According to an audit by NASA’s inspector general the construction of the most massive rocket in NASA’s history by Boeing Co. is projected to cost $8.9 billion, coming in at double the initial budget. Although taxpayer-funded cost overruns are often the norm when it comes to the U.S. military-industrial complex, unfortunately, Boeing is also two years behind schedule and could be delayed even more.
Due to these setbacks on the massive Space Launch System means it’s likely that NASA will miss the launch window of December 2019 to June 2020 for its intended Exploration Mission-1, the first flight of the SLS and Orion spacecraft, according to the report. The rocket and Orion—being built by Lockheed Martin Corp.—are engineered to be America’s new deep-space exploration system, deploying first to the moon and eventually deeper into the solar system. Ever since the space shuttle was retired, Americans have had to ride aboard the Russian spacecraft to get into space.
As Asgardia works toward setting up habitable platforms in low-Earth orbit, it’s important to stay on top of developments in the space industry that can be learned from.
NASA has spent $5.3 billion, out of a $6.2 billion budget as of August, for the Boeing contract, and the space agency explained that they expect Boeing to reach the contract’s value by early 2019, which means that money has been spent without the company delivering the rocket’s core stage. From June 2014 to August 2018, Boeing spent $600 million more than planned on developing Core Stages 1 and 2, and NASA officials confirmed that Boeing spent an extra, unplanned $226 million in the present fiscal year.
In the report, released Wednesday, the Inspector General wrote that the reasons for the delay and cost overruns are due to management, technical, and infrastructure issues fueled by Boeing’s poor performance. The report added that NASA lacks visibility into the cost of each stage since all three parts of the contract are co-mingled, contrary to current federal guidelines.
NASA stated that a launch system as large and complicated as SLS has many unique and tough challenges and that the space agency is working on restructuring and renegotiating the core-stage production part of Boeing’s contract. Both NASA and Boeing are working on implementing the report’s recommendations, several of which are already seeing steady and positive improvements.
In a statement, Boeing said that they had restructured their leadership team to better align with current program challenges.
Boeing won the NASA contract in 2012 for two SLS core stages and a later Exploration Upper Stage to boost the rocket’s mass-carrying capacity. The core stage work made up over 40 percent of the $11.9 billion NASA has spent on the SLS up until the end of August.
The crewless EM-1 mission was initially scheduled for December 2017; an EM-2 launch with a crew was planned for mid-2021. The EM-1 launch is still scheduled for 2020, but NASA concedes that technical and schedule issues could postpone the mission. However, in an email, NASA stated that the EM-2 launch would come no later than 2023.
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