to spend huge amounts of money to handle it in a safe manner.
Bono & Gatland in "Frontiers of Space" put this myth to bed in the late 60's, but it still keeps turning up.

The actual energy involved to get to orbit, per unit mass, is just about the same as needed to do a round trip between London and Sydney.

Propellant, or energy have little to do with it.

Now if you threw the whole plane away after each flight...

Or each flight had roughly a 1 in 50 chance of blowing up on route (partly because it's impossible to know what really fails and what actually has quite generous safety margins)...

You might be on to something.  :(

Sorry, I've got to throw some numbers out here. To put a kilogram into a minimal low Earth orbit takes 32 million Joules (MJ). By the way, that's 2 MJ for potential energy and 30 MJ for kinetic energy, so suborbital "tourist" rockets are supplying about 6% of the energy required to get to orbit.

32 MJ is 8.9 kW-hrs, which at the going US rate of about $0.11/kW-hr means that, if you could take the energy to get to orbit out of a wall plug, it would cost about $1/kg. If I take SpaceX's web site costing page at face value ($62M for 22,800 kg to LEO) that give $2700/kg to LEO - so we have a factor of 2700 for possible improvement!

Given the basic L/D parameters of an airliner, 32 MJ can carry a kilogram of payload about 81,000 miles, or NY-Sydney twice. At a cut-rate of $1300 per round trip, that's $2600 for (round numbers) 100 kg of passenger plus luggage for two round trips, or $26/kg. Therefore, air transportation would appear to be ~100X as cost-efficient as launch to LEO. However, to be comparable, the airliner would have to fly round-trip from NY to Sydney and back twice without landing or refueling. It's about the equivalent of flying around the world twice, unrefuelled. No aircraft has ever done more than barely go around the world once unrefuelled.

Is there room to reduce the cost/kg to LEO? Absolutely. Can we get it down to 10's of dollars per kg (i.e., aircraft-level) with current technologies? Personally, I'm pretty skeptical. Certainly not if you have to amortize the nonrecurring costs to develop the vehicles unless you have a huge lifetime payload (e.g., airlines). The average airliner flies 4-5 revenue segments per day. The ITS/BFS will fly one revenue segment per 26 months. Therefore, I don't see Mars settlements (at any conceivable scale) as being the "killer app" for low-cost LEO launch. LEO/cislunar tourism might be (again, paralleling air transportation), but (my own rule of thumb here) you need to get the cost of the excursion down to, say, the cost of a nice car before you break into the general population and get the number of passengers you need. (Rationale: pretty much everyone saves up to buy "that one dream car" sometime in their life. That sets $40,000 or so at the most you can charge and have millions of people consider it seriously.) If you buy that argument, the challenge is to get from $2600/kg to $400/kg. That ought to be doable, but (even with reusability, which is a whole other analysis) it won't be easy.

Offline TrevorMonty

Re: Why is space so expensive
« Reply #17 on: 09/08/2017 09:14 PM »
In case of one off missions like JWST, technolgy hurdles have habit of blowing budget. More expensive it becomes more money is invested in testing and reviewing to eliminate every conceiveable risk. While NASA flagship missions tend to blow budget they also have history of exceeding expectations, most last months, years and even decades past their expected live.

Its not costs but time you have to consider with the exploration missions, they typically take years to get to the destination planet. Having failure 7 yrs later means it is back to drawing board. You can't build replacement 7yrs later and try again as technology and people plus their knowledge have moved on.

The long lead times of GEO comms sats mean they can't afford failures either as it could 3-4yrs before replacement is in place. In mean time that is 3-4yrs of lost revenue.
« Last Edit: 09/08/2017 09:17 PM by TrevorMonty »

Offline Jim

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Re: Why is space so expensive
« Reply #18 on: 09/08/2017 10:42 PM »

So I stand by my statement. The question is "Why is space so expensive" and I do not think the answer would be complete without mentioning this aspect. You can call it rhetoric, but it needs to be mentioned.

What you posted does nothing to support your statement.  You have nothing to stand on, your answer is incomplete and it did not need to be mentioned because it has nothing to do with this post.  Nothing but inane rhetoric that decreases the signal to noise ratio.

What Spacex has done has nothing to do with deep space missions.
« Last Edit: 09/08/2017 10:43 PM by Jim »

Offline Ictogan

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Re: Why is space so expensive
« Reply #19 on: 09/08/2017 11:30 PM »
It is not an embarrassing question. To a certain degree there is no good reason for space being so expensive. It was always done the expensive way ever since Apollo was drowning in money, and the culture never changed. If current trends with NewSpace continue, we may yet see some very significant cost decreases, both launch costs and payload costs.
If that was the case, why is the cost of space similar in countries other than the US, which didn't have Apollo?

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