Index Home About Blog
From: Henry Spencer <>
Subject: Re: Fuel Cost
Date: Sun, 12 Apr 1998 03:51:04 GMT

In article <>,
James Nicoll <> wrote:
>>Finally, do bear in mind that current launch costs are dominated by
>>salaries, not fuel prices.
>	I knew fuel prices were a minor component but didn't realize
>that labour was the top one...

Well, ultimately this is inevitable.  After all, they don't build the
things out of dollar bills, so the money always ends up in *somebody's*
pocket.  Things like profit margins (i.e., money going into stockholders'
pockets) aren't usually a large percentage compared to salaries.

Mind you, that gets very indirect, because those salaries are being paid
in places like parts manufacturers, companies that make mining equipment
(the metal in the parts has to be mined first), etc.  More realistically,
how much of it is labelled "salaries" depends on where you draw the
boundary between the system you're interested in and its suppliers.

However, the rocket business is notorious for having a lot of people
inside the boundary, for *any* reasonable definition of the boundary.
The traditional round number for the shuttle launch crew is 6000 people.
(It's probably less than that now, but not orders of magnitude less.)
It's not hard to figure out that paying 6000 full-time skilled-worker
salaries is expensive.  And that doesn't even count shuttle-program
people who don't actually participate in the launch, like the guys at
Rocketdyne who build SSMEs, or the guys at Stennis who test them, or
the folks at Palmdale who do orbiter overhauls for a living.

Granted, the shuttle is an extreme worst case, but even the expendable
launchers have quite hefty "standing armies" that dominate their costs.
There are several reasons for this, but the big red bottom line is almost
always organizational structures which reward effort rather than results.
There has traditionally been no incentive for efficiency, and no attempt
to design the hardware for efficient operation.
Being the last man on the Moon                  |     Henry Spencer
is a very dubious honor. -- Gene Cernan         |

Index Home About Blog