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I got this one from some political debate; unfortunately no reference to it. I know the shuttle was a boondoggle; but I find it hard to believe it was really that outrageous.

On the other hand, the best attested reports for the per-launch cost of a Saturn yielded over a billion dollars in today's dollars, which is preposterous. (This currently comes up directly on the google search results page for $1.16 billion). I suspect the error is including the large development cost over a production run of only 13 payload-capable boosters with 2 unused. The shuttle's cost given by the same method yields 450 million which is not obviously out-of-range.

Here's a link for some more reasonable number's on Saturn V https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=6742.0 (yields $565 million per Saturn V; but also yields $200 million for the shuttle). Some of the other numbers on the same page are obviously wrong though so I take the whole thing with a huge grain of salt.

closed as off-topic by DavePhD, Brythan, user5341, pericles316, Avery Mar 19 '17 at 9:37

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  • 2
    Might ask on the Space Exploration exchange. Though I think it could have a place here, there are lots of intelligent people with real-world knowledge there. – RomaH Mar 15 '17 at 13:19
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    As stands, this is missing a notable claim. Space Exploration doesn't require notable claims. Or you could find someone making the title claim and it would work here. – Brythan Mar 15 '17 at 15:47
  • I agree with @brythan. You need to reference "some political debate." – BobTheAverage Mar 15 '17 at 15:52
  • I can find variations of this claim, most of them having to do with a "dollars per pound" comparison, but I can't seem to find one this specific. Wikipedia says: "Space Shuttle incremental per-pound launch costs ultimately turned out to be considerably higher than those of expendable launchers." Not sure if that's close enough to count here. – BradC Mar 15 '17 at 16:23
  • I think this is a question worth considering, but it would be a tricky one to answer as you'd have to consider research and development costs, setup and infrastructure costs and the costs of actually flying a mission. This is going to be complicated by the fact that the Saturn V's payloads were all expendable, whereas the core Shuttle components except for the tank could be reused by varying degrees. – GordonM Mar 15 '17 at 17:30
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From your own link: "The total cost of the actual 30-year service life of the shuttle program through 2011, adjusted for inflation, was $196 billion. The exact breakdown into non-recurring and recurring costs is not available, but, according to NASA, the average cost to launch a Space Shuttle as of 2011 was about $450 million per mission." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_program

$196B / 135 missions is $1.45 billion per flight (133 successes and two disasters). NASA tends to err on the side of minimizing the apparent price of manned spaceflight, by favoring marginal costs over total costs, which is where the $450M number came from. They were also perpetually optimistic about predicting how many flights they would do in the next year, which would make the cost per flight seem lower. This is a common habit among launch organizations; for instance SpaceX always predicts that they will do more launches next year than they actually do.

Between 1998 and 2011, the shuttle flew a lot of missions to the ISS, which one could argue makes them a space station cost rather than a shuttle cost, so that could lower the shuttle's cost per flight.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    Wikipedia lists the payloads to low earth orbit of the Saturn V as 310,000 lb, and the shuttle as 27,500 lb. If we use the numbers from @AshleyZ 's answer, on a per pound basis the Saturn V is much more economical. – BobTheAverage Mar 15 '17 at 21:41
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    This answer is missing any mention of the Saturn V, which means that it can't answer this question about how launch costs compare between the Saturn V and the space shuttle. It is generally preferable here to link to the original sources and not Wikipedia. – Brythan Mar 16 '17 at 0:38

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