The 2013 NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) report, Extending the Operational Life of the International Space Station Until 2024, shows the ISS annual operating costs at $2.9 billion. How much of this cost can be linked to the fact that the ISS has a human crew? It takes a lot to support a human crew in space: more mass to launch in resupply, launches to ferry crew back and forth, life support systems, higher risk monitoring, etc. If it is possible to separate these costs out, I would be very interested in the results.

Edit: Some users have mentioned that estimating this depends on what you count and what you don't. Let's imagine that Robonaut were completely capable of performing solo operations on the ISS, and that Robonaut has now been given full responsibility for performing all on-board activities on the ISS. How would this change the annual operating cost? (Don't try to estimate what it would take to maintain Robonaut at this level of activity--assume current Robonaut costs whether those are lower or higher than they would be in this imaginary scenario.)

Please try not to get hung up on the plausibility of this scenario. I'm not asking for a fully automated ISS--I'm using it as the premise to demonstrate how I want the costs separated.

  • $\begingroup$ You might find this recent NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) report (PDF) relevant to your question. It's not an exact science, depends what you count and what you don't, while everything is kinda dependent on one another. $\endgroup$
    – TildalWave
    Oct 2, 2014 at 16:20
  • $\begingroup$ @TildalWave The first thing I notice is that the annual operating costs are now about $3 billion. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Oct 2, 2014 at 16:33
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    $\begingroup$ This question is a bit pointless, because a large fraction of the experiments done on the ISS are about the effects of weightlessness on the human body. No bodies = far fewer experiments. $\endgroup$
    – Hobbes
    Sep 18, 2015 at 21:28
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    $\begingroup$ Note that \$2.9B is just NASA's share of ISS operating cost. $\endgroup$
    – Hobbes
    Sep 18, 2015 at 21:35
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    $\begingroup$ I would say "all of it" because ISS was designed solely to be a human inhabited station. It has no purpose otherwise and wouldn't have existed unless it had been designed for crew. I kind of fail to grasp the purpose of this question. Without crew, the ISS has no raison d'etre. $\endgroup$ Sep 18, 2015 at 22:13

1 Answer 1


Here is an approximate answer for the Budget year of 2005.

In 2005 1.8 Billion was spent on the ISS.

$140 Million was classified as Cargo/Crew

$350 Million was classified as Operation Program Integrity

$25 Million was classified as Medical support

$425 Million was classified as Launch and Operations (Does Not include Shuttle Launch Costs)

$70 Million was classified as Development

$650 Million was classified as Craft Operations

$150 Million was classified as Flight and Crew Systems.

Now we can safely say that with no crew on-board that the following categories can be excluded: Cargo/Crew, Medical Support and Flight and Crew Systems.

The total cost of those categories adds up to 315 Million.

Now you are left with two categories that may or may not overlap with crew related activities. Launch and Operations, and Operation Program Integrity. Which together compose of $775 Million of the total budget.

Now you can add together the definite and probable cost sectors for the Human Aspect of the ISS which will land you somewhere between 315 Million and 1 Billion (17.5%-55%).

End Result : Depending on how you look at it, the Human aspect of the 2005 Budget for the ISS will be within the range of 315 Million and 1 Billion (17.5%-55% of the total budget).

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for asking the question! Sorry, I wished I could be more specific. $\endgroup$
    – Aaron M
    Nov 24, 2016 at 0:51

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