grakenverb - 20/2/2007 4:55 PM
What would a Saturn V have cost today had the program continued? Would a launch have cost less than a shuttle launch, given all the time it takes to refurbish a shuttle for launch? In other words, would we have been better off if we had just continued manufacturing Saturns?
A Saturn V launch definitely costs more in constant dollars. However the Saturn lifts about 5x the useful payload, so even if the Saturn cost 5x as much per launch, the cost per pound would be about the same. The Saturn V is just a launcher -- it can't service the Hubble Space Telescope -- but just from a launcher vs launcher standpoint, we could evaluate the costs this way:
There are various ways to count costs: marginal cost of adding another flight, average cost over a period of time, total costs of ownership (sum of all development, support and operational costs divided by # of flights in a given period).
The Apollo program cost very roughly $130 billion in today's dollars. Of that, Saturn booster development and operation was a significant portion: I've seen numbers ranging from $40 to $80 billion. The Saturn V flew 13 times, of which 2 were unmanned development flights, 1 was Skylab, and 10 were actual manned missions. If we count all those as useful flights, and take the lower cost number, that's $3 billion per launch. If we discount the two development flights and take the higher cost number, that's $7.27 billion per launch in today's dollars.
The book "Stages to Saturn" gives a total Saturn R&D cost of $9.3 billion (I assume in then-year dollars). That would be roughly $46 billion current dollars.
It also gives an individual production cost of the Saturn V as $113 million, that would be roughly $565 million current dollars.
By contrast the marginal per-launch cost of the shuttle is probably from $100-$200 million. That includes ET, SRBs, all processing costs for one flight. When discussing the cost of adding a Hubble repair mission NASA administrator Mike Griffin estimated the shuttle-specific costs at $100 million for expendable hardware, plus $100 million for vehicle processing, or a total of about $200 million: http://www.space.com/news/061013_hubble_cost.html
If we take the total shuttle program funding for development and operation (probably $150 billion), and divide by the number of flights (about 117), we get $1.28 billion per flight.
So the Saturn V cost more per flight, whether counting marginal per-flight, or fully burdened (total program) cost per flight. However it lifted about 5x as much, so on a per-pound basis it might have been somewhat cheaper than the shuttle.
If the shuttle few more frequently, it would still probably be more expensive on a per-pound basis. The shuttle flew 9 missions in 1985, so it's capable of flying that often. If it maintained 9 per year from 1982 to present with no accidents or stand-downs, that would be about 225 flights. If we assume the per-flight costs are $200 million, that adds (225-117 * $200 million) = $21.6 billion of operating costs beyond the currently-flown 117 missions. If we add that to the current total program costs, we get $150 billion + $21.6 billion = $171.6 billion. Divide by 225 flights and you get $762 million per flight.
That doesn't mean the Saturn was automatically better, or the shuttle worse overall. They are different vehicles for different purposes. OTOH, most of the shuttle's payload capacity is dedicated to completing ISS. The Saturn V could have lifted all current ISS components (about 1 million lbs) in about 5 missions, probably within 2 years.