Methods for Achieving Dramatic Reductions in Space Missions Cost


The methods, processes, and technologies currently in use for major space programs are based on 50 years of lessons learned in the exploration of space. They draw on a large number of both successes and failures in space and represent our collective wisdom on how to do these programs efficiently and with a high probability of success. Nonetheless, it is clear that, collectively, they have also gotten us to a space program that we cannot afford, that is fragile and vulnerable to both enemy attack and uncontrollable failures (such as collisions with debris or other spacecraft), and that is not as responsive to meeting the needs of the end user as we would like it to be or as responsive as other nations have been for decades.
Fortunately, both technology and our understanding of space mission engineering is advancing rapidly. There are many past, current, and potential future programs that are demonstrating that dramatic cost and schedule reduction are possible while still maintaining good performance and high reliability. The lessons learned from these systems can reduce cost, risk, fragility, system vulnerability to attack or random failures, and, perhaps most important, create a robust and healthy space program that provides high utility, exciting challenges for engineers and scientists, and customers and users delighted with the end results.
Microcosm has been both studying and applying approaches developed throughout the world for over 15 years. This paper presents a summary of some of the most useful of roughly 100 methods, processes, technologies, and programs for achieving dramatic reductions in space mission cost. For convenience of discussion, we break these down into 9 broad categories — Attitude, Personnel, Programmatic, Government/Customer, Systems Engineering, Mission, Launch, Spacecraft Technology, and Operations.

For a great many missions, we should be able to reduce cost by a factor of 5 to 10, while maintaining high reliability and reducing fragility and vulnerability. If, instead, we continue with business as usual, we simply don’t have enough money to do the things that we need to do and want to do in space.

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Wertz, J., N. Sarzi-Amade, A. Shao, C. Taylor, and R. Van Allen. 2011 Reinventing Space Conference, Los Angeles, CA. March 2–5, 2011.