University of Vermont

EC20: Economics of Space Exploration

Instructor: Bill Gibson

Get info from NASA

The class is on Tues and Thurs from 2:50-4:05 pm in 221 Old Mill Annex. The goal of the course is to enhance understanding of basic principles of economics as applied to space exploration. The course runs from 31 August 2015 to 9 December. There is a week-long break for Thanksgiving. Prerequisites: None, except high school physics and economics helpful. Exams: There will be a final and a midterm. Exams will consist of a mixture of problems, short answers and essay questions and will cover material from lectures and the readings. Grades are determined based on the the final exam (40%), paper (40%), homework (20%). Software: All homework problems will be done in Excel and submitted electronically. Some competence in Excel is assumed. (If you are unfamiliar with Excel, there are numerous tutorials available on the web.) Mathematics: Algebra and some basic calculus will be used in the course. The course syllabus is updated throughout the semester. Dates are approximate.

The course addresses the following key question divided into 5 major parts.

Part 1: Should humans fly in space?

We have a choice: Does it make sense to spend billions on space exploration when the resources could be better spent on Earth? What are the trade-offs between social and scientific goals? Should we instead invest in infrastructure, education and poverty programs? Can basic economic theory shed any light on these questions?

Part 2: Can humans fly in space?

Oct 1-15. Are launch cost simply too high to make space colonies a viable alternative? Is it a practical option to become a spacefaring society? Or, is the gravity well of Earth simply too strong and deep to make space travel possible? Also, space travel subjects humans to risks they do not usually encounter on Earth. Are these risks worth it? As both the Challenger and Columbia disasters have shown, the human costs of space travel can be extraordinary.

Part 3: Must humans fly in space?

Are the limits to growth on Earth so severe that mankind has no alternative but to colonize space? Will we run out of petroleum resources for example and be forced to travel to Titan (a moon of Saturn) which has seas of hydrocarbons in order to survive? Will we be better off living in space colonies?

Part 4: What it the proper role for government in space exploration

The US space agency was born in 1958 in the crossfire of debates over public and private roles in space and the Cold War with the USSR. This was the golden age of industrial policy. NASA has evolved since and may now become largely irrelevant. Should the US have an industrial policy that supports space exploration? Should international cooperation be pursued? What then is the role of the private sector? How can can entrepreneurs make money in space?

Part 5: Will we go to the Moon, Mars and beyond?

There are serious plans in the making for this endeavor but it will be costly. Will the US space agency support it or is the sacrifice in terms of cheaper robotic missions not worth the cost?

Homework and exams

All exams are done in Excel. On the Excel spreadsheets, fill in yellow areas only. Multiple choice is A,B,C,D. Some questions ask for numbers and others for specific words or phrases. Look for a comment (indicated by a red triangle in the corner of the cell) to indicate the kind of response required. No comment means a numerical answer. Your homework and exams are keyed to your student number. Return your homework or exam to me by e-mail with the file name as your student number. Do not change the position of any of your answers by inserting or deleting rows, columns or cells. If you do, you will not get credit for your answer even if the answer is correct. Download your spreadsheet from the homework section above and then re-name the worksheet and file with your 9-digit student number. Use dashes. Then save the file under the same student number again dashes. To submit the spreadsheet send it to Prof. Gibson. You will get a confirmation. If you don't get the confirmation, the spreadsheet has been incorrectly submitted and you will not get credit for your work. Both the midterm and final exam will follow this format. There are NO MAKEUP EXAMS. Exam solutions are posted immediately after the exam so that answers will be available. This is the reason no make-up exams are given. Exams are 40 multiple choice questions and 3 short-answer questions. The lowest homework will be dropped to account for any illness or other reason a homework could not be handed in. Access students cannot take exams in the proctoring center since solutions will be available immediately after the exam. Access students should contact Prof. Gibson to insure that the exam is begun early enough to be completed by the end of the exam period. Exams turned in after this time will not be accepted under any circumstances.

The class schedule

Important dates
Events Dates Notes
First Day of Class Tuesday, Sept 1 Homans When is the Space Age Coming for the Rest of US?, Chpt 1 of Bizony
Last Day to Add Classes without Instructor Permission Friday Sept 4
Scarcity, Choice and Efficiency Sept 8 Film: Failure is Not an Option , NASA Budget NASA's Greatest Hits  More Hits  No Bucks no Buck Rodgers, Chpt 4 of Bizony, Zubrin--Astro's Life
Add/Drop, Pass/No Pass, Audit Deadline Mon 14 Sept
Time, growth and technical change Sept 16 Bizony, Chpt 4  July 1969 Film: To the Moon
Trade and specialization Tues 22 Sept Five Essential Things to Do in Space Runners, Riders Ways and Means, Chpt 3 of Bizony
Tale of Two Companies Thurs 29 Sept Film: Sputnik Declassified TTC
The Space Race Thurs 6 Oct Was the Race to the Moon Real?
US and Russian Space Programs Compared Tue 13 Oct Film: The Engine the Came in From the Cold
How to Reducing launch costs Tues 20 Oct That's Why They Call it Rocket Science, Chpt 2 of Bizony.
Getting there: Orbits Tues 27 Oct Gravitation and Mechanics   Interplanetary Trajectories   Planetary missions  Orbital mechanics (the math)
Last Day to Withdraw Mon 2 Nov
O'Neill: Leaving Home Tues 3 Nov O'Neill, The High Frontier, Chpt. 1-5  Films: The Key and The Vision
O'Neill: Islands in the Sky Tues 10 Nov Islands in the Sky, Chpt 5 of Bizony   O'Neill, The High Frontier, Chpt. 6-10
Space Colonization Tues 17 Nov
Moon and Mars Tues 1 Dec The Moon is a Harsh Mistress , Chpt 6 of Bizony.  The Red Planet--and Beyond, Chpt 7 of Bizony
Papers due Sun 22 Nov midnight
Thanksgiving Recess M-F 23-2 Nov
Last Day of Class Tues 9 Dec
Final Exam: Comprehensive 1hr 15 min 18 Dec 13:30-14:45 pm UVM Final exam schedule