Development of SLS rocket has overrun costs by nearly $2 BILLION
Development of NASA's megarocket
Development of NASA's megarocket has overrun costs by nearly $2 BILLION and may not be complete until 2021 - four years later than originally planned, watchdog finds
- General Accounting Office identified $1.8 billion in costs beyond initial $6.2bn
- It also estimates the first launch will be delayed again, now until June 2021
- Space Launch System (SLS), developed by Boeing, was first set for 2017 launch
- It's now scheduled for June 2020 liftoff, but report suggests this won't be met
NASA's flagship space launch system is taking years longer than expected with cost overruns of nearly $2 billion, an audit has found, raising questions about meeting a goal of returning humans to the moon by 2024.
The General Accounting Office (GAO) identified $1.8 billion in additional costs, including nearly $1 billion that NASA obscured in previous reports on its Space Launch System (SLS), the rocket and capsule on which the mission rely.
The issues around the rocket's development, led by Boeing Co, mean that the first launch of the SLS originally scheduled for late 2017 could be delayed until June 2021.
As of now, the maiden test flight is slated for 2020.
The latest assessment doesn’t bode well for a deadline set by the Trump administration, which hopes to see astronauts back on the lunar surface five years from now. This is to serve as a stepping stone for future missions to Mars.
Scroll down for video
NASA's flagship space launch system is taking years longer than expected with cost overruns of nearly $2 billion, an audit has found, raising questions about meeting a goal of returning humans to the moon by 2024. An artist's impression of the SLS rocket is shown
The timeline for SLS has already been pushed back several times over the years, first falling from 2017 to November 2018 before again being revised to June 2020.
Now, according to the GAO, even that target seems ‘unlikely.’
Costs have risen nearly 30 percent since the beginning of the program, from $6.2 billion to $8 billion, the report reveals.
Boeing's space division restructured its leadership team in 2018 and early 2019 to adjust to the program challenges and simplified its manufacturing process, Boeing spokesman Jerry Drelling said.
'No one is building a rocket like this, and we´re creating a very in-depth database for all future rockets,' he said.
The planned mission to land humans on the lunar surface by 2024 is part of a broader program called Artemis that will use the moon as a staging ground for eventual missions to Mars.
This accelerated timeline, four years faster than originally planned, is likely to cost $20 billion to $30 billion over the next five years, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in an interview with CNN last week.
While the space agency briefly toyed with the idea of using a privately developed rocket for the mission to stay on schedule, it doubled back on the suggestion not long after and said it decided it would be sticking with the SLS.
The GAO report said officials from NASA and Boeing underestimated the manufacturing complexity of the 'core stage' of four attached rocket engines, which could increase the cost and cause delays of two years or more.
That estimate is based on findings from previous watchdog reports flagging 'management, technical and infrastructure issues driven by what it called Boeing´s poor performance.'
'NASA´s reporting of cost data for the SLS and Orion programs is not fully transparent,' the report added.
The $1.8 billion cost overrun was nearly double what NASA reported to its inspector general in 2018 for SLS and the Orion capsule - the crew pod built by Lockheed Martin that will launch atop the rocket - the report said.
The latest assessment doesn’t bode well for a deadline set by the Trump administration, which hopes to see astronauts back on the lunar surface five years from now
Boeing's Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg announced Wednesday the company is moving its space division's Arlington, Virginia-based headquarters to Kennedy Space Center in Florida where SLS will eventually be assembled for launch.
NASA´s associate administrator for human spaceflight and operations, William Gerstenmaier, said in a response to the GAO's report that the audit 'does not acknowledge NASA is constructing some of the most sophisticated hardware ever built.'
A NASA spokeswoman declined further comment.
NASA has awarded Boeing at least $146 million in incentives to stay on schedule, but 'the programs have not always achieved overall desired outcomes,' the report said.
The space agency agreed to the report´s recommendation to re-evaluate its incentive system.
WHEN IS NASA GOING BACK TO THE MOON?
In a statement in March, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine doubled down on plans to send humans first to the moon and then to Mars and said NASA is on track to have humans back on the moon by 2028.
The plan relies on the developing Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, along with the Gateway orbital platform.
SLS and Orion are expected to be ready for their first uncrewed test flight in 2020.
Construction on Gateway – an orbiting lunar outpost – is expected to begin as soon as 2022.
'We will go to the Moon in the next decade with innovative, new technologies and systems to explore more locations across the lunar surface than ever before,' Bridenstine said.
'This time, when we go to the Moon, we will stay.
'We will use what we learn as we move forward to the Moon to take the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars.'
Vice President Mike Pence, however, tore up these plans and statements when he unexpectedly revealed a new deadline in March stating intentions to put humans on the moon by 2024 - four years earlier.
The VP called on NASA to 'reignite the spark of urgency' for space exploration and make it a priority to set 'bold goals' and stay on schedule.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine added a week later, at the start of April, that the agency would get 'really close' to delivering a plan by April 15.
This has been missed by several weeks and the House Science Committee is now vocalising its displeasure at having no viable plan or programme from the space agency.