For some time to come, astronautics will require the most ambitious kind of research and development activities. It is well known that research and development programs are characterized by risks and uncertainties. Research and development procurement decisions are fundamentally different from decisions to buy or not buy established commodities. It is frequently necessary to fund several alternative developments in order to hedge against uncertainties. The fact must be accepted that many good development decisions today will produce no obvious final product; although resource limitations make it necessary to practice a high degree of selectivity to insure that the most promising alternatives are pursued.
In addition to the fact that early efforts will be basically developmental in nature, it also should be recognized that space flight programs will be expensive simply because of the high cost of launching payloads into space, even when using primary components already perfected as part of the military missile programs.
In the early years, at least, of space flight development, the carryover from weapon system programs will be the Nation's chief set of assets in astronautics. Generally, a large amount of money can be saved by taking space flight hardware from advanced points on the production lines of ballistic missile hardware wherever possible. It should be noted that the Explorer, Thor-Able, and Juno II programs have made substantial use of existing missile hardware.
In this connection it should be noted that if space flight programs are carried on in parallel with the ballistic missile effort and use the organization and facilities of that effort, a certain degree of interaction is bound to occur, some conflicting, some mutually supporting. The total cost of the space flight activity is then not easily isolated. To determine its full cost, proration of a number of cost elements between both space and ballistic missile programs must be considered.
Another important type of cost is associated with superpriority effort. pertain of these costs are readily visible, others are quite well hidden. Such items as overtime operation, travel expenditures for expediting "crash" efforts, purchase of duplicate backup equipment, etc., can easily be discerned. However, costs incurred because of sacrificing other work or pushing alternative activity to a lower priority position are not readily evaluated.
The scheduling of a constant workload in the missile and space-flight field is inherently difficult. Time is required for preparation of a major hardware item for test, and scheduling of subsequent hard rare tests must usually await the results of a previous testing operation. Moreover, the testing operation itself, both prior to and during countdown, is fraught witch delay. And many space activities depend upon the timing of appropriate locations of celestial bodies and desirable weather conditions.
Beyond these general observations on cost sensitivities it is possible to discern some specific trends which will probably be carried over from the missile field into astronautics:
Research and development cost is highly sensitive to the size of the required flight test program. The single-shot flight test vehicles and tests to failure of components are prime characteristics of missile and space testing. Prime hardware is totally expended in each flight test. Many other tests, whether conducted during early development, modification, or acceptance procedures, can also be expected to result in extensive equipment destruction. In order to attain a reasonably high degree of reliability, large numbers of test vehicles are necessary.
Two somewhat different phases of space-flight activity are envisioned-the first covering the next 2 to 4 years, and the second running from that point into the future. During the coming 2- to 4-year period, components inherited from current military and other programs offer an efficient means, in a cost sense, for achieving such things as launching of small satellites and space probes. At the same time, expenditures will be required for new component developments and to study extraterrestrial environments. In addition, preliminary systems research studies and experiments on futuristic space equipment probably will be required to determine feasibility and desirability.
After the initial period of space research, the requirements for more hardware and more extensive facilities will probably grow substantially. One very large step will be putting man into space. The requirements of a reliability program to achieve reasonable probability of safe launching, flight and return will probably be extensive. With man in the space flight vehicle, we should again expect to see flight hardware accounting for a larger percentage of system cost.
In general, then, the types of major programs for which costs probably can be anticipated in the next 2 to 4 years are:
A sizable, although not predominant, portion of the total contractor bill is likely to be the expenditure for complete research and development hardware systems. Flight hardware manufacturing costs are often estimated on a cost-per-pound basis, and although this simple statistic has weaknesses, it probably will continue in wide usage. There is no strong reason to believe that it should not be applied to estimating the costs of satellites or space stations just as it is in the aircraft and missile field.
In general, it can be stated that as total production volume increases, the cost per pound of the equipment item declines.
It is also true that when the function of a particular hardware item remains constant-in other words, no increase or decrease in instrumentation, no requirement for new types of materials-then cost per pound for the system will decline as size of the vehicle increases.
In the missile area the percentage of total hardware cost consumed by each of the missile's components varies depending upon the function of the missile; but as a representative example, for a liquid-propellant
ballistic missile with self-contained guidance, costs can be-broken up on an approximately 20-30-20-20-10 basis among structure, controls and subsystems, propulsion, guidance, and payload container.
On the basis of fragmentary cost and design feasibility information, it appears that high-energy propellants will become more attractive then liquid oxygen-kerosene for an escape-velocity vehicle when the payload exceeds something like 30,000 pounds. Despite their high cost per pound of dry weight and per pound of propellant, fluorine-hydrazine or nuclear-propelled rockets will display lower total system costs in this high-payload class. For large payloads, their smaller volumes and weights will be sufficient to compensate for their higher per pound totals.
Another cost area of great importance is ground equipment and facilities. This includes not only launch- and guidance-type facilities of the kind currently in existence at Cape Canaveral1 or the Pacific Missile Range, but also the future requirement for facilities throughout the world for tracking, observation, communication, recovery, etc. These sites may individually be relatively small in size and cost, but they may also be numerous and unhandy in location.
Some form of ground tracking, radio, infrared, and optical, will be required by all space missions in order that their trajectories may be observed and monitored from the Earth. The rotation of the Earth, and the nature of space vehicle trajectories, generate a requirement for locating tracking stations literally all around the globe. The ground complex set up as part of the Vanguard effort includes a string of optical tracking stations stretching south to Chile and a radio-site fence stretching around the world latitudinally. These stations are potentially permanent astronautical assets, and will have to be enlarged and supplemented for further space activities.
ground facilities will be required for control, landing, and recovery of returning space vehicles. These are obvious and important parts of manned space flight operations. Unmanned systems will also generate requirements for recovery-for example, returning circumlunar vehicles containing photographic film or other experiment material. Uncertainties in the point of return lead to a need for some form of search capability to cover large areas of land and water.
Major functions that must be performed at a launching facility include final assembly and test of the flight hardware and associated equipment; operation of the test range-both the routine functions of maintenance and supply of the range and the actual operation of the launch and control network; processing of the data received from flights-recording and mathematical treatment of radio and radar data, as well as sizable amounts of photographic work.
The question of launch facilities is also influenced by the demands of geographical location in order to achieve certain trajectories and the hazards associated with large rocket operations. For safety reasons, comparatively isolated sites are required.
1 Information Guide-Air Force Missile Test Center Patrick Air Force Base, Air Research and Development Command
Launching rockets with payloads of 20,000 to 100,000 pounds or more are being discussed. The propellant loads of such rockets may be millions of pounds of energetic chemicals, raising some rather considerable safety problems. The minimum requirement is a great deal of open space around the launch site.
Launching facilities are inherently expensive and suitable locations are not plentiful. The possibility of constructing artificial launching islands is an interesting alternative. Location of such islands a few miles offshore might prove a relatively inexpensive method of providing launch facilities for large, potentially hazardous systems.
Launch bases also pose a considerable geographical problem because they require hundreds or thousands of miles of range over ocean or lightly inhabited areas. At the same time they require a chain of stations for flight monitoring. The farther such bases are from their source of industrial and military support, the more expensive they become to operate.
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