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View Full Version : ep 84. why is Cassini mission so expensive



arunas
2008-Apr-21, 07:21 AM
Hi,

Not so long ago I read that Cassini mission was extended for 2 more years. Estimated costs 160 mil US dollar! What can be so expensive to keep the mission running?? It must be just salaries for a dozen of scientists + communication channel with the probe?

Vanamonde
2008-Apr-21, 10:11 AM
My goodness, that does seems like a lot. I guess time on the Deep Space Network is going up like everything else and it must be analysed and interpreted, but still... And all from the U.S. - nothing more from the ESA or the Italian Space Agency. I keep hearing how the European economy is doing better than we are. I searched and none of the news articles cited any sources and the NASA press release has no money figures on it.

I discovered that Cassini's high gain antenna was built by the I.S.A. for the same cost.

Sigh. Could we add another $10 million for some auditors?

I don't understand either.

matthewota
2008-Apr-22, 04:46 AM
Yes, every nickel of that budget is spent on the ground. Mission operations, DSN operations, data analysis. I called my "boss" at JPL when they made the announcement and congratulated her on a two year extension of her job in Public Relations there in the Cassini Project Office

Matthew Ota
Saturn Observation Campaign volunteer

parejkoj
2008-Apr-22, 06:21 AM
Cassini is more than just a "couple dozen" scientists. I seem to recall there were roughly a thousand people working on the mission in 2004, when Cassini/Huygens got to Saturn. I suspect that number is actually larger now, as more and more people are working on the data. Not all of them are full time, and some of the original engineers would have moved on (don't need to build or maintain equipment), but there are a lot of people, computers, storage and transmission equipment to fund.

Celestial Mechanic
2008-Apr-22, 12:51 PM
Hi,

Not so long ago I read that Cassini mission was extended for 2 more years. Estimated costs 160 million US dollars! What can be so expensive to keep the mission running?? It must be just salaries for a dozen of scientists + communication channel with the probe?
Expensive? $160 million is chump change compared to expenditures on things best not mentioned under the "no politics" rule. ;)

Vanamonde
2008-Apr-24, 03:14 PM
I support the extension of Cassini as well as the continued mission for the Mars Rovers. But costs need to be justified - especially in hard economic times. And please, no one compare to this to Pentagon no-bid contract (enough said).

And after thinking, of course Cassini and the Mars Rovers not missions that you can just listen. They require active work, nagivating (the Saturn system may be the most complex network of bodies in the system!) and decide What to Look at Next. But maybe after the data is collected, we can get help from volunteer or the ESA and Italian space agency who might be just as invested in this as we are.

Of course, in all cases, whenever we spend BILLIONS to send probes out the far and weird, it would be a crime not to spend millions to exploit them as much as possible, until contact is lost or they become only good for a final hard landing scenario.

arunas
2008-Apr-24, 08:59 PM
I think it is absolutelly ok to invest into research and exploration. At least it is better than all farming or social subsidies (like it is done here in Europe). My intention was not to criticize NASA, but to find out what exactly costs that much money to maintain the mission. Even if they have 100 scientists which get 150 000 $ a year and another 100 supporting staff for 50 000$ it would make just 20 mil a year! And I thought the scientific data itself(photos, etc) is analyzed at the universities months/years later and is not funded from nasa budget.

parejkoj
2008-Apr-24, 09:23 PM
No, some of the funding for the data analysis comes from the total mission budget. Each instrument has a budget to partially fund researchers who work on the data.

Also, don't forget overhead: if a researcher has a $100,000 salary, the grant needs to have ~$200,000 total. Some of that goes to health insurance, some goes to the general university budget and some goes to general equipment funds and such.

As I said, there were ~1000 people working on Cassini/Huygens when it got to Saturn. Around 2/3rds of those were in the US, I believe.

aquitaine
2008-May-26, 03:28 AM
Just for comparison's sake the unit cost for a brand new 747-8 is $285-$300 million.

But really, is there anyway that these missions can be done with the same quality for less?

JustAFriend
2008-May-27, 01:59 PM
If the average wage is $70,000, then with benefits and employer costs you're talking $140,000 per person.

So $160Million breaks down to less than 1,000 people plus you've got to have office space and equipment.

Payrolls add up quick!!!

SingleDad
2008-Jun-01, 04:14 AM
Truely $160 Million is not that much when you look at the cost of other things... like maybe two B2 sleath bombers... 1/10 of nation health care... if you ask me NASA is under-funded and doing a real good job at it.

aquitaine
2008-Jun-01, 11:28 AM
Truely $160 Million is not that much when you look at the cost of other things... like maybe two B2 sleath bombers... 1/10 of nation health care... if you ask me NASA is under-funded and doing a real good job at it.


To be fair the Russians were able to keep a fairly vibrant space program going despite their country literally collapsing around them. It is impressive what they were able to do with dedicated employees on a shoe-string budget. Kind of reminds me of a joke:

When the US and the Soviet Union first went into space they noticed that their ball-point pens didn't work. Nasa's solution to the problem was to spend millions of dollars developing a pen that could write anywhere, in space, underwater, etc. The Russians used a pencil.


like maybe two B2 sleath bombers

The bombers will always get the priority because of several reasons:
1.) They try to distribute production of the bombers and their components to as many different states as possible in order to put pressure on congressional members not to cancel the program. Cancel the program, you end up putting your constituents out of work and so they (and their families) will turn against you in the next election.

2.) The arms companies themselves will flood congress with campaign contributions as another method to ensure their project doesn't end up on the chopping block.

SingleDad
2008-Jun-01, 10:00 PM
The bombers will always get the priority because of several reasons:
1.) They try to distribute production of the bombers and their components to as many different states as possible in order to put pressure on congressional members not to cancel the program. Cancel the program, you end up putting your constituents out of work and so they (and their families) will turn against you in the next election.

2.) The arms companies themselves will flood congress with campaign contributions as another method to ensure their project doesn't end up on the chopping block.

I won't get into a political discussion with you, and I believe the B2 is just as important as the space program. BUT! given more funding the space program would be just as economically important, and have the benefits of new discoveries. Keep in mind, when you watch the weather channel and see bad weather coming your way. It's because of the space program you have that warning.

ngc3314
2008-Jun-02, 04:37 PM
To be fair the Russians were able to keep a fairly vibrant space program going despite their country literally collapsing around them. It is impressive what they were able to do with dedicated employees on a shoe-string budget. Kind of reminds me of a joke:

When the US and the Soviet Union first went into space they noticed that their ball-point pens didn't work. Nasa's solution to the problem was to spend millions of dollars developing a pen that could write anywhere, in space, underwater, etc. The Russians used a pencil.


I than most readers here know that the pencil business is only a joke - the "space pen" was developed for less than that on private money and happily bought by cosmonauts wen available so they wouldn't have graphite bits entering the electronics. I stand in admiration of what was done to continue the Russian program - but that may be a special case, since most of thew people involved did not have immediate options to do something much more remunerative.

That said, I think that almost all of us who have had occasion to seriously review mission budgets are shocked at how fast costs mount up. Operations for Hubble have been north of $250 million a year until the final servicing mission flies, since so many engineers have to remain on the payroll until their services cannot possibly be needed (and of course for in-orbit support, some need to be on call and involved a good fraction of the time afterward). A full-time senior scientist is going to add up to maybe $250K on the budget including benefits and overhead costs, an engineer of comparable experience rather more due to market forces and fungility of expertise. In addition, several years ago NASA brought in accounting rules that require a mission to, for example, pay for its use of the Deep Space Network (a merry set of accounting headaches ensure for missions that were budgeted and in progress then).

You will often see mission staffs trimmed as the mission enters a mature phase after the "phase A" operations - less frequent communications, support desks fully staffed only on weekdays - trade cost for efficiency and risk.

Karl
2008-Jun-02, 06:33 PM
Cassini uses distributed operations, meaning that each of the instruments needs to maintain an operations team that works with the spacecraft team to generate sequences of commands that are integrated together and sent to the spacecraft. Since Cassini has no scan platform (thrown off early in the design process to save money) pointing the cameras means pointing the entire spacecraft. There are a lot of constraints on what pointing angles are legal, keeping sun off of radiators for instance, so there is a lot of back and forth to come up with an optimized command sequence.

Amber Robot
2008-Jun-02, 06:45 PM
Truely $160 Million is not that much when you look at the cost of other things... like maybe two B2 sleath bombers... 1/10 of nation health care...

Heck, it's even less than abstinence education.

parejkoj
2008-Jun-02, 10:16 PM
Cassini uses distributed operations, meaning that each of the instruments needs to maintain an operations team that works with the spacecraft team to generate sequences of commands that are integrated together and sent to the spacecraft. Since Cassini has no scan platform (thrown off early in the design process to save money) pointing the cameras means pointing the entire spacecraft. There are a lot of constraints on what pointing angles are legal, keeping sun off of radiators for instance, so there is a lot of back and forth to come up with an optimized command sequence.

Heh... that's a very nice summary of some very angry teleconferences... :)


Heck, it's even less than abstinence education.

FTW!

Karl
2008-Jun-03, 03:20 AM
Heh... that's a very nice summary of some very angry teleconferences... :)


Please pass the sponge bits. . .