Old CBO Reports

One thing I like to do from time to time is trawl through reports by the CBO published online; this report concerns the future of the shuttle and commercial space flight following the first shuttle disaster.

Here are some of the more revealing passages:

There are several reasons for the consistent overestimation of launch demand. First, in responding to projection surveys, potential launch service users systematically underestimate the technical, market, and budgetary constraints that tend to force actual space transportation demand below planned demand. Second, military launch requirements are overestimated because DoD assumes that satellite life spans will be far shorter than actual experience indicates. Third, NASA’s projections of its own needs, particularly when the shuttle system is concerned, are often overstated because it is assumed that planned capacity (usually overstated itself) will be filled by budget-supported demand when, in fact, the Congress regularly has approved lower appropriations than reflected in NASA’s advanced planning. pg. 11

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, U.S. space transportation policy envisioned a shuttle-dominated system to serve both federal requirements and much of the worldwide commercial market. Some observers contemplated enough emerging commercial demand to stimulate the production of private launch supplies in the form of additional shuttles or expendable rockets. In this view, private launch supplies would provide the nation with standby capacity for space launches, much in the same way the U.S. merchant marine would augment the Navy’s sea-lift capability in a national emergency.  Foreign competition by expendable launch vehicles (ELVs) was for the most part discounted, primarily because the shuttle was viewed as far and away the lowest-cost option. pg. 20


Many of NASA’s decisions were clearly based on some rather faulty assumptions.