New approaches to cost engineering principles and communication systems applied to the SpaceLiner: an advanced hypersonic suborbital spaceplane

Olga Trivailo

Upon new program commencement, especially within the space sector where large, international programs of high complexity are prevalent, the question of expected program costs has emerged as a highly critical criterion. Given the various technical, economic, and political influences, the real challenge is to representatively estimate costs during the early program phases where physical, technical, performance and programmatic parameters, requirements and specifications might be scarce, unavailable, or still evolving. Here, the disciplines of systems and cost engineering, as well as program management converge to support the costing function.

A new category of spacecraft with a reusability component have also emerged as of prevalent interest - the reusability component of vehicles allows for cost-effective space access for both cargo and humans, although also lends itself to added complexities. For reusable launch vehicles (RLVs), for example, a lack of historical data implies that using the purely classic heuristic approaches such as parametric cost estimation alone, or analogy, is insufficient. Thus new ways are needed to address cost estimation for complex, unprecedented programs in the very early program phase (EPP) where system specifications are limited, but the available research budget needs to be defined. The hypersonic, suborbital, passenger spaceplane SpaceLiner is one such vehicle and is selected as a real industry RLV case-study to model and apply the advanced cost engineering approaches and innovative techniques developed and described in this work.

For SpaceLiner, the development of necessary processes and application of advanced and modified cost estimation approaches is demonstrated. Based on a thorough literature review of current estimating practices in industry, the parametric cost estimation methodology is justified as the backbone for optimal use during the EPP, and the Amalgamation Approach (AA) proposed to enhance cost estimate certainty. The TransCost statistical-analytical model for cost estimation and economical optimisation of launch vehicles, as well as two commercial parametric models, aces by 4cost and the PRICE software, are selected. The transparent TransCost model is then extensively tested against realised development programs with an RLV focus, and consequently calibrated to ensure justification and coherence of future cost results the latter terms being equivalent and essential measures for assessment of a cost estimate's defensibility and representativeness of current program status.

Prior to the three models being input with high-level, technical SpaceLiner data, some essential programmatic analyses are performed. The case study is considered from a top level and a detailed work breakdown structure (WBS) of the required components to be developed and produced, is derived. In conjunction, a baseline program schedule in also established in order to represent the possible timeframe of the global project, to identify critical milestones, and to support model inputs for the cost estimation process.

Through combination of the WBS and program schedule, and through application of the selected three models, multiple independent development cost estimates are calculated in accordance with AA principles. A final baseline development and production cost ranges are ultimately determined for the SpaceLiner, being maximally reflective of all currently available inputs. The operational scenario is qualitatively outlined, completing the SpaceLiner cost- and economics baseline as it currently stands to date.

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Department of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
Last modified: Fri Oct 10 11:05:42 EST 2014 by Ahmet Sekercioglu