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Cost Estimating Challenges for the Constellation Program

Management & Lessons Learned Track

Downloadable Files:

M&LL-3 Smart Paper Cost Estimating Challenges


NASA’s Constellation program has introduced numerous cost estimating challenges. This new program is NASA’s first large-scale development program of a new launch vehicle since the Space Shuttle.
The Constellation program is similar to the Apollo program, especially with regard to hardware. However, the Apollo program began development in the 1960s. Thus application of the analogy-based cost methods that estimators often prefer poses significant issues for Constellation. NASA has met this challenge by developing and implementing multivariate cost- estimating relationships (CERs). These CERs take into account, among other factors, the effects of technology maturity and growth in productivity. In addition, there have been numerous changes in tooling and other ground support equipment for launch vehicles. NASA has developed multivariate CERs for the estimation of tooling and other system-level cost that take into account these changes.
Another challenge in the Constellation program is communication of cost estimates with technical project personnel. In the past, multivariate CERs have often been developed and applied strictly at the subsystem level. However, engineers often work at the component level. In order to enhance communication, NASA has developed and applied component-level multivariate CERs that are specifically tailored for the Constellation program.
Rigorous risk analysis is a relatively recent innovation in NASA cost estimation. Another challenge facing the Constellation program is the determination of realistic risk estimates. On the one hand, it is easy to overlook potential sources of risk and consequently under-budget. On the other hand, sources of potential risk can be exhaustively included without fully taking into account the collinearity between these sources, which can result in overestimates of risk. To meet this challenge NASA has extensively studied recent historical cost growth trends. These data can be used to develop a rule-of-thumb for realistic cost risk estimates.


Christian Smart
Dr. Christian Smart is employed as a technical manager with MCR, LLC. He is a SCEA Certified Cost Estimator/Analyst and served as President of the Greater Alabama Chapter of SCEA during the 2004-2005 program year. Dr. Smart’s paper “Process-Based Modeling” was awarded best paper in the applications track at the 2004 annual ISPA conference. He was awarded the Huntsville Area Technical Societies’ SCEA Professional of the Year in 2006.
Dr. Smart holds bachelor’s degrees in economics and mathematics from Jacksonville State University, and a Ph.D. in applied mathematics from the University of Alabama in Huntsville.