The cost of NASA's proposed space station -- at least $32.8 billion -- is more than twice the previous estimate of $16 billion, according to an independent panel report released yesterday.

The estimate is higher after adjusting for inflation and including in the cost accounting all hardware and associated costs, such as shuttle launches for the station's components and salaries for its federal work force.

The panel stressed that most of the revised figure does not represent a cost increase and is already provided for in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's financial planning in areas outside the space station program. This method of accounting is traditional at NASA, which estimates research and development costs paid to contractors separately from certain other costs.

However, the report said its "more comprehensive estimate of space station program costs is useful for understanding the full resource commitment . . . and for planning and management purposes."

The interim seven-page report was prepared by a panel of outside experts set up by the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, at the request of the White House in order to get a better assessment of soaring space station costs. Robert C. Seamans Jr., a former NASA official and secretary of the Air Force now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, chairs the panel.

The space station is a system of "unprecedented complexity" that will "absorb much of NASA's energy and funding" for the next two or three decades, the board said.

The panel, which stated its findings in 1984 dollars, said the first phase of the space station, on which construction is to begin in 1994, would cost at least $21 billion, with the second phase bringing the total to $27.5 billion. That translates into $32.8 billion in 1988 dollars using the inflation-adjustment formula.

The group added $1.5 billion for a crew rescue system it says will be needed and cautioned that other costs probably will rise further as technical problems, schedule slippage and other difficulties arise. Among the panel's findings:

NASA may have underestimated the amount of computer software the station will require.

NASA has planned for "little" backup flight hardware in case of accident or failure.

NASA's complicated management structure "makes more difficult" the task of integrating the complex station systems.

Construction and operation of the station will be complicated by limitations in the shuttle's payload capacity and could occupy a major share of the shuttle's activity.

NASA Deputy Administrator Dale D. Myers called the report "very constructive . . . . They have verified our methodology, which was the main purpose of this {report} and listed some concerns, most of which we were already working on."

Myers said the agency has made no effort to hide the associated costs not included in the space station program budget. "We've covered all these costs with Congress and OMB {Office of Management and Budget}," he said.

Rep. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), chairman of a key House Science, Space and Technology subcommittee, said the report echoes some concerns raised last spring and "clearly shows that NASA needs realistic cost goals for the space station and a realistic system to acccount for and manage those costs."

The panel did not have time to do its ground-up cost estimate but based estimates on NASA's figures and general approach, which it found "reasonable and in the ballpark but with many areas of concern," said panel Vice Chairman John McLucas, another former secretary of the Air Force and now chairman of the board of Questech Inc. "We found a few things they had left out."

These additions to the $16 billion core research and development budget brought the panel's revised total in that category to $17.9 billion in 1984 dollars.

To this the panel added $9.6 billion for launch services, salaries for NASA's standing cadre of engineers and technicians who will work on the space station, ground facility construction and other costs not included in the R&D station budget, bringing the estimated costs for the completed station to $27.5 billion.

The panel will deal with the cost of operating the station, clearly "a demanding and expensive undertaking," and other major "uncertainties" in its next report, it said.

The program ran into trouble in January when NASA told the administration that the estimated price tag had nearly doubled from the original $8 billion estimate. In April, President Reagan approved a plan to save the station by splitting its construction into two phases.

What the panel proposes to do, "rather than {have NASA} try to live with a fixed dollar amount" for space station costs, McLucas said, is to see "that all the steps a prudent person would take are taken" in the planning.