Space Program Costs

As you consider the President’s budget, keep in mind the ultimate costs of programs. Here is a list I put together based on GAO reports.

How do these projects compare to other programs like ships and aircraft? Here is a broader list.

For ships and aircraft, procurement (buying multiple finished products) costs can be considerably more than development. The cost to develop the KC-46 refueling tanker, for example, is almost $7 billion. But to procure 179 tankers, the Air Force will need to shell out $32 billion. For the Columbia Class Ballistic Missile Submarine development is about $13 billion and procurement is about $94 billion. Satellite programs tend to be heavier on the development end as quantities are lower. A ground system like OCX may not even have much in the way of procurement cost.

Also, keep in mind that this list does not present costs for operations and sustainment (maintaining the system over its lifetime). O&S costs are often much higher for items like aircraft and ships as the systems tend to stay in operation for decades and require regular maintenance. The cost to develop and procure a Coast Guard offshore patrol cutter is about $13 billion. But with operation and sustainment added in, it is about $43 billion (Data from GAO-22-104684). For space systems again, O&S costs tend to be much lower, as their O&S costs are primarily associated with sustainment of the ground stations, according to a 2020 Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) guide on operating and sustainment costs.

Below are cost profiles of the James Webb Telescope and Landsat 9 to help illustrate operations costs in proportion to development.

This last graph is from the 2020 CAPE guide.

From September 2020 Operating and Support Cost Estimating Guide, OSD CAPE

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