In March 2018, NASA announce a ninth round of Candidates participating in the CubeSat Launch Initiative. As of March 2, the organization has selected 158 CubeSats from 39 states, and launched 59 missions as part of the Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) Program. CubeSats are everywhere, and obviously, we want to know how much the will cost to design and build. We expect that the projects will save money overall, by getting small missions up in space quickly, with shorter mission life, and shorter development schedules. Since many of the teams participating in this early CubeSat experiments are Universities, costs and effort are not always tracked in a way that supports cost estimating, and since the capability is very new, there is little data available to extrapolate from.
When there is a lack of data, predictive modeling can be challenging. This could be a good time to let PRICE’s Cost Research team jump in and fill the gap. Over the last year, the team has produced over 320 templates and validated test cases that could be used as a starting point in just this situation. The team has put together a flexible template based on a study of 3U CubeSats, out of the University of Colorado. The MinXSS provided a basis for a reusable Product Breakdown Structure, and technology description for a “typical” 3U Cubesat. The template is intended to be a generic version of a product, that can be scaled and tweaked to represent a real project. Tthe team validated the template by modifying weight, quantities and schedule of each of 3 test cases: LIghtsail 2, Genesat-1, and the Nanosail-D. Two of the test cases case within 8% of the Program actuals, and one within about 31%.
When the template is validated against program actuals, in can also be a simple way of predicting costs of a future project, when little descriptive information or cost data is available. You might attempt a similar method to the PRICE Cost Research Team, and scale the weight of each object, modify the quantity and tune the schedule for the future project. If nothing else, it’s a good place to start for a high level estimate, until you have more detailed data.
You can see the same process used for many other types of products, all available on the Amazon cloud, any time you open TruePlanning.