Author Topic: SLS General Discussion Thread 2  (Read 211724 times)

Offline RocketmanUS

Re: SLS General Discussion Thread 2
« Reply #40 on: 09/13/2015 08:21 PM »
What is the cost for one additional flight of SLS?
Comparing one launch of SLS compared to one launch of Delta IVH.
So if SLS does become available then could it launch DIVH class payloads?
Would this same any money by being able to retire DIVH sooner before Vulcan/ACES could replace it?
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Offline Endeavour_01

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Re: SLS General Discussion Thread 2
« Reply #41 on: 09/13/2015 08:33 PM »
What is the cost for one additional flight of SLS?

Somewhere between $500 Million and $1 Billion. I believe Delta IVH is in the $300 Million range.

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So if SLS does become available then could it launch DIVH class payloads?

Oh it could definitely handle DIVH class payloads. It wouldn't be even close to the best use for SLS in my opinion but it could physically do it.

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Would this save any money by being able to retire DIVH sooner before Vulcan/ACES could replace it?

Not really. Remember SLS only has two flights on its manifest through 2021 and both of them are NASA dedicated. By 2021 Vulcan should be flying and Falcon Heavy should be online in the next year or so.

IMHO SLS should be dedicated to launching NASA payloads. That avoids competition with the commercial sector and frees up launches for deep space exploration (human and robotic).
I cheer for both NASA and commercial space. For SLS, Orion, Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, Dragon, Starliner, Cygnus and all the rest!
I was blessed to see the launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour on STS-99. The launch was beyond amazing. My 8-year old mind was blown. I remember the noise and seeing the exhaust pour out of the shuttle as it lifted off. I remember staring and watching it soar while it was visible in the clear blue sky. It was one of the greatest moments of my life and I will never forget it.

Offline arachnitect

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Re: SLS General Discussion Thread 2
« Reply #42 on: 09/13/2015 08:45 PM »
What is the cost for one additional flight of SLS?

Somewhere between $500 Million and $1 Billion. I believe Delta IVH is in the $300 Million range.

Closer to $400M for D-IVH
So if SLS does become available then could it launch DIVH class payloads?

Oh it could definitely handle DIVH class payloads. It wouldn't be even close to the best use for SLS in my opinion but it could physically do it.


SLS can't do polar orbits

Offline Endeavour_01

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Re: SLS General Discussion Thread 2
« Reply #43 on: 09/13/2015 08:50 PM »

Closer to $400M for D-IVH

Thanks for the correction. I was basing it off the EFT-1 Orion cost which was $330 Million.

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SLS can't do polar orbits

Did not remember that. Thanks.
I cheer for both NASA and commercial space. For SLS, Orion, Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, Dragon, Starliner, Cygnus and all the rest!
I was blessed to see the launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour on STS-99. The launch was beyond amazing. My 8-year old mind was blown. I remember the noise and seeing the exhaust pour out of the shuttle as it lifted off. I remember staring and watching it soar while it was visible in the clear blue sky. It was one of the greatest moments of my life and I will never forget it.

Offline Coastal Ron

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Re: SLS General Discussion Thread 2
« Reply #44 on: 09/13/2015 09:03 PM »
IMHO SLS should be dedicated to launching NASA payloads.

Which is pretty much the default anyways.  The DoD/NRO would not want to use the SLS unless they had no options - and they will have options.

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That avoids competition with the commercial sector...

Commercial capabilities will always be potential competitors to the SLS, since unless commercial options are specifically eliminated as options (i.e. by law), their lower prices will always present "what if" situations to those that propose NASA missions - that SLS launches are not free, and commercial launch prices are going down.

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...and frees up launches for deep space exploration (human and robotic).

What's to free up?  NASA already has the capability to build two SLS per year, and the cost to build two SLS-sized payloads per year would require a HUGE increase in NASA's development and operational budget.  Assuming NASA doesn't get a budget bump, and assuming the ISS stays operational through 2024, NASA won't be able to afford even one launch per year.  Based on that, of course they would jump at the chance for someone else to use the SLS... but that's unlikely to happen, for a number of reasons.
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Offline 93143

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Re: SLS General Discussion Thread 2
« Reply #45 on: 09/13/2015 09:36 PM »
What is the cost for one additional flight of SLS?
Somewhere between $500 Million and $1 Billion.

No, $1B is too high.  Assuming the program exists and can handle the extra flight, an SLS launch by itself cannot reasonably be expected to add more than about $500M to the program's cost, probably below $400M, could be below $300M.

You're talking about the operations cost of existing technology, and not the part that depends strongly on flight rate either.  Moreover, basically all of the changes that have the potential to significantly affect cost are cost-saving measures.  The marginal cost of launching a Shuttle-derived LV is not going to balloon like the development cost of a cutting-edge space telescope.

Now, what NASA would charge for such a launch may be a different story; they might try to take advantage of the situation to offload some of their fixed costs, as if they were a commercial operation...  Shuttle didn't, back in the day, but that was then...

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...and frees up launches for deep space exploration (human and robotic).
What's to free up?  NASA already has the capability to build two SLS per year, and the cost to build two SLS-sized payloads per year would require a HUGE increase in NASA's development and operational budget.  Assuming NASA doesn't get a budget bump, and assuming the ISS stays operational through 2024, NASA won't be able to afford even one launch per year.

Human missions shouldn't require brand-new hardware development for every flight.  And there's at least one option that only requires one new piece of hardware to start and would remain worthwhile launching as often as twice a year or more.  The increase required would not be "HUGE", certainly not in the way you've claimed in the past.

I think there's more flex in the budget than you realize.  Once SLS and Orion (and Commercial Crew) transition to ops, the cost will come down, and a wedge for hardware development will open up.  Furthermore, SLS isn't all about huge payloads to LEO; one reason the science people are interested is that it can provide a large amount of delta-V to a quite ordinary-sized probe.
« Last Edit: 09/13/2015 09:56 PM by 93143 »

Offline RocketmanUS

Re: SLS General Discussion Thread 2
« Reply #46 on: 09/14/2015 12:58 AM »
OK, so then polar orbits would be the issue for SLS to take over DIVH launches till Vulcan/ACES could be ready, not the launch price.
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Offline 93143

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Re: SLS General Discussion Thread 2
« Reply #47 on: 09/14/2015 01:21 AM »
I suspect that the quoted launch price for DIVH is not the incremental cost to the U.S. Government of procuring the vehicle.  I imagine it includes a bunch of fixed costs.  So that would be an apples-to-oranges comparison; the cost to the USG to procure an additional SLS flight given a running program with enough headroom to allow the launch might only be a few hundred million, but if I'm right the marginal cost of the Delta IV Heavy would be lower than that.

So this comparison is only really useful if you're in a situation where your budget would take the full hit of the DIVH price but only the marginal cost of an SLS (it might be possible to get the SMD into such a situation, but the DoD probably isn't).
« Last Edit: 09/14/2015 01:27 AM by 93143 »

Offline Brovane

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Re: SLS General Discussion Thread 2
« Reply #48 on: 09/14/2015 02:14 AM »
I suspect that the quoted launch price for DIVH is not the incremental cost to the U.S. Government of procuring the vehicle.  I imagine it includes a bunch of fixed costs.  So that would be an apples-to-oranges comparison; the cost to the USG to procure an additional SLS flight given a running program with enough headroom to allow the launch might only be a few hundred million, but if I'm right the marginal cost of the Delta IV Heavy would be lower than that.

So this comparison is only really useful if you're in a situation where your budget would take the full hit of the DIVH price but only the marginal cost of an SLS (it might be possible to get the SMD into such a situation, but the DoD probably isn't).

You seriously think the incremental cost of the SLS is only a few hundred million dollars? 
"Look at that! If anybody ever said, "you'll be sitting in a spacecraft naked with a 134-pound backpack on your knees charging it", I'd have said "Aw, get serious". - John Young - Apollo-16

Offline Endeavour_01

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Re: SLS General Discussion Thread 2
« Reply #49 on: 09/14/2015 02:37 AM »
No, $1B is too high.  Assuming the program exists and can handle the extra flight, an SLS launch by itself cannot reasonably be expected to add more than about $500M to the program's cost, probably below $400M, could be below $300M.

I agree with you wholeheartedly that most SLS cost estimates are ridiculously overestimated (I think $500 Million is a little too low though). I was trying to give Rocketman a range of realistically imaginable costs.

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You're talking about the operations cost of existing technology, and not the part that depends strongly on flight rate either.  Moreover, basically all of the changes that have the potential to significantly affect cost are cost-saving measures.  The marginal cost of launching a Shuttle-derived LV is not going to balloon like the development cost of a cutting-edge space telescope.

Agreed. A lot of people seem to think that SLS costs are absurd. The fact is that annual developmental costs of both SLS and Orion have been $1-2 Billion lower than the cost to run the space shuttle every year. That is a drastic improvement and for much more capability.

I've run the numbers several times. The whole SLS/Orion program (including things like hab modules and landers) is going to have lower costs than the shuttle program.

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The increase required would not be "HUGE", <snip>

Exactly. NASA was able to run shuttle concurrently with the construction and maintenance of ISS. Increases to the budget don't have to be extreme.
« Last Edit: 09/14/2015 02:42 AM by Endeavour_01 »
I cheer for both NASA and commercial space. For SLS, Orion, Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, Dragon, Starliner, Cygnus and all the rest!
I was blessed to see the launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour on STS-99. The launch was beyond amazing. My 8-year old mind was blown. I remember the noise and seeing the exhaust pour out of the shuttle as it lifted off. I remember staring and watching it soar while it was visible in the clear blue sky. It was one of the greatest moments of my life and I will never forget it.

Offline Coastal Ron

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Re: SLS General Discussion Thread 2
« Reply #50 on: 09/14/2015 03:53 AM »
No, $1B is too high.  Assuming the program exists and can handle the extra flight, an SLS launch by itself cannot reasonably be expected to add more than about $500M to the program's cost, probably below $400M, could be below $300M.

I agree with you wholeheartedly that most SLS cost estimates are ridiculously overestimated. I was trying to give Rocketman a range of realistically imaginable costs.

And in the absence of real cost numbers (which NASA is very behind on providing) comparisons to existing systems are one way to help estimate costs.

For instance, Delta IV Heavy is a vehicle that is in constant production by virtue of the Delta IV it's based on being flown about three times per year (avg flights/year going back to 2009).  The flight ops team is also shared with Atlas V to a certain degree, so the overhead is lower than if it had to absorb all the overhead itself (like SLS will have to do).

The SLS, from what I can tell, is probably at least twice the dry mass of Delta IV Heavy, and the Delta IV Heavy is a pretty simple design to start with (SLS not as much) - mass is a good indicator of how much manufacturing effort has to be done.  Both launchers have to account for contractor profit within their overall costs to end users, with ULA adding their own profit at the launch (which the SLS would not have), and the SLS having to pay profit to everyone that provides pieces of the SLS, the contractor that will assemble the SLS, and the contractor that will provide launch operations (they might be the same, I'm just breaking them out).

So assuming that the SLS will be the same cost as the Delta IV Heavy, or even possibly less, doesn't look right.

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The fact is that annual developmental costs of both SLS and Orion have been $1-2 Billion lower than the cost to run the space shuttle every year. That is a drastic improvement and for much more capability.

What the annual costs are is irrelevant, only the total cost is relevant.

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I've run the numbers several times. The whole SLS/Orion program (including things like hab modules and landers) is going to have lower costs than the shuttle program.

Considering there are no designs yet for hab modules and landers, estimates have to be qualified.  And considering that the current human rated vehicle NASA is building (i.e. Orion MPCV) is costing $8B or more, and taking 18 years until it becomes operational, I'd guess your estimates are probably a little low.

Now if NASA uses existing ISS modules, then great, not much development needed.  But no real need for the SLS either, since lower cost commercial launchers can deliver them too.  The best use of the SLS will be for SLS-sized payloads only, or like as you pointed out, those few robotic probes that could use an extra boost.

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NASA was able to run shuttle concurrently with the construction and maintenance of ISS. Increases to the budget don't have to be extreme.

A number of things to remember:

The ISS has a lot of partners.  NASA's portion of the station from 1985 to 2015 is estimated to be $72.4 billion in 2010 dollars, and the Shuttle provided 27 deliveries.  Taking into account the $1.2B average cost of the Shuttle (development not included), the Shuttle was almost half the cost of building the ISS.

Also, NASA's budget today is projected to be about $18B (in 2014 Constant Dollars).  NASA's budget during the ISS construction was up to a 1/3 more per year at it's peak.  You can't expect the same level of activity for the SLS at a far less vigorous budget level, especially one that doesn't even open up until the mid 2020's - well beyond when NASA needs to be flying the SLS every year for safety reasons.  The numbers don't add up.
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Offline notsorandom

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Re: SLS General Discussion Thread 2
« Reply #51 on: 09/14/2015 02:23 PM »
The cost of a launch system depends on who is doing the accounting. People in favor of a particular system tend to look at operational and marginal costs. Those opposed tend to throw in the cost of the development and what ever else. Thus it should be no surprise that the costs of a Shuttle mission has been quoted as from a few million to a billion dollars. SLS is no different.

The cost of flying one more Shuttle mission was quoted by Mike Griffin as about $300 million. That assumes that the operational costs for the year have been paid and there is extra production capacity. Griffin may have been low-balling a bit but it seems reasonable. There were 4 flights in 2008 and  5 flights in 2009 for about $3 billion per year. So with people estimating $500 million for SLS that sounds reasonable. SLS however is not able to be produced in huge numbers. The Shuttle could fly 5+ missions a year. SLS will be able to do 3 max a year with the current infrastructure.

The cost of the Delta IV Heavy is likely to be lower than people quote. EFT-1 cost $370 million not including the capsule but including the custom hardware such as the LES and boilerplate service module. That was a Delta IV procured commercially by the Orion program. While the pricing information is proprietary I'd bet that the cost is closer to $300 million than $400 million.

Offline Coastal Ron

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Re: SLS General Discussion Thread 2
« Reply #52 on: 09/14/2015 03:12 PM »
The cost of a launch system depends on who is doing the accounting. People in favor of a particular system tend to look at operational and marginal costs. Those opposed tend to throw in the cost of the development and what ever else. Thus it should be no surprise that the costs of a Shuttle mission has been quoted as from a few million to a billion dollars. SLS is no different.

I look at the total cost, while also breaking out the development and operational portions.  It's the only way to get a full up apples-to-apples cost, since "marginal cost" estimates are usually simplified too far and ignore large classes of costs like overhead.

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The cost of flying one more Shuttle mission was quoted by Mike Griffin as about $300 million. That assumes that the operational costs for the year have been paid and there is extra production capacity.

Mike Griffin said a lot of things that were flat out wrong, and why make assumptions when facts exist?

There are a number of articles that look at total cost of the Shuttle program, and dividing the number of flights flown yields the average total cost - which was about $1.5B.  Some articles on the subject here:

As Shuttle Program Ends, Final Price Tag Is Elusive - WSJ
5 Horrifying Facts You Didn't Know About the Space Shuttle - Forbes
NASA's Shuttle Program Cost $209 Billion Was it Worth It? - Space.com

It's worth noting that NASA agrees with these numbers now.

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SLS will be able to do 3 max a year with the current infrastructure.

There is an NSF thread where this is discussed.  Bottom line is that as currently set up NASA can build slightly less than two per year, but with some additional money that can be increased to two per year.  Lots more money would be needed to increase that rate beyond two.

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The cost of the Delta IV Heavy is likely to be lower than people quote. EFT-1 cost $370 million not including the capsule but including the custom hardware such as the LES and boilerplate service module. That was a Delta IV procured commercially by the Orion program. While the pricing information is proprietary I'd bet that the cost is closer to $300 million than $400 million.

A number of years ago I was told (i.e. corrected) by Dr. Paul Spudis that a Delta IV Heavy cost $400M to NASA.  He and I didn't see eye to eye on commercial launch costs in general (he is an SLS fan), but I believed him on that.

Regardless though, thinking that the SLS will cost approximately the same as a Delta IV Heavy (i.e. $300-400M range) doesn't seem to make sense.  Delta IV Heavy is far more simple to manufacture, and it looks to be half the mass of the SLS.

If you want to look at what SLS costs were estimated to be, here is one article to look at.  Maybe it's very early in it's estimates, but that would provide a starting point for making corrections:

The HLV Cost Information NASA Decided Not To Give To Congress - NASA Watch

Some things cost what they cost, and they are worth what they cost to the users.  The Shuttle was that way, since Congress pretty much didn't care what the cost of each flight was - no one in Congress tracked it.  And if we had unlimited funding the cost of the SLS wouldn't really matter much either, but when budgets are constrained it does become an important factor, especially when the cost of the SLS is not just the rocket, but the payloads and missions that are built specifically for it.  You have to look at the opportunity cost.
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Online TrevorMonty

Re: SLS General Discussion Thread 2
« Reply #53 on: 09/14/2015 03:50 PM »
While a commercial LV eg FH probably could deliver DSH modules if they are based on ISS sized modules. The SLS can deliver these modules for free as they can go with the Orion on a crew flight to lunar space.

Offline notsorandom

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Re: SLS General Discussion Thread 2
« Reply #54 on: 09/14/2015 05:17 PM »
The cost of a launch system depends on who is doing the accounting. People in favor of a particular system tend to look at operational and marginal costs. Those opposed tend to throw in the cost of the development and what ever else. Thus it should be no surprise that the costs of a Shuttle mission has been quoted as from a few million to a billion dollars. SLS is no different.

I look at the total cost, while also breaking out the development and operational portions.  It's the only way to get a full up apples-to-apples cost, since "marginal cost" estimates are usually simplified too far and ignore large classes of costs like overhead.
Well that is kinda my point. You are not in favor of SLS so you chose the method which gives the highest per flight cost. The original poster asked a very specific question of what the marginal cost was. That is a useful thing to ask. Once again we can used the Shuttle program as an example. There was debate about adding that final resupply mission. Going by your accounting method STS-135 cost $1.5 billion dollars. The extra money which needed to be added to the budget was nowhere near that. Marginal cost is a necessary thing to look at when planning out a manifest.

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The cost of flying one more Shuttle mission was quoted by Mike Griffin as about $300 million. That assumes that the operational costs for the year have been paid and there is extra production capacity.

Mike Griffin said a lot of things that were flat out wrong, and why make assumptions when facts exist?

There are a number of articles that look at total cost of the Shuttle program, and dividing the number of flights flown yields the average total cost - which was about $1.5B.  Some articles on the subject here:

As Shuttle Program Ends, Final Price Tag Is Elusive - WSJ
5 Horrifying Facts You Didn't Know About the Space Shuttle - Forbes
NASA's Shuttle Program Cost $209 Billion Was it Worth It? - Space.com

It's worth noting that NASA agrees with these numbers now.
Those articles do not give the marginal cost, only total cost. The facts you are providing do not answer the question. Griffin, like him or hate him, was the administrator of NASA and is an authoritative source. He was asked what the marginal cost was. His answer is in line with the program budgetary figure from that time. If the the cost to fly an extra Shuttle mission was $1.5 billion how did they budget ~$3 billion in 2009 and fly 5 missions?
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SLS will be able to do 3 max a year with the current infrastructure.

There is an NSF thread where this is discussed.  Bottom line is that as currently set up NASA can build slightly less than two per year, but with some additional money that can be increased to two per year.  Lots more money would be needed to increase that rate beyond two.


The current infrastructure can support up to 3 launches a year and produce two rockets a year. That figure comes straight from the SLS program.
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The cost of the Delta IV Heavy is likely to be lower than people quote. EFT-1 cost $370 million not including the capsule but including the custom hardware such as the LES and boilerplate service module. That was a Delta IV procured commercially by the Orion program. While the pricing information is proprietary I'd bet that the cost is closer to $300 million than $400 million.

A number of years ago I was told (i.e. corrected) by Dr. Paul Spudis that a Delta IV Heavy cost $400M to NASA.  He and I didn't see eye to eye on commercial launch costs in general (he is an SLS fan), but I believed him on that.
Did ULA give LM and the Orion program a $100 million discount on the price of a Delta IV heavy? Its an expensive rocket but its not $400 million, at least to launch a NASA payload like Orion.
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Regardless though, thinking that the SLS will cost approximately the same as a Delta IV Heavy (i.e. $300-400M range) doesn't seem to make sense.  Delta IV Heavy is far more simple to manufacture, and it looks to be half the mass of the SLS.

If you want to look at what SLS costs were estimated to be, here is one article to look at.  Maybe it's very early in it's estimates, but that would provide a starting point for making corrections:

The HLV Cost Information NASA Decided Not To Give To Congress - NASA Watch
Still not talking about marginal costs here. Also using 4 year old data on a hypothetical program rather than data from a program which is bending metal now. This also highlights the problem with your favored accounting method. It only works on finished programs which are no longer flying, or if one can predict the future number of flights. Here it is an arbitrary 18 flights. BTW the Direct guys made a pretty good argument that sidemount would have cost more. That chart was talked a lot about back when it was first posted.

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Some things cost what they cost, and they are worth what they cost to the users.  The Shuttle was that way, since Congress pretty much didn't care what the cost of each flight was - no one in Congress tracked it.  And if we had unlimited funding the cost of the SLS wouldn't really matter much either, but when budgets are constrained it does become an important factor, especially when the cost of the SLS is not just the rocket, but the payloads and missions that are built specifically for it.  You have to look at the opportunity cost.
There is a fallacy in your argument. By talking about alternatives to SLS and opportunity cost you are begging the question of if those other options would enjoy the same funding and political support. Based on recent history that is certainly not a given. But that all is space policy and this isn't the place for that.

Offline Coastal Ron

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Re: SLS General Discussion Thread 2
« Reply #55 on: 09/14/2015 07:40 PM »
The SLS can deliver these modules for free as they can go with the Orion on a crew flight to lunar space.

Nothing is "free".  The cost of the launch would just be spread across all of the payload customers onboard, which in this case might be different departments within NASA, but NASA is still paying the full up cost.  Fully loading a launch vehicle is a good idea, just that there is a cost associated with each item on that launch.
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Offline arachnitect

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Re: SLS General Discussion Thread 2
« Reply #56 on: 09/14/2015 08:07 PM »
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The cost of the Delta IV Heavy is likely to be lower than people quote. EFT-1 cost $370 million not including the capsule but including the custom hardware such as the LES and boilerplate service module. That was a Delta IV procured commercially by the Orion program. While the pricing information is proprietary I'd bet that the cost is closer to $300 million than $400 million.

A number of years ago I was told (i.e. corrected) by Dr. Paul Spudis that a Delta IV Heavy cost $400M to NASA.  He and I didn't see eye to eye on commercial launch costs in general (he is an SLS fan), but I believed him on that.
Did ULA give LM and the Orion program a $100 million discount on the price of a Delta IV heavy? Its an expensive rocket but its not $400 million, at least to launch a NASA payload like Orion.


Solar Probe Plus is $389 million. Who knows what D-IVH cost or availability will be later in the decade?

The equivalent Vulcan-ACES would be cheaper, but not available until the mid 2020's.

Offline Coastal Ron

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Re: SLS General Discussion Thread 2
« Reply #57 on: 09/14/2015 08:14 PM »
Well that is kinda my point. You are not in favor of SLS so you chose the method which gives the highest per flight cost. The original poster asked a very specific question of what the marginal cost was. That is a useful thing to ask.

Here is the challenge.  When figuring out costs based on total spending, it's easy to see what the per unit cost is.  Total cost divided by the number of flights.  Simple math that everyone can understand.

Figuring out marginal cost though is not easy.  I've done a lot of digging to figure out marginal costs for the Shuttle program, and though I'm pretty good at it (I've done this for work purposes too), I was never able to use public records to figure it out.

Why?  Because once the Shuttle became a sustaining program the pieces and parts that make up a Shuttle, and the contracts that were issued for work to be performed, never lined up.  And even when they did, like when USA was formed to consolidate all Shuttle processing work, later amendments are either hard to find or hard to allocate to a specific Shuttle flight.

So the best that can be said is that whatever marginal costs are calculated using publicly available documentation, they will under-represent the actual marginal cost - potentially by quite a bit.

That can't happen when you're using total cost.

Now both total cost and marginal cost (where accurate) are useful for different reasons.  Total cost doesn't make a lot of sense when you haven't flown anything, but it does show what the opportunity costs are that you're giving up.  Marginal cost doesn't mean a lot if you don't remember how much it took to get to unit #1.

For instance, theoretically you could spend $1Trillion over 50 years to build a system that lifts 250mT but only costs $10M/launch.  However what was the opportunity cost for that?  How much could you have lifted with current commercial launch vehicles with that $1Trillion?  There are always tradeoffs...

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Once again we can used the Shuttle program as an example. There was debate about adding that final resupply mission. Going by your accounting method STS-135 cost $1.5 billion dollars. The extra money which needed to be added to the budget was nowhere near that. Marginal cost is a necessary thing to look at when planning out a manifest.

Like all hardware programs, there were pieces and parts laying around that were mismatched purchases, so sure, the last flight could have been added without writing a check for $1.5B.  But that's because the Shuttle program had over-bought, and there were pre-negoitated contracts that could be extended.  And using end-of-life costing for a program just starting out doesn't make sense.

Now take a look at the SLS program.  There are no firm designs yet, since there are no customers and there are multiple configurations.  So there is no possible way to accurately figure out "marginal cost" when you don't know what you are building and you are just starting to build your first unit.  Boeing certainly doesn't know what their costs will be for units #1, 2 and 3, and neither does NASA.

When I say no firm designs, I mean from a manufacturing standpoint.  My specialty is in being the person that receives a customer order and sets up the entire manufacturing schedule for delivering the customer what they ordered.  I've done this for government one-off products, and high volume commercial electronics, so I have a lot of experience.  And as of today there are no customer order-able configurations for the SLS - and there wouldn't be, since the SLS is likely to be customized for every launch for quite a while.  But what that means is figuring out "marginal cost" from outside the SLS Program Office is impossible, and even for them it will take a lot of work.
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Offline sdsds

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Re: SLS General Discussion Thread 2
« Reply #58 on: 09/15/2015 08:47 AM »
Solar Probe Plus is $389 million.

And even with a Delta 4-Heavy launch the mission will need seven flybys of Venus!?! Has anyone explored what SLS with an EUS could do to improve that? It's just a hypothetical... but an interesting one nonetheless.
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Offline notsorandom

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Re: SLS General Discussion Thread 2
« Reply #59 on: 09/15/2015 01:59 PM »
Well that is kinda my point. You are not in favor of SLS so you chose the method which gives the highest per flight cost. The original poster asked a very specific question of what the marginal cost was. That is a useful thing to ask.

Here is the challenge.  When figuring out costs based on total spending, it's easy to see what the per unit cost is.  Total cost divided by the number of flights.  Simple math that everyone can understand.
How many flights will there be? I don't have a crystal ball.
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Figuring out marginal cost though is not easy.  I've done a lot of digging to figure out marginal costs for the Shuttle program, and though I'm pretty good at it (I've done this for work purposes too), I was never able to use public records to figure it out.

Why?  Because once the Shuttle became a sustaining program the pieces and parts that make up a Shuttle, and the contracts that were issued for work to be performed, never lined up.  And even when they did, like when USA was formed to consolidate all Shuttle processing work, later amendments are either hard to find or hard to allocate to a specific Shuttle flight. So the best that can be said is that whatever marginal costs are calculated using publicly available documentation, they will under-represent the actual marginal cost - potentially by quite a bit. That can't happen when you're using total cost.
Its pretty easy. The marginal cost is what was needed to be added to the budgets beyond the yearly sustaining costs. The Shuttle didn't fly the same number of times every year. Thus they had to budget for each mission they flew. To bring this to SLS the question is if we fly one rocket this year how much more money will it take to fly another. That was the original question.

Diverting the discussion to total program cost is just confusing the issue. There is no way to calculate it because you need the program to have ended before you get the real figure. Some say SLS will only fly 4 times others that it will fly 40 or more. That is an order of magnitude! Each flight makes the per launch cost go down a little. So if using the ongoing total cost of missions flown to this point / costs till now to decide to continue the program of not you are using a metric which gives the most encouragement to cancel the program at the start. Wow EM-1 cost over $10 billion, we better not launch EM-2!
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Now both total cost and marginal cost (where accurate) are useful for different reasons.  Total cost doesn't make a lot of sense when you haven't flown anything, but it does show what the opportunity costs are that you're giving up.  Marginal cost doesn't mean a lot if you don't remember how much it took to get to unit #1.

For instance, theoretically you could spend $1Trillion over 50 years to build a system that lifts 250mT but only costs $10M/launch.  However what was the opportunity cost for that?  How much could you have lifted with current commercial launch vehicles with that $1Trillion?  There are always tradeoffs...
Opportunity costs are a great way of arguing against any ongoing program because you can attack it without having to to suggest anything better. You also don't have to really make any evaluation on what are the other realistic opportunities. The FY2011 option was not a valid opportunity for example because it had no political support. SLS while perhaps not being the best technical solution may be the best option for which an opportunity exists.
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Once again we can used the Shuttle program as an example. There was debate about adding that final resupply mission. Going by your accounting method STS-135 cost $1.5 billion dollars. The extra money which needed to be added to the budget was nowhere near that. Marginal cost is a necessary thing to look at when planning out a manifest.
Like all hardware programs, there were pieces and parts laying around that were mismatched purchases, so sure, the last flight could have been added without writing a check for $1.5B.  But that's because the Shuttle program had over-bought, and there were pre-negoitated contracts that could be extended.  And using end-of-life costing for a program just starting out doesn't make sense.

Now take a look at the SLS program.  There are no firm designs yet, since there are no customers and there are multiple configurations.  So there is no possible way to accurately figure out "marginal cost" when you don't know what you are building and you are just starting to build your first unit.  Boeing certainly doesn't know what their costs will be for units #1, 2 and 3, and neither does NASA.

When I say no firm designs, I mean from a manufacturing standpoint.  My specialty is in being the person that receives a customer order and sets up the entire manufacturing schedule for delivering the customer what they ordered.  I've done this for government one-off products, and high volume commercial electronics, so I have a lot of experience.  And as of today there are no customer order-able configurations for the SLS - and there wouldn't be, since the SLS is likely to be customized for every launch for quite a while.  But what that means is figuring out "marginal cost" from outside the SLS Program Office is impossible, and even for them it will take a lot of work.
Use any other STS flight that was the second of the year. Each one had to be budgeted. The question of what it takes to fly one more flight under this next year's budget is a question they had to answer almost every year when the program was flying. It is odd to think think that for 30 years the STS program had no clue what each mission would cost.

SLS passed CDR. To say there are no firm designs yet is wrong. SLS like most other rockets has different configurations. Each one of those configurations doesn't have to fly to figure out what things cost. The costing information is actually pretty well informed via STS experience.

You are undoubtedly good at what you do and knowledgeable about it. However it is not a given that the products you work with and your experience working with them are similar to large NASA HSF projects. If you are asking people to look at your resume and accept your arguments as an expert opinion then you are also inviting people to look at the opinions of other informed people. There are many that are more intimately knowledgeable with NASA's projects and practices both in the agency and other decision making organs of the government. The majority of those people disagree with you about SLS, some agree. It is an inconclusive way of approaching the issue at best.

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