Sunday, November 13, 2005

LEO on the Cheap

LEO on the Cheap
Methods for Achieving Drastic Reductions
In Space Launch Costs
Air University Research Report AU-ARI-93-8
Lt. Col. John R. London III

Published in 1994, "LEO on the cheap" is easily accessible for the lay public. Colonel London explored why existing space launch is expensive and presented recommendations to drastically reduce the the cost of space transportation.

The conclusions are hard to argue with
The United States needs a means of space access that costs much less than the current launch systems. Foreign competition continues to chip away at the US commercial launch industry. A dramatic expansion in military, civil, and commercial space initiatives could help fuel a technology-based economic revitalization in the United States, but this expansion will not come about unless drastic reductions in space launch costs are achieved.
He then goes on the argue for development of a minimum cost design booster - minimum cost because (supported by arguments in the preceding chapters) boosters do not need to be complex or expensive - good enough is sufficient and cheap.
An ultra-low-cost launch system cannot be developed using traditional government acquisition practices. A large number of personnel, heavy documentation requirements, complicated and time-consuming procedural compliance, and an almost inevitable complexity in design are all associated with typical acquisition of an aerospace system. These traditional acquisition characteristics will drive the cost of the launch system well above what anyone would consider low. Therefore the program for developing a low-cost launch system must be accomplished in a highly streamlined manner.
In other words - it can't be done the way we've always done it. However, the cynic in me is convinced that an organization laden with 'crats and procedures is unable to reform itself absent external competition. There isn't any at this point in time. Space X is, yes, busy building the Falcon and Virgin Galactic may loft tourists but these guys alone are not going to force the US government and Boeing/Lockmart to change their ways.

Colonel London goes on to list forty recomendations in procedure, policy and so on.

All in all, a good read for the lay public, invaluable if you're in the industry, or simply want to be informed. Available online in PDF format at
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