Designing Sustainable Launch Systems: Flexibility, Lock-In and System Evolution
De Weck, Olivier
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NASA has recently made the decision to develop a heavy lift launch system with Shuttle- Derived components, but myriad questions remain about technical design and development strategy. The complexity of heavy lift launch systems and their interconnectedness to the rest of the exploration architecture ensures that near-term architectural design decisions will greatly affect long-term options for future space exploration. This paper uses Real Options valuation to compare two possible development plans for a heavy lift launch system. Taking into account cost profiles, capacity, and uncertainty in demand, various heavy lift vehicle strategies are presented and evaluated along plausible development paths. These strategies can be framed as Shuttle-Derived-Architectures with "options" to change capability in the face shifting demand and risk tolerance scenarios. Initial results suggest that life-cycle optimality is heavily dependant on schedule uncertainty, while less sensitive to lunar and mars mission architectures and initial mass in low earth orbit (IMLEO). Future work will involve more detailed analysis of switching options and switching costs, as well as a more comprehensive network model of switching decisions in order to compare more vehicle configurations.