Why Is Space Over Cost and Behind Schedule?

Posted: June 13, 2011 in Songs of Space and Nuclear War
Tags: , ,

While the Florida Today article is written from a NASA point of view, it’s indicative of government space in general.  And it follows an established and predictable pattern of failure.

The lesson of “this time it’ll be different” is that things really seldom change, especially those that are driven by flawed human beings.  And as Nassim Nicholas Taleb suggests, the people who crashed the school bus while driving it blindfolded should not be given another school bus.

So what are the reasons that space cost and schedule targets go unmet?  It’s a well worn trail with some overlap, but here we go:

Optimistic cost estimating

Success oriented scheduling

A belief that many serial processes, some requiring immature technologies, will somehow fall into place

Congressional (and in-house) meddling which causes projects to get drug-out

Disinclination to kill programs, especially when lots of money has already been spent

Often working with bleeding-edge technologies with little or no commercial application

Inadequate managerial reserves

So will the DoD attempt to move to firm fixed contracts improve any of this?  Or the Air Force’s move to do block buys?

As for the DoD effort, the risk is high for the contractor and the incentives to change aren’t particularly high for the Congress, so it seems as measured by cost, schedule, and performance, improvement is not yet in view.  The Air Force’s move towards space block buys has more, but still quite limited, credibility to improve space acquisition.

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