FIGURE 4.7 RBS cost compared to costs of EELVs, commercial, and other options. NOTE: EELV, Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle; IOC, initial operational capability; RBD, reusable booster demonstrator; RBS, reusable booster system.

tomer base larger than just the Air Force. Second, this comparison is being conducted between an existing system and a conceptual RBS design, and the NAFCOM costing models provide factors to account for design immaturity. Third, NAFCOM’s supporting database was developed using information from previous government-led programs, so its cost estimates may not account for entrepreneurial approaches to developing new launch capabilities. And finally, the RBS costing methodology does not account for the cost pressures associated with a launch service provider competing in the commercial market.

The commercial lines shown in Figure 4.7 represent the lower end of the potential cost spectrum associated with satisfying Air Force launch requirements. As previously stated, satisfying Air Force mission assurance requirements may result in launch costs even higher than those realized in missions executed with NASA oversight. So in this regard, the entire range of expendable launch vehicle costs can be considered to be the range of cost uncertainty.

Given the existing uncertainties in the costing associated with expendable launch vehicles, the business case for RBS development is not as clear as portrayed in Figure 4.6 when RBS costs are compared to today’s EELV operations. Today, a number of commercial organizations are pursuing a wide variety of innovative launch vehicle concepts, and emerging commercial market forces may well challenge historical costing methodologies.


Other factors may also affect the viability of the RBS program both from the positive and negative standpoints. For example, there would ordinarily be clear benefits to the government for maintaining multiple options to meet launch needs, and the Air Force has a stated requirement for two independent launch systems for satisfying mission assurance criteria. Studies have shown cost benefits of from between 10 and 50 percent assuming a competitive market environment and continuous competition.6 Relying on a single system or launch service provider takes away the benefits of this competition. The potential advantages from competition, however, need to be tempered by the very small number of launches that the Air Force model assumes. The fixed prices associated with maintaining an industrial base for such a limited number of launches would likely more than offset any cost advantages here. Thus, maintaining two independent launch systems may significantly increase the projected costs associated with


6 R. Nash, “The case for competition in government acquisitions,” Daily Caller, June 18, 2012, available at; G.G. Daly, H.P. Gates, and J.A. Schuttinga, “The Effect of Price Competition on Weapon System Acquisition Costs,” Paper P-1435, Institute of Defense Analysis, September 1979.

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