WASHINGTON – When NASA prepares a key study of the Europa Clipper mission, a report from the Agency's Inspector General warns that the mission's launch may face delays and significant cost increases.
The report of NASA's OIG Office Inspectorate, published May 29, also said that a follow-up landing mission funded by Congress over the Agency's objections is also unlikely to be ready for launch in 2025 as indicated and likely to cost significantly more than expected, disrupting the balance of priorities of the Agency's planetary missions.
The Europe Clipper mission is currently scheduled for launch in 2023 to orbit Jupiter. The spacecraft will make dozens of close approaches to Europe, a large ice moon that is thought to end up with an underground sea of liquid water. The spacecraft's instruments help scientists decide whether Europe is potentially habitable.
Europe Clipper has advanced faster than NASA, which was originally calculated, thanks to the lawyer who was previously John Culberson (R-Texas) for the mission than requested. The OIG report notes that the congress in the financial years 201
However, this funding is not sufficient to keep the mission on track for a 2023 launch, a date that has already cut a year from original plans. "Despite robust early-stage funding, there are a number of significant development and staffing challenges that Clipper's current mission cost estimates and planned 2023 target launches are in jeopardy," the OIG report says.
Among the issues mentioned in the OIG report were the selection and development of Europe Clipper's instruments. The report found that the project selected instrument proposals with cost estimates "later turned out to be too optimistic." This was exacerbated by an instrument selection process to avoid conflicts of interest that largely precluded the management of the Europe Clipper at Jet Propulsion Laboratory because some of the instrument proposals came from the JPL as well. This, according to the report, may have led to integration problems, as with a radar instrument whose design changed when the mission changed from nuclear power to solar energy.
NASA has since dismissed one of the originally chosen instruments, a magnetometer called ICEMAG, and plans to replace it with a less complex facility magnetometer. Several other instruments have, however, also suffered significant cost increases and risk being de-scope reviews, which can change their design or remove them completely.
Another problem is a lack of labor deficiency at JPL, where several other missions compete with Europe Clipper for staff. The OIG report states that Europe Clipper was understaffed by 42 full-time positions per year. October 2018, a deficit that rose to 67 in December.
Barry Goldstein, project manager for Europe Clipper at JPL, said at a meeting of the Space Research Agency's Astrobiology and Planetary Science Committee that the availability of the workforce was a major reason why the mission's launch date recently went smoothly one year to 2023. " It was pretty clear to me that we wouldn't do it, "he said. "We had just too many shortcomings in our workforce."
Complementing the mission's development remains uncertain about the choice of starter vehicle. The Congress has repeatedly directed NASA to use the Space Launch System for both Europe Clipper and later land mission, although NASA has been pushing to use a commercial launch car, either United Launch Alliance's Delta 4 Heavy or SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, to start the mission instead. While only SLS can send Europe Clipper on a direct path to Jupiter and save years of travel time, NASA argued in the draft budget for 2020 that the use of a commercial vehicle could save more than $ 700 million.
The OIG report found very small cost savings by changing vehicles. NASA estimates that using an SLS will cost $ 876 million for Europe Clipper, against $ 450 million for either Delta 4 Heavy or Falcon Heavy. When savings in mission operations created by the shorter travel time are included, SLS costs use less than $ 300 million more than either commercial alternative.
However, the report concludes that it is too late to produce an SLS in time for a 2023 launch. NASA estimates it needs 52 months to produce a SLS core field, the long-term lead point for the vehicle, and six months for launch integration. "NASA would have had to order the third core phase in September 2018 to make a window in July 2023," the report said. "From March 2019, NASA had not ordered a third Core Stage."
The report precedes a milestone called Key Decision Point C expected this summer when NASA will set a formal cost and estimate estimate for the mission through a process known as joint confidence level (JCL) analysis. A similar analysis, conducted last October by the Mission Standing Review Card, according to the OIG report, stated "a very low probability of a 2022 launch and gave a 70 percent confidence level for a 2024 launch on a mission costing between $ 3.5 billion. and $ 4 billion. "This cost, noted the report, is much higher than previous projections that brought the mission to about $ 2 billion. Dollars and approaching the original cost estimate for a Europe mission in the 2011 planetary decadal that the report is considered too expensive for NASA to pursue.
The OIG report was even more critical of the proposed land mission that Congress has directed NASA to launch by 2025. "NASA will not be able to meet a start date of 2025 due to the workforce and plan risks with Lander and SLS developments , "Concluded the report. It concluded that based on the development times of flagship class missions like the March 2020 rover, "the earliest it could launch was late 2026", a date that assumed the mission started Phase A development in early 2019, which it has not.
"Both planned Europe missions are ambitious efforts based on realistic costs and schedule commitments," the report concluded. "Given the unresolved technical, workforce and budgetary challenges, we believe that NASA is motivated by Congress mandates working on unattainable Clipper and Lander launch dates."
Complicating the future of missions is the fact that Culberson lost re-election in 2018 and no longer is in Congress to commit to the mission of the House Grant Committee. A version of a tax year 2020 expense bill approved by the committee on May 22 gives $ 592.6 million to Europe Clipper, the amount requested by NASA, but no funding for the land mission. The report accompanied the bill targeting NASA to spend the $ 195 million in land finance provided in 2019 to continue technological development for the mission through 2020. However, the bill retained the language that instructed NASA to use SLS & # 39; one to launch both missions and also held the requirement to launch Europe Clipper in 2023 and the farmer in 2025 despite the lack of funding for landing mission in the 2020 bill.