New study confirms the cost effectiveness of commercial crew

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Capitalism in space: A new study shows that the commercial private cargo capsules are far more efficient then the space shuttle was in delivering cargo to ISS.

According to the new research paper by Edgar Zapata, who works at Kennedy Space Center, the supply services offered by SpaceX and Orbital ATK have cost NASA two to three times less than if the space agency had continued to fly the space shuttle. For his analysis, Zapata attempted to make an “apples to apples” comparison between the commercial vehicles, through June 2017, and the space shuttle.

Specifically, the analysis of development and operational expenses, as well as vehicle failures, found that SpaceX had cost NASA about $89,000 per kg of cargo delivered to the space station. By the same methodology, he found Orbital ATK had cost $135,000 per kg. Had the shuttle continued to fly, and deliver cargo via its Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, it would have cost $272,000 per kg.

…The detailed study then attempts to calculate the costs of the commercial cargo and crew programs combined, comparing that total to continued shuttle flights, which could carry both supplies and astronauts at the same time. Zapata’s best estimate is that the commercial programs cost only about 37 to 39 percent of what it would have cost NASA to continue the space shuttle program.

The benefits of the private programs go beyond cost savings, however. With multiple providers, NASA now has redundancy in case of a failure of supply lines to the space station. And there are indirect benefits as well, especially from supporting the efforts of US companies to develop new spacefaring technologies.

None of this is really news. There was once a time in the U.S. where these facts were understood without much thought. Americans once knew that private enterprise, competition, and freedom always work better than government-imposed projects. Today however we live in a post-freedom America, where the idea of depending on Americans to use their innovative talents freely to get things done is considered oppressive and racist, and must be squelched by a much wiser government.



  • Ted

    “Americans once knew that private enterprise, competition, and freedom always work better than government-imposed projects. ”

    Amen and amen.

  • geoffc


  • wodun

    I skimmed the paper but didn’t find how they determined shuttle costs and over what time period. The paper seemed needlessly complex. All we need to know is the marginal cost of a shuttle flight and commercial alternative. Then multiply by the number of launches needed and divide by the cargo delivered. The only problem is that government accounting makes everything more complex and skews all the numbers.

    It did look like they used some yearly expenses for shuttle but the graphs show lifetime costs. It also did go into some overhead and continued R&D so maybe I just need to read it more carefully and the marginal numbers are in there. Looking at the chart on page 14, we spend nearly the same on commercial crew/cargo today as we did on the shuttle. Through in some R&D and it might even be the same. Are we sending more cargo/crew than previous?

    Factoring development costs and what not is kind of pointless since they are sunk and we have the advantage of being able to look at what the set of vehicles cost during operations. The numbers would have probably told the same story.

    It would be useful to analyze development costs separately, though. I agree with the points made at the end of the paper about applying these lessons to future activities in space.

  • ken anthony

    But how does this help a welfare mother with 15 kids by 12 fathers feed their children?

    Merica was stolen from other people that demand it back. With others paying for it of course.

    Govt. has to be involved by proxy or we just couldn’t get things done by greedy capitalists.

    Sane people had their chance and handed over power to the insane and corrupt. SLS forever!

  • Edward

    ken anthony asked: “But how does this help a welfare mother with 15 kids by 12 fathers feed their children?

    For one, it reduces the costs of getting food to that welfare mother. For instance, it reduces the cost of getting GPS, weather, and land management (e.g. Landsat) satellites into orbit, reducing the cost of the services that the farmer uses to get a maximum yield from his land. Food costs go down and even delivery costs come down, as it gets less expensive to move the food from the farm to the table.

    A better question is: “How do television sitcoms help a welfare mother with 15 kids by 12 fathers feed their children?”

    (By the way, I once knew a girl who was the youngest daughter of a woman who had 13 children by 11 fathers.)

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