Like NASA is trying to gain support for its Artemis Moon-by-2024 program, the government's annual (GAO) assessment of the Agency's programs concludes that costs and schedules "continue to deteriorate". This is largely attributable to the problems with James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft. The average start delay across NASA's major programs represents the largest schedule delay since GAO began this series of reports in 2009.
As required by Congress, GAO reports annually on the status of major NASA programs, projects, and activities – those with one life cycle cost of more than $ 250 million. In 2019, it assessed 24 projects in formulation or implementation. They include science, human space, technology, aviation and space networks.
GAO noted that since the May 2018 growth report, "cost growth has risen to 27.6 percent, and the average start delay is about 13 months, the largest schedule delay we have ever reported."
The much delayed JWST much of the growth in costs and schedule. Last year, NASA had to delay JWST's launch from October 2018 to March 2021, adding more than $ 800 million to the cost due to main contractor integration issues, Northrop Grumman. JWST is the follow-up to the Hubble Space Telescope and will study dark energy, dark matter and exoplanets.
NASA's major new rocket, Space Launch System and the Orion crew spacecraft that will launch aboard to send astronauts beyond low Earth circuits are also important contributors to GAO's gloomy assessment.
The main SLS contractor Boeing "underestimated both the complexity of the core phase engine's assembly and time and labor". Development costs increased by DKK 1.4 billion. Dollars and schedule fell beyond June 2020.
NASA's updated cost estimate for Orion has an increase of 5.6 percent cost increase due to the delay in the first launch, the contractor's underperformance and NASA-targeted volume increases. That estimate is only through the second Orion launch, Artemis-2, in September 2022. It will be the first Orion to carry a crew. Lockheed Martin is the Orion General Contractor, and the "Orion Contractor's Estimate Shows Additional Cost Growth is Likely", according to GAO.
Three other projects that saw significant cost growth since GAO's recent assessment of these projects was:
- Space Network Ground Segment Maintenance (SGSS): 167.6 million. $ Rises to cover the period between the original operational emergency survey in September 2019 and the final approval assessment in November 2020
- Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON): 2.2 million. USD due to problems with its Pegasus launch vehicle; and
- March 2020: $ 37.7 million cost growth due to sample and caching subsystem and SHERLOC instrument issues.
GAO reports positively that Parker Solar Probe costs $ 40 million less than projected.
GAO points out that NASA does not request funding for two major projects that Trump Administration wants to terminate, although Congress has rejected these proposals in the past: WFIRST and WFIRST, Wide Field, and Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, Ocean Ecosystem ( PACE) Earth research spacecraft. Though not included in NASA's budget, the agency deals with them as stated by Congress and will require $ 3 billion over the next 5 years.
At the same time, NASA begins major new projects, such as Artemis. 19659004]. Therefore, NASA must either "increase its annual funding request for major projects or continue to make financing transactions between projects as part of its annual budget request."
"… NASA is currently managing a portfolio of programs that cost more than what the planned annual budget request can support and this trend will continue, provided its budget requests remain on the same path. Our previous work in the defense ministries' acquisitions shows that when agencies commit to more programs than resources can support, unhealthy competition for programs is created, which can lead to inefficient financing adjustments, such as moving money from one program to another or postponing the costs for the future. "- GAO
Yesterday, NASA's Inspectorate (IG) launched a review of Europe Clipper and Europe Lander missions in development. They will investigate Jupiter's moon Europe. IG warned that neither the launch date set by the law of 2023 and 2025, respectively, will probably not meet the date of launch, as well as the lack of manpower at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) where they are managed.
GAO also warned about the workforce missing for the Clipper project, which has been around 7 percent below the planning level since February 2017. Costs and schedule reserves are also lower than expected, and a "cost exercise in preparation for the confirmation rating indicates that the cost will be rise above the preliminary estimates … "
NASA is legally obliged to launch Clipper on the SLS, but the agency has not made a final decision on which rocket it will use. It claims it could save $ 700 million by using a commercial rocket instead. NASA told GAO that if SLS is used, the project will only be charged the cost of a Delta IV Heavy launch, and the Directorate of Human Exploration and Operations Mission (which manages the SLS program) will absorb the additional costs.
The 24 projects assessed by GAO are as follows:
- Europe Clipper
- Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP)
- Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, Ocean Ecosystem ( PACE)
- Widescreen Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST)
- Commercial Crew Program
- Asteroid Redirection Mission
- Exploration Ground Systems
- Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESAT-2)
- Ionosphere Connection Explorer (ICON)
- Interior survey by seismic survey, geodesy and
- NASA Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR)
- Parker Solar Probe
- Space Network Ground Segment Sustainment (SGSS)
- Space Launch System (SLS)
- Surface Water and Ocean Topography SWOT
Last Updated: 30 May 2019, 18:31 ET