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Cost Estimating

Scope and Description

This topic covers the processes and procedures that small satellite teams should follow when developing a cost estimate for their projects. It is essential to understand the total life cycle cost required to develop and maintain a smallsat to ensure mission success.

Resources under this topic area provide general cost estimating principles and how they can be applied to smallsat cost modeling, as well as open source software tools that can be leveraged in the development of a cost estimate.

Best Practices and Lessons Learned

  • NASA only requires major acquisition programs to develop and maintain a cost estimate, however, it is essential for all programs to understand total program costs.
  • Develop a cost model early in any program life cycle and maintain it throughout the life of the program. This will allow your team to accurately weigh engineering decisions against cost, minimize cost overruns, and ensure that budget constraints don't prevent mission success.


This conference paper presents what the authors describe as the "most useful of roughly 100 methods, ... processes, technologies, and programs for achieving dramatic reductions in space mission cost." This guidance is broken down into nine categories: Attitude, Personnel, Programmatic, Government/Customer, Systems Engineering, Mission, Launch, Spacecraft Technology, and Operations. The tables presented throughout this article allow for quick access to the key takeaways from each section.

Michael Saing

This article outlines the basics of the cost estimation process and how to apply it to a smallsat mission. ... Multiple tools are provided in this document including the NASA Instrument Cost Model (NICM), Small Spacecraft Cost Model (SCCM), and NASA Cubesat Or Microsat Probabilistic Analogy Cost Tool (COMPACT). Slide 24 is especially useful in guiding users through the cost estimating process - from gathering data to implementing the various cost models.

Software Tool
Aerospace Corporation

SSCM is an open source cost modeling tool developed specifically for small satellite cost analysis. Traditional ... satellite cost models usually overestimate program costs due to added complexity and risk associated with larger satellites. The SSCM tool uses data from over 80 different small satellites to create cost estimating relationships (CERs) for total program costs.

White Paper

This handbook describes the cost estimating process from receiving a customer request through developing ... and presenting the cost estimate to project stakeholders. Smaller programs can use the Analogy Cost Estimating methodology outlined in section 2.2 of the handbook. Included in this resource are multiple links to other useful models, tools, and handbooks that will help in cost and schedule management.


These appendices include a number of resources that are relevant to the development of satellite cost ... and schedule estimates - including advice on work breakdown structure (WBS) development, models and tools, and specific guidance for software cost estimation.

This report provides guidance on conducting reviews and estimating resources for space acquisition programs. ... Chapters 3 and 4 explain the review and cross-check processes that acquisition analysts use to verify and validate satellite cost estimates. Relevant historical information on space systems and cost drivers are also included in this article.

White Paper

This presentation provides a detailed review of the cost estimation process - including space program ... cost elements, cost estimate methodology, techniques, learning curve analysis, and more. In addition, this presentation includes guidance on how to develop a cost estimate for unique programs or programs that require an independent cost estimate.

This thesis discusses two widely used cost estimating models, the Small Satellite Cost Model (SSCM) and ... the NASA/Air Force Cost Model (NAFCOM), and the gap in cost estimates for nano- and picosatellites, specifically. With a smaller database of analogous smallsat missions, it is difficult for nano- and picosatellite teams, especially university teams, to develop accurate cost estimates for their smallsat mission.

White Paper

As described in this resource, "a WBS is a product-oriented family tree that identifies the hardware, ... software, services, and all other deliverables required to achieve an end project objective. The purpose of a WBS is to subdivide the project’s work content into manageable segments to facilitate planning and control of cost, schedule, and technical content." This detailed handbook documents NASA's approach to developing, maintaining, and using a WBS for management of budget, schedule, and other elements of a project.

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