4
$\begingroup$

Has there been any current estimates for the cost of putting a man on the moon, today? I'm curious how much the price has dropped with the improvement of technology, compared to the original moon landing's cost.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It's difficult to say because there is no current program to land humans on the moon. But if the US embarked on such a project using the SLS, if one included the money spent on Constellation, Orion, SLS, etc, I wouldn't be surprised if ended up being more in constant dollars than Apollo cost. That is a program/bureaucracy/politics thing though, not a technology thing. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Dec 9 '17 at 16:35
  • $\begingroup$ Huh... had feared that might be the case, where the atrophied nature of NASA as compared to the Apollo days might mean it's no cheaper. $\endgroup$ – Johnny Dec 9 '17 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ The cost of the electronics and especially computers would be lower due to the improvements of solid state circuits. But what about the rocket structure and engines, will they be cheaper? $\endgroup$ – Uwe Dec 10 '17 at 15:31
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ ....It is very disappointing that the question, "how much does it cost to go to the moon" has been labelled, "opinion based." It goes to show how much of astronautics has just become politics, where no one is sure what anything costs, or what anything means anymore. $\endgroup$ – Johnny Dec 12 '17 at 13:05
3
$\begingroup$

The cost of putting a man on the moon involves more than just the cost of launch -you also have to consider the cost to develop the rocket to get there, the capsule to carry the crew, and the landing module.

NASA attempted to do this with the Constellation program, the direct successor to the Apollo lunar program. The Constellation program essentially tried to develop a lunar (and eventually interplanetary) launch system from scratch, in the same vein as the original Saturn V, LEM, and Apollo capsule system. However, significant technical problems and immature, changing requirements led the projected cost to soar above $97 billion dollars. Constellation was later cancelled by the Obama administration, citing lack of progress, continued uncertainty, and the enormous price tag.

Constellation was replaced by the Space Launch System (SLS), which is currently projected to cost $18-35 billion to develop. SLS is more geared toward interplanetary missions, but it could conceivably carry a crew and landed to lunar orbit, though a modern lunar lander has not yet been developed.

The SpaceX Falcon Heavy is the next-closest contender for a modern equivalent to the Apollo program. Development costs for the Falcon Heavy are unknown since SpaceX is a private company, but what we do know is that the rocket is expected to be able to carry roughly 16 metric tons to Trans-Lunar Injection (TLI). This is roughly one-third of the payload capacity of a Saturn V rocket, and one-quarter the expected capacity of the SLS. The crew dragon is expected to have a dry mass of around 5 metric tons, but the original lunar module had a dry mass of over 15 metric tons, so it is likely beyond the capability of the Falcon Heavy to carry a crew to the lunar surface -at least in the near term.

So, assuming the SLS program isn't cancelled and the current price estimates are accurate, it would be reasonable to assume that it would cost around $35 billion plus the cost to develop a new lunar lander.

The Apollo program spent around $2.2 billion developing the original lunar lander, or about 11% of the total budget for the program. If we assume that ratio is comparable to what it would take for a modern lander to be developed, then you're adding around 3-5 billion dollars to the overall price tag.

The cost for a single SLS launch is currently projected at around $500 million. By contrast, a Saturn V launch cost somewhere around a billion (2017) dollars to launch.

So, in the neighborhood of $40.5 billion.

If I'm doing my math right, the Apollo program cost roughly $85 billion in 2017 dollars to get to the first landing on the moon. So the cost to land men on the moon using modern technology is, theoretically, about half what it was back at the dawn of space travel.

There are of course additional considerations for the fact that Apollo was doing something that had never been done before, but we also have a greater degree of bureaucracy and regulation in present times (e.g. the safety requirements on manned vehicles are substantially higher now than in the 1960s), so by my reckoning any advantage we might have from our past experience with Apollo would be negated by the increased red tape.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Are you comparing the Apollo program with 7 attempts at landing, to a hypothetical program with a single landing? I couldn't tell from the writeup. Also, are you including Orion costs? I couldn't tell that either. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Dec 10 '17 at 23:33
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Costs for the SLS program include development of the Orion capsule and all the testing and infrastructure necessary to qualify the new rocket system. But you make a good point about Apollo: I did use the budget for the entire program, not what it would have cost had we stopped at Apollo 11. I'll update the numbers to reflect that scenario. $\endgroup$ – MikeB Dec 11 '17 at 0:02
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, great answer. I'm a little surprised that SLS includes Orion, since Orion actually started in Constellation, but I am no budget expert. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Dec 11 '17 at 1:17
1
$\begingroup$

There are many ways to guess a cost, as there are to interpret your question.

To recreate exactly you'd need somewhere to make outdated equipment, so that's not cost efficient.

To update everything and use current technology has a cost that can be estimated but it's more than a day's worth of work to give you a guess; what would the guess mean to you, would you then ask to go for that price, a guaranteed estimate takes longer (and wouldn't be free).

SpaceX plans on sending two people for a spin around the Moon and back (no landing) next year. You need to be approved and pass the health and fitness test results; you don't have to fly yourself since you get a crew.

They haven't decided upon the price per person but they've hinted that it's over $35m. So if you don't plan on putting your foot on the Moon it's not extremely expensive (cheaper than before).

If we assume they're making a small profit, then $50M with no landing.

If you're going to land you might as well do something useful while you're there. So you could double or triple the $50M estimate. You're asking for a guess unless you're more exact on everything.

$\endgroup$

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.