Author Topic: Cost comparison in todays dollars STS vs. Saturn V  (Read 24205 times)

Online grakenverb

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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?
« Last Edit: 04/11/2011 11:07 PM by Chris Bergin »

Offline Marsman

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Re: cost comparison in todays dollars STS vs. Saturn V
« Reply #1 on: 02/20/2007 10:09 PM »
Well, a Saturn V was about 1.2 bil per launch, and the shuttle is frequently quoted at $400-600 mil. per launch.

Online grakenverb

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Re: cost comparison in todays dollars STS vs. Saturn V
« Reply #2 on: 02/20/2007 10:14 PM »
Did that 1.2 billion include the cost of all the tooling, R & D, etc.?  would the cost have come down for subsequent launches had they just kept the assembly lines rolling?

Offline joema

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RE: cost comparison in todays dollars STS vs. Saturn V
« Reply #3 on: 02/20/2007 11:12 PM »
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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.

Offline joebacsi

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RE: cost comparison in todays dollars STS vs. Saturn V
« Reply #4 on: 02/20/2007 11:19 PM »
Hmmm ... As far as I know the fact is shuttle program has a rough annual cost of 5 billion that doesn't change much no matter if you launch 5 or 24 that never happened... But they really can't be compared cause Saturn V was for going to the moon not for LEO. When we lost the moon the Saturn V lost it's purpose... Probably the US could have gone forward with the 1B with some Soyuz and MIR like spacestationing but they choose the other path (that didn't really work). By the way STS is a much more delicate and precise way of making space stations. I wonder about the challenges of building a space station from 80 ton skylab-like modules though...

Offline CFE

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Re: cost comparison in todays dollars STS vs. Saturn V
« Reply #5 on: 02/21/2007 03:56 AM »
I want to say that the shuttle's cost per flight has been determined by dividing the yearly program cost over the number of flights in a given year.  The $500 mil figure is optimistic, probably based on 1985 (9 missions.)  Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the shuttle program will receive ~$4B for this fiscal year (plus another ~$3B for ISS.)  Hopefully NASA will get four missions off this year; depending on how you keep the books, each of those missions will cost either $1B or $1.75B.
"Black Zones" never stopped NASA from flying the shuttle.

Offline Malderi

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Re: cost comparison in todays dollars STS vs. Saturn V
« Reply #6 on: 02/21/2007 04:37 AM »
Counting shuttle vs. Saturn payload is a little facetious there. The Shuttle's payload bay vs. a Saturn V is about 1/5 as much, true; but the Shuttle also takes into orbit marginally useful things like a crew compartment and life support systems. :-) So if you're using the Shuttle to launch satellites or probes, it's not really cost effective - that's why we're not doing it anymore. But for things that need a crew - like, say, building a space station - the shuttle works pretty well. After all, that's what it was designed to do in the first place.

Offline CuddlyRocket

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Re: cost comparison in todays dollars STS vs. Saturn V
« Reply #7 on: 02/21/2007 04:53 AM »
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Malderi - 21/2/2007  5:37 AM

But for things that need a crew - like, say, building a space station - the shuttle works pretty well.
No, it doesn't. The optimum strategy is a large launcher for the pieces of the station and a small launcher for the crew (which is what the Russians did, albeit by necessity). The ISS would have been built far quicker and for much less money using the Saturn V, IVB and Apollo than it has been using the STS. The only reason it has been built using the current methodology is to give the STS something to do.

If and when built, the Ares I and V would be capable of duplicating the ISS even more quickly and for a lot less money than even the Apollo-era equipment. (But the idea of a single large station is beginning to be discounted in favour of a number of smaller ones optimised for particular tasks.)

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Re: cost comparison in todays dollars STS vs. Saturn V
« Reply #8 on: 02/21/2007 07:30 AM »
Actually, the Russians did best in refining a good, simple, solid design. Compared to the Shuttle, the Saturn V was a simple design. Had the US continued to refine it rather than do Shuttle, perhaps the economics would have been radically better than $7B a launch. Or is the trouble with expensive launch systems that you can't evolve them, because you rely too much on the past engineering base to vary from the proven?

The irony with the Shuttle and the Russians was the rush to do Buran, because of the fear that Shuttle re-usability would put them at an economic disadvantage, and the irony for the US was the inability to keep a good design evolving. While the Shuttle is a magnificent design, both US and Russia spent themselves into a hole for a "reusable" system.

Could it be that the Shuttle was an attempt to do "too much, too quickly" at the time, where waiting off a decade would have made a difference? E.g. complete the full run of 20 flights and Apollo Applications. Or was the flexibility of the Shuttle just too much of a compromise any way you slice it?

What really was the Shuttle all about?

Offline JonSBerndt

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Re: cost comparison in todays dollars STS vs. Saturn V
« Reply #9 on: 02/21/2007 11:05 AM »
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CuddlyRocket - 20/2/2007  11:53 PM

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Malderi - 21/2/2007  5:37 AM

But for things that need a crew - like, say, building a space station - the shuttle works pretty well.
No, it doesn't. The optimum strategy is a large launcher for the pieces of the station and a small launcher for the crew (which is what the Russians did, albeit by necessity). The ISS would have been built far quicker and for much less money using the Saturn V, IVB and Apollo than it has been using the STS. The only reason it has been built using the current methodology is to give the STS something to do.

ISS wasn't built by shuttle to give it "something to do". When shuttle was being considered, a space station was desired, as well, but only shuttle was funded. ISS has been built by shuttle because it's all we've got right now. Also, I would agree with Malderi that shuttle actually does work pretty well for building a space station. One launch takes up the crew and payload. Is it the safest way to go? Maybe not. Are there better ways? There are probably several alternative histories which if we had had the foresight to follow one of those would have resulted in a better situation - or simply a different set of problems. But, that doesn't in itself negate the value of the shuttle. Given the goals we have at this time and the tools we have available, the shuttle is uniquely well-suited to carrying out a space station construction endeavor.

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Offline Jim

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Re: cost comparison in todays dollars STS vs. Saturn V
« Reply #10 on: 02/21/2007 11:23 AM »
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nobodyofconsequence - 21/2/2007  3:30 AM

The irony with the Shuttle and the Russians was the rush to do Buran, because of the fear that Shuttle re-usability would put them at an economic disadvantage, and the irony for the US was the inability to keep a good design evolving. While the Shuttle is a magnificent design, both US and Russia spent themselves into a hole for a "reusable" system.

Actually, the opposite.  The Russians did their own cost studies and saw that there was no avantage, so they figured that the US was doing it for some other reason, which was a weapon system.  So if the US has one, we need one.

The one orbit VAFB missions had them scared that the Shuttle was a "bomber"

Offline nacnud

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Re: cost comparison in todays dollars STS vs. Saturn V
« Reply #11 on: 02/21/2007 11:46 AM »
It has been mentioned on this site that the non re-useablity of the Saturns was seen as a big waste by the public at the time so there was a strong push for more re-usability. There were some ideas for reusing the S-IC stage, how feasible was this?

Offline joema

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Re: cost comparison in todays dollars STS vs. Saturn V
« Reply #12 on: 02/21/2007 12:08 PM »
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nobodyofconsequence - 21/2/2007  2:30 AM
Could it be that the Shuttle was an attempt to do "too much, too quickly" at the time, where waiting off a decade would have made a difference?...Or was the flexibility of the Shuttle just too much of a compromise any way you slice it?...
This is frequently stated -- the current shuttle designed pushed technology too far, was too ambitious. However it's also criticized for not being ambitious enough -- IOW, a partially reusable design rather than a two-stage fully reusable flyback booster.

These two items are somewhat contradictory -- if the current design is marginal with regard to maintenance, reusability, fixed costs, etc, then a more ambitious two-stage design developed with 1970s technology would be more so.

In fact Bob Thompson (Space Shuttle Program Manager from 1970 to 1981) addressed this during the CAIB hearings. He said had the original plan for a more ambitious fully reusable design gone forward, the entire program would have probably failed due to technical risk:

Transcript: http://caib.nasa.gov/events/public_hearings/20030423/transcript_am.html
Video (warning, 271 MB video file, save to disk): http://caib.nasa.gov/events/public_hearings/20030423/video.html

Re whether the shuttle's flexibility entails compromises that hamper it, the primary design goal was always servicing the space station. There was a long-held view a reusable shuttle was the best vehicle for that role. Naturally a manned vehicle with those performance characteristics can do other tasks, and NASA capitalized on this in selling it. But that doesn't mean the design itself was somehow compromised simply by having that capability.

The two disasters came from operating the vehicle outside the design spec, not from a flawed design per se. In Challenger's case, they exceeded the "redline low limit" of 40F as the lowest allowable temperature for SRB operation. In Columbia's case the design spec stated max allowable TPS impact was 0.006 ft-lbs (tiny).

Any vehicle will have imperfections. If you disregard vehicle operational specifications, any design will eventually fail.

In hindsight you can postulate varies alternative designs -- lower pressure SSMEs, different SRB design, metallic TPS, crew escape system, etc. However each change only removes that one perceived weakness, moving the failure point somewhere else in the chain. People died in space vehicles before the shuttle and will die after the shuttle. Manned spaceflight is inherently risky.

Offline CuddlyRocket

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Re: cost comparison in todays dollars STS vs. Saturn V
« Reply #13 on: 02/21/2007 12:27 PM »
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JonSBerndt - 21/2/2007  12:05 PM

ISS has been built by shuttle because it's all we've got right now.
I don't believe the ISS would have been built if it wasn't for the fact that without the need to use it (because the US had nothing else) the Shuttle would have no purpose.

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... I would agree with Malderi that shuttle actually does work pretty well for building a space station.
Oh, wonderful job! How long have the delays been? How much have they cost? I'd hate to see anything done poorly by your criteria.

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One launch takes up the crew and payload. Is it the safest way to go? Maybe not.
Maybe? I think most people would simply answer 'no'.

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Are there better ways? There are probably several alternative histories which if we had had the foresight to follow one of those would have resulted in a better situation - or simply a different set of problems.
Your second sentence could've been replaced by 'yes'. It's an example of a 'fighting withdrawal to the rear'.

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But, that doesn't in itself negate the value of the shuttle.
This I would agree with. The Shuttle taught us a lot, although quite a bit of that was what not to do.

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Given the goals we have at this time and the tools we have available, the shuttle is uniquely well-suited to carrying out a space station construction endeavor.
As it's the only tool the US currently has to carry out space station construction, this is hardly surprising! (That's if by 'we' you mean the US. If you include the other ISS partners, then this is not true. The ISS - albeit the design would need altering - could've been built quicker and cheaper using Russian launchers, even adjusting for different wage rates.)

The Shuttle is a wonderful technological achievement, but a deeply flawed concept.

Offline Ducati94

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Re: cost comparison in todays dollars STS vs. Saturn V
« Reply #14 on: 02/21/2007 12:40 PM »
The Saturn V flew 13 times with a max for 4 a year. The Saturn IB flew 7 times. What would be the effect of a longer life span on the program?

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