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I often see the claim that the Shuttle SRBs cost as much to recover & refurb as it would to build a new one. I've probably even parroted this claim myself.

But, are there any actual studies or analysis on the economics of Shuttle SRB re-use? Are we all just repeating a Space Legend like these people did: Which LEO satellite lost over 30 km of altitude in the geomagnetic storm of 13-14 March 1989? ?

Is there any documentation to support the claim that it would it have been cheaper / essentially the same cost to build new boosters for each Shuttle flight?

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  • $\begingroup$ My only evidence is that SLS won't be reusing them. $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove Jun 14 '18 at 16:50
  • $\begingroup$ Not even in the same flight rate ballpark. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Jun 14 '18 at 16:51
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    $\begingroup$ I've seen figures of ~$30M for refurbishment, but never found a breakdown of that. $\endgroup$ – Hobbes Jun 14 '18 at 22:38
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    $\begingroup$ Color me unsurprised if there turns out being no well-documented answer to this question. I worked for DoD for 14 years before going on loan to NASA. I noticed many differences between the two government orginizations, but two money-related differences hit me immediately: First - NASA had no money (relative to DoD). Second, NASA apparently had no real good ideas how Shuttle Program money was being spent. This second conclusion is understandable in a sense, NASA being primarily concerned with R&D. I'm just sayin'... $\endgroup$ – Digger Jun 15 '18 at 20:44
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    $\begingroup$ Interesting part of the equation is the cost of recovery from ship operations to land transport back to the facility where they would be refurbished, and the cost of designing-in reusability, including the parachute system, locator beacon, salt water protections, etc.. Although making them recoverable did create the opportunity to collect information on aspects of their performance only available by inspecting the recovered hardware, which could have had an economic benefit. $\endgroup$ – Anthony X Sep 2 at 20:34
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The answer depends on the several factors that determine the relative economics of the reuse of existing space equipment vs. building new equipment: type of demand use cases for space travel, type of reusable equipment, fleet size, trip frequency, etc.

Here's a NASA research article that lays out the factors in detail: https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20160013370.pdf

Per a recent article (https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2017/01/05/why-doesnt-nasa-develop-reusable-rockets/amp/) that quoted a NASA official, it was less expensive to reuse SRBs for the space shuttle (due to the frequency) since the space shuttle had a high frequency of trips.

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  • $\begingroup$ So, was it cheaper or more expensive to re-use the SRBs? $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Sep 2 at 18:53
  • $\begingroup$ Less expensive to reuse SRBs for the space shuttle (due to the frequency) since the space shuttle had a high frequency of trips. $\endgroup$ – Pchandrasekar Sep 2 at 19:34
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    $\begingroup$ Can you refer me to where it says that in your reference? $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Sep 2 at 19:47
  • $\begingroup$ I'm afraid your conclusion is unsupported by your reference. Since a reference to prove one way or another about the value of SRB reuse is precisely what I am looking for, I must conclude that this does not answer my question. If I missed something in the reference, please point it out. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Sep 2 at 23:14
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    $\begingroup$ To be clear: I am looking for a reference that includes "actual studies or analysis on the economics of Shuttle SRB re-use" and "documentation to support the claim that it would it have been cheaper / essentially the same cost to build new boosters for each Shuttle flight". Not a throwaway line in an quora answer by an ISS instructor. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Sep 3 at 0:56

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