I was out of town for the weekend, and hadn’t had a chance to look at this briefing, which purports to show that Commercial Crew is a bad deal for NASA. While one suspects that this was the goal of those who commissioned it, ironically, it actually does the opposite.
I should preface this by saying that I’ve known John Skratt for about a quarter of a century, and worked with him quite a bit, and he’s a veteran cost analyst and a straight shooter. In fact, I left him a phone message last week, having no idea that this was in work, suggesting that we get together to discuss the situation with the broken cost models. In retrospect, I’m now unshocked that he hasn’t yet returned the call.
The real problem with the paper (as is often the case, unfortunately — it’s a lot easier to challenge such things when there are flaws in the math or logic) is in the assumptions. Every single one of them on charts 3 and 4 are nonsensical. I’m going to make the assumption that they are not John’s, but perhaps those who asked him to do it (with input from the Hill?). Thus, garbage in, garbage out, as the Commercial Spaceflight Federation points out in devastating detail.
But as frequent Space Politics commenter “Major Tom” also points out (scroll way down, it’s currently the bottom of a 150-comment post), even with these nutty assumptions, it’s still cheaper than a NASA solution:
The report’s bottom line is that under multiple worst-case conditions (halved NASA business, commercial customers at a loss, new LV developments, oppressive safety regime, etc.), NASA could expect to pay ~$20 billion for commercial crew development and ten years of operations.
That’s half of what Ares I/Orion development would have cost ($35-40 billion). It’s equivalent to what SLS/MPCV development will cost ($16 billion-plus for Shuttle-derived SLS plus another ~$5 billion for an Orion-based MPCV). Neither of those option even get to operations before blowing $20 billion.
Per the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, the study is conservative to a fault.
But even with all that conservatism and all those worst-case conditions, commercial crew still comes out ahead of Shuttle-derived solutions like Ares I/Orion or SLS/MPCV by a factor of 2-4.
Expect it, though, to be trumpeted by the defenders of the status quo as the death knell for the nutty notion of having actual competition in human spaceflight.
Funny, John returned my call this afternoon. I don’t know if it was in response to this post (I doubt it), but the conversation was cordial. And interesting. But unfortunately, off the record.
Yes, I know it’s a tease, but I thought I should at least mention that we did finally talk.