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An inflatable U.S. $pace $tation.

An inflatable U.S. $pace ation

How much will the planned, permanentlyinhabited U.S. space station

cost? Likely to be NASA's costliest venture to date, it is of particular concern to some scientists and others who wonder how much money--during and after its construction --will remain for unmanned planetary missions and other activities.

Besides hinging on the final design,economic inflation and the time allotted for construction, the answer depends on the basic definition of "cost'--and perhaps on who is doing the defining. Now, a committee of the National Research Council (NRC) has concluded that by the time the station has been put together in space, it will have cost nearly twice the space agency's latest estimate, which is already twice what it was when the plan was initiated 3 1/2 years ago.

When President Reagan directed NASAearly in 1984 to undertake the job, the agency estimated that it would cost about $8 billion. By the beginning of this year, the envisioned amount was up to $12 billion, and a careful cost review by NASA itself upped the sum to $14.5 billion. In an effort to manage both the growing price tag and increasingly vocal opposition in Congress and elsewhere, an alternative, two-stage design was proposed, which among other things would postpone the station's completion until 1996, two years beyond Reagan's originally proclaimed goal of accomplishing the job within a decade. And NASA's current estimate for that, says the NRC panel, reads $16 billion.

However, the NRC panel, set up atWhite House request in part to evaluate NASA's cost estimates, reads the bottom line as $27.5 billion. And that is in 1984-sized dollars. Adjusted for inflation into the smaller dollars of 1988, the total becomes a still higher $32.8 billion.

Much of the difference between theNRC committee's analysis and NASA's represents not additional costs but the space agency's way of organizing its budget, the panel says in a report to the White House. The many shuttle launches required to get the pieces of the station into orbit for assembly, for example, are listed in NASA's financial plan under the "space transportation system' rather than under "space station.' NASA says it has reviewed all such costs with both Congress and the Office of Management and Budget.

The report notes, however, that includingsuch factors--as the NRC did--when estimating the station's costs not only aids planning and management, but also "is useful for understanding the full resource commitment.'

Some items cited in the report are notin the NASA plan at all. They include funds to develop and purchase an unmanned "orbital maneuvering vehicle' to be carried up in the space shuttle for changing the orbits of payloads already in space, for example. But the report notes that a second such vehicle will be needed "to manage satellites and payloads in close proximity to the Station; the second unit is not in NASA's financial plan.'

Also missing from the plan so far is anitem whose potential significance was underscored by the Challenger disaster: a way of returning the crew to earth in an emergency if the shuttles are for some reason unavailable. The idea has been to maintain a "safe haven' aboard the station, backed up by shuttle rescue, but NASA is also studying the possibility of a separate "crew-return vehicle.' The NRC panel "believes that such vehicles will be needed.'

Other factors that could affect costs,according to the panel, include NASA's minimal planning for backup hardware (loss of key components could produce major delays), as well as the "unprecedented challenge' posed by coordinating management interactions among the four NASA centers principally involved, and 39 shuttlefuls of hardware that must be assembled in orbit, largely by space-walking astronauts. Adds the report, "NASA's most recent and relevant experience' with such matters, called "systems integration,' is with the shuttle, a far less complex task. "Thus, the experience with systems integration of the Shuttle is not likely to be a reliable guide to integration of Space Station.'

Table: SPACE STATION COST--from NRC Space Station Committee, usingNASA estimates:
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Title Annotation:report on cost of building space station
Author:Eberhart, Jonathan
Publication:Science News
Date:Jul 18, 1987
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