Original Post Date: Monday, August 18, 2014

I had the distinct pleasure last week of attending the 2014 NASA Cost Symposium.  While to the uninitiated this might sound like a bit of a snoozer – it was actually quite interesting and proved to be the source of a ton of valuable information.  The event took place at Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA – near Williamsburg, Newport News, and not too far from Virginia Beach.  My participation was somewhat self-serving in that I was there to talk about PRICE’s new Space Missions Cost Models for TruePlanning®.  This model – discussed in an earlier blog – offers a version of the TruePlanning® Hardware and Systems cost methodology specifically tailored to estimate costs for the spacecraft and payload developed for  robotic earth orbital and scientific missions in space. 

Despite the fact that shameless commercialism was one  motivation for my attendance, this in no way inhibited the geek in me from learning a lot from all the smart people who work for or provide services to NASA.  Here’s a sampling of the things presented and discussed:

  • NASA is just finishing up on the PCEC (Project Cost Estimating Capability) model. This model, the next generation of the NAFCOM (NASA/Air Force Cost Model) has been developed based on the data that NASA collects on missions and their equipment.
  • NASA continues to collect cost and technical data on missions and equipment in order to enforce continuing process improvement with respect to their cost practices.
  • Cost and schedule risk and uncertainty analysis continue to be paramount in the space cost community.  While introducing Joe Hamaker’s talk on Risk Analysis, symposium organizer and MC was quick to highlight the agenda of the 4th Annual NASA Cost Symposium, held in 1984, where Joe Hamaker gave a talk on Risk Analysis.
  • JCL (Joint Confidence Level) is still important in the NASA cost community.  JCL requires that cost and schedule estimates be prepared and presented with a specific confidence level.  If you present an estimate with a cost estimate of X and a schedule estimate of Y with a JCL of 70% - this means you are 70% confident that the program will be completed at or below a cost of X and at or before a schedule with duration of Y.  Over the last several years, I have watched NASA cost and schedule folks work hard to get their heads around the JCL challenge and its starting to look like its working well for them.
  • Schedule estimation is hard and there are many complexities associated with it.  A constant concern for NASA with cost and schedule estimation is the impact of schedule growth.  Because so many of their missions depend on (literally) the aligning of the stars – being late with spacecraft, payload or a launch vehicle can have deleterious effects on the success of a mission.  It was good to hear that some pretty smart people are giving serious thought to way to better estimate schedules and effectively assess the uncertainties and risks inherent with those schedules.

It was a very full three days of presentations on cost estimation, schedule estimation, cost risk, and uncertainty, schedule risk and uncertainty as well as the tools and databases available to support these estimates and analyses.  In addition to all this, the NASA Cost Symposium continues to be an excellent venue to get out and talk to people with very interesting cost and schedule estimation  challenges.  Not only did I get the chance to catch up with some old friends, I got the opportunity to learn what’s new and exciting in the world of space travel and exploration.
Click here to learn more about the NASA cost symposium.