International Space Settlement Design Competition

Schedules and Costs

Perhaps the most challenging parts of the Space Settlement Design Competition proposal to develop are the schedule and cost estimate for settlement completion. This is not by accident--schedule and cost estimates are also the most challenging part of "real life" proposals in industry.

The Space Settlement Design Competition judges are engineers and managers in industry, and are familiar with the challenges of schedule and cost estimating. They will not base their selections of Finalist Competition invitees on the shortest schedule or the lowest cost. What they will be looking for is that the teams have gone through the thinking processes that would lead to reasonable numbers.

Schedules are based on insight into how engineering companies complete projects. The figure summarizes the process by which product ideas are turned into designs and ultimately become real things. Notice that at nearly any point in the process, something can go wrong that sends the whole process backwards for more design work. Extra time always needs to be allowed in the schedule to absorb these when they happen.


How long it takes to go through the process depends on the size and complexity of the project. For a new kind of mousetrap, it may take only weeks to develop a prototype, test it, and go into production; selling the idea to wholesalers, however, may take years. For the Space Shuttle, research into design concepts started in 1969 and the first flight was in 1981, without having to accomplish the last few parts of the standard process. Space Settlement Design Competition judges do not expect every team to come up with a perfect and thoroughly realistic schedule for their designs. It is expected, however, that they allow schedule time for detailed design, analysis, and testing before they show any manufacturing activities. The schedule needs to show time for transportation of materials and population to the settlement. The teams also need to consider that it takes a finite amount of time after the structure is completed to finish off the interior, establish farms, and move the residents into their new homes.


Estimation of costs is the most frustrating challenge for Space Settlement Design Finalist Competition participants, especially since it is the last thing they do, it's getting late at night, and they are exhausted when they try to do it. They start out by thinking they don't have a clue about how to figure out what the project might cost. When they come looking for help, we show them that they already have some pretty good ideas about how much things cost--they know about how much a car weighs, and about how much it costs; the cost per pound is a good rough estimate for costs of ground vehicles and robots. We tell them that the cost of a year's work from a typical technical employee (including overhead and benefits) is about $150,000 per year; we also caution them that if they think they can spend trillions of dollars a year, there are not enough available workers in the economy to spend that much money. We also point out that the primary cost driver for building anything in space is transportation; even at a bargain-basement cost of $500 per pound launch costs from Earth, very few things would cost as much to acquire as they cost to launch.

Acquire additional insight into realistic schedule and cost estimating by observing construction projects in communities and by researching news reports about major construction projects worldwide. Reports of aircraft orders will provide costs and delivery schedules. Business journals report numbers of employees in major companies. News media report on costs and construction times of airports, skyscrapers, sports arenas, and government buildings. Source data are all around us--we only need to realize that they are useful to us.