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Impairment of NASA's cost performance and schedules – SpacePolicyOnline.com

Just as NASA is seeking support for its Artemis Moon-by-2024 program, the annual evaluation of the agency's programs conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concludes that the cost and performance of the schedule " they continue to deteriorate. " with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion spacecraft. The average delay in launching in the main NASA programs represents the biggest delay in the timeline since the GAO began this series of reports in 2009.

As required by Congress, each year, the GAO reports on the status of NASA's major programs, projects and activities, those with a life cycle cost of more than $ 250 million. For 2019, it evaluated 24 projects in formulation or implementation. They include science, human space flights, technology, aeronautics and space networks.

GAO found that, since its last report in May 2018, "cost growth has increased to 27.6 percent and the average delay in the launch is approximately 13 months, the biggest delay in the program we have reported."

The much delayed JWST represented a large part of the growth in costs and the schedule. Last year, NASA had to delay the launch of JWST from October 2018 to March 2021 and add more than $ 800 million to the cost due to integration problems at the main contractor, Northrop Grumman. JWST is tracking the Hubble Space Telescope and will study dark energy, dark matter and exoplanets.

The great new NASA rocket, the Space Launch System, and the Orion spacecraft that will be launched on board to send astronauts beyond low Earth orbit also contribute significantly to the shady badessment of the GAO.

SLS's main contractor, Boeing, "underestimated both the complexity of the central stage engine badembly and the necessary time and labor". The cost of development grew by $ 1.4 billion and the schedule slid past June 2020 as a result.

The updated cost estimate from NASA for Orion has a 5.6 percent increase in the cost of development due to the delay in the first launch, the low performance of the contractor and the range increases directed by NASA. That estimate is only until the second launch of Orion, Artemis-2, in September 2022. That will be the first Orion to carry a crew. Lockheed Martin is Orion's prime contractor and "Orion's contractor estimates indicate that additional cost growth is likely," according to the GAO.

Three other projects that experienced significant cost growth since the last evaluation of these projects by GAO were:

  • Space segment earth segment maintenance (SGSS): increase of $ 167.6 million to cover the period between the initial operational readiness review in September 2019 and the final acceptance review in November 2020;
  • Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON): $ 2.2 million due to problems with its Pegasus launch vehicle; Y
  • Mars 2020: $ 37.7 million in cost growth due to problems with the Sampling and Caching Subsystem and the SHERLOC instrument.

On a positive note, GAO reports that the Parker Solar Probe cost $ 40 million Less of the projected.

The GAO notes that NASA is not requesting funding for two major projects that the Trump Administration wants to terminate despite Congress having rejected those proposals in the past: the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) and the Plankton, Spray, Cloud, Ocean Ecosystem (PACE) Earth science spacecraft. Although they are not included in NASA's budget, the agency is proceeding with them as indicated by Congress and will require $ 3 billion over the next 5 years.

At the same time, NASA is starting important new projects, such as Artemis.

As a result, NASA will have to "increase its annual funding request for major projects or continue to carry out financing operations between projects as part of the annual budget request."

"… NASA is currently managing a portfolio of programs that cost more than its planned annual budget request can support, and this trend will continue, baduming its budget requests remain on track. Our previous work on Department of Defense procurement shows that when agencies commit to more programs than resources can support, an unhealthy competition for funding is created between programs. This situation can lead to inefficient fund adjustments, such as moving money from one program to another or deferring costs into the future. "- GAO

Yesterday, the Office of the Inspector General (IG) of NASA published an audit of the Europa Clipper and Europa Lander missions that are under development. They will investigate the moon of Jupiter, Europe. The GI warned that none is likely to meet its launch date, established in the law, of 2023 and 2025 respectively, in part due to the shortage of labor in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) where they are administered.

The GAO also warned about the labor shortage for the Clipper project, which has been around 7 percent below the planning levels since February 2017. The cost and timeline reserves are also below expectations and a "cost exercise in preparation for the confirmation review indicated that costs would increase above preliminary estimates …"

The law requires NASA to start Clipper on SLS, but the agency has not made a final decision on which rocket to use. He argues that he could save $ 700 million by using a commercial rocket instead. NASA told GAO that if SLS is used, the project will be charged only the cost of the heavy launch of Delta IV and the Operations and Human Exploration Mission Directorate (which administers the SLS program) will absorb the additional cost.

The 24 projects evaluated by the GAO are the following:


  • Europe Clipper
  • Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP)
  • Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, Ocean Ecosystem (PACE)
  • Psyche
  • Restore-L
  • Wide field infrared inspection telescope (WFIRST)


  • Commercial crew program
  • Mission of double redirection of asteroids
  • Earth exploration systems
  • Satellite-2 elevation of ice, clouds and earth (ICESAT-2)
  • Ionosphere Connection Explorer (ICON)
  • Internal exploration using seismic investigations, geodesy and heat transport (InSight)
  • James Webb Space Telescope
  • Landsat 9
  • Low-boom flight demonstrator
  • Demonstration of laser communications relay (LCRD)
  • Lucy
  • Mars 2020
  • Synthetic aperture radar of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) (NISAR)
  • Orion
  • Solar probe Parker
  • Maintenance of the terrestrial segment of the space network (SGSS)
  • Space launch system (SLS)
  • Topography of surface waters and oceans (SWOT)

Last update: May 30, 2019 at 6:31 p.m. Eastern time

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