Discarding the Shuttle and its not so hidden costs ASAP

One of the primary themes running through the Augustine Report was the tremendous burden placed on NASA by huge fixed costs and overhead. For example, the report points out (p.50) that the end of the Shuttle program did not mean that its annual $3B budget would simply switch over to pay for construction of Constellation hardware. Instead, $1.5B would continue to be spent to maintain facilities and systems at KSC, Stennis, Houston, Michoud, etc.

The report noted that any NASA program faces daunting funding prospects (p. 112):

> Continuation of the prevailing program execution practices (i.e., high fixed cost and high overhead), together with flat budgets, virtually guarantees the creation of additional new gaps in the years ahead.

These costs constitute the main reason NASA cannot build the HLV/Orion system within the budget and schedule laid out in the authorization bill last year. Most of that money will go to paying facilities and overhead costs, not to building hardware.

Paul Spudis, though, sees these costs as a feature, not a bug: Discarding Shuttle: The Hidden Cost – The Once and Future Moon.

Dr. Spudis recently attended a symposium organized by George Abbey and the talks there confirmed his concerns

> about serious problems being dismissed or ignored in the unseemly rush to re-vamp NASA from an operational space flight agency into a check-writing bureaucracy for New Space endeavors.

That, of course, is a ludicrous misrepresentation of the NASA commercial crew program. Using commercial services to get to LEO hardly means NASA will do nothing but check-writing. In fact, rather than using up all its money on the Shuttle just to get to low earth orbit, launch services will allow NASA finally to operate spaceflight activities beyond LEO.

It’s also silly to claim CCDev is just about New Space firms. Nearly all of the entrants in CCDev plan to use ULA’s Atlas V as their booster and, furthermore, a leading candidate for a crew module is Boeing’s CST-100 capsule. Neither ULA nor Boeing are New Space firms.

He goes on to describe points made by Robert F. “Bob” Thompson about the infrastructure that supports the Shuttle program. For example, Thompson lauds the fact that much of the physical infrastructure was built and paid for during Apollo. Dr. Spudis says,

> Several New Space companies are working on vehicle designs, which, if successful in creating a replacement space “work vehicle,” will need their own supporting infrastructure. These efforts will necessitate creating all the facilities mentioned above for their vehicles and systems.

That is not true. The last thing any of the firms in NASA’s crew and cargo program (except maybe ATK and USA) plan to do is to rebuild a Shuttle/Apollo infrastructure behemoth. The launch facilities for the EELVs and Falcon 9 were deliberately made as simple and spare as possible to reduce overhead costs. Modifying them for crew operations will not involve hugely expensive new facilities.

NASA can never afford to go beyond LEO as long as it relies on a launch system that requires supporting an enormous infrastructure “hidden” beneath it. The military saw that and rejected the Shuttle in favor of the (relatively) lower cost and robustness of the EELVs. Inheriting the Apollo infrastructure was a terrible curse, not a boon for NASA. === Here is a highly condensed history of how NASA got burdened with all those infrastructure costs: Starting Over « Ric’s Rulez (via Transterrestrial Musings).

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