There’s a certain quote, that I hear may be apocryphal by a Senator Dirksen that went something like “A billion here, a billion there, eventually it adds up to real money.” My recent post about relative costs of the Shaft compared to the EELVs and the COTS vehicles got me thinking about how much a billion dollars really is.

Think about it. SpaceX has been around since a few months before I got back from the Philippines, which makes it about 4 years now. They’ve spent somewhere in the $100-120M range so far, with maybe $40-50M of that last year. They have about 250 employees. That means a yearly expenditure of somewhere between $160-200k per person per year. Not too unreasonable (though MSS, XCOR, and Armadillo are all much lower, probably by a factor of 2). That means a billion dollars is about 6-10 SpaceX years worth of work. Or about 1000-2000 MSS or Armadillo years. Or in other words, we’re talking somewhere between 5000-10000 man-years worth of effort. That’s a heck of a lot of people working on things.

What this implies to me is that the amount of COTS funding that SpaceX and RpK each got is probably quite reasonable compared to the ammount of engineering that needs to be done. Possibly even a bit more than the bare minimum. What it also implies though is that the Stick is way too expensive. It’s supposed to be ready to fly people to orbit in about 5 more years. They really need 5000 people (half of the Space Shuttle’s complete staff) to design and build and test a booster that’s supposedly based off of existing hardware? Especially when Boeing and Lockheed and SpaceX and Orbital have all developed clean-sheet or nearly clean-sheet boosters and their associated production and launch infrastructures using a tiny fraction of that manpower?

And don’t give me the man-rating BS.

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Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff

President/CEO at Altius Space Machines
Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
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5 Responses to Dirksens

  1. Ed says:

    That 5000 man-years is repeated five times to get the 5 billion dollar Stick. Another 5×5000 man-years for the Ares 5. Geez 50 thousand man-years to put together two rockets – not counting operating expenses.

  2. Arthur says:

    Hi Jon – a billion dollars would be 20-25 SpaceX-years, not 6-10, if they’re spending $40-50 million/year.

  3. Jon Goff says:

    Yeah. 25k man-years, divided up among 5-6 years is somewhere between 4000-5000people working on it non-stop. That is just plain ridiculous. This vehicle isn’t that much bigger than Falcon IX, and supposedly takes advantage of all sorts of “existing hardware”. What a joke.


    Of course you’re right. That’s what I get for typing something like this this late at night. The 1000-2000 MSS or Armadillo years number is the one that boggles my mind.


  4. Ed says:

    Want to bet that the operating expenses end up being about the same per flight as the shuttle? Any takers?

  5. Jon Goff says:

    I dunno. They’d have to try really hard to do that poorly. I don’t even think ATK has *that* in them. I bet they won’t cost more than 50-75% as much as Shuttle…. 😉


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