GAO Anticipates First SLS Launch Date In 2021

GAO: Human Space Exploration: Persistent Delays and Cost Growth Reinforce Concerns over Management of Programs

"In November 2018, within one year of announcing an up to 19-month delay for the three programs - the Space Launch System (SLS) vehicle, the Orion spacecraft, and supporting ground systems - NASA senior leaders acknowledged the revised date of June 2020 is unlikely. Any issues uncovered during planned integration and testing may push the launch date as late as June 2021. Moreover, while NASA acknowledges about $1 billion in cost growth for the SLS program, it is understated. This is because NASA shifted some planned SLS scope to future missions but did not reduce the program's cost baseline accordingly. When GAO reduced the baseline to account for the reduced scope, the cost growth is about $1.8 billion. In addition, NASA's updated cost estimate for the Orion program reflects 5.6 percent cost growth. The estimate is not complete, however, as it assumes a launch date that is 7 months earlier than Orion's baseline launch date. If the program does not meet the earlier launch date, costs will increase further."

Keith's note: Of course, this report was done according to the program of record which was working toward a 2028 lunar landing - not the new 2024 date. One can only imagine how all of the issues identified by the GAO fare against a rush to place a human on the lunar surface 4 years earlier than planned. It would seem that more money is not going to solve endemic problems in the SLS/Orion program.

NASA is not especially happy with this report. In NASA's response to GAO, HEOMD AA Bill Gerstenmaier says "The GAO report repeatedly projects worst-case schedule outcome. While NASA appreciates GAO's need to be candid in its review, the Agency does take exception to the unnecessary negative language used in the report title and section headings and the lack of acknowledgement of progress the Agency has made."

Some of the report's highlights:

"... The program has no schedule margin between the end of core stage production and the start of the green run test, and is tracking risks that may delay the test schedule. For example, as the NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) found in its October 2018 report, the Stage Controller--the core stage's command and control hardware and software needed to conduct the green run test--is 18 months behind schedule and may slip further.13 Any additional delays with the development of the core stage and stage controller will further delay the start of the green run test. In addition, the SLS program has no schedule margin between the green run test and delivery of the core stage to Kennedy Space Center for integration to address any issues that may arise during testing.

... Boeing underestimated the staffing levels required to build the core stage in the time available. ... The build plans for the core stage were not adequately mature when the contractor began work on the hardware itself, which led to additional delays. ... Boeing officials explained that they did not anticipate any changes from NASA for the loads--impacts and stresses of mass, pressure, temperature, and vibration that the vehicle will experience--following the program's critical design review, but instead NASA provided three significant updates to those loads. ... Boeing officials stated that it has been challenging to execute NASA's development approach that called for the first set of hardware built to be used for the initial launch. Boeing officials stated that they are more used to an approach in which they use the first hardware built to qualify the design and that hardware is never flown.

... NASA's current approach for reporting cost growth misrepresents the cost performance of the program and thus undermines the usefulness of a baseline as an oversight tool. ... NASA does not have a cost and schedule baseline for SLS beyond the first flight.19 As a result, NASA cannot monitor or track costs shifted beyond EM-1 against a baseline.

... The Orion program is not on schedule to meet the June 2020 launch date for the first mission due to delays with the European Service Module and ongoing component issues with the avionics systems for the crew module, including issues discovered during testing. ... The Orion program has reported development cost growth but is not measuring that growth using a complete cost estimate. ... By not estimating costs through its baseline launch date, the Orion program is limiting the NASA Associate Administrator's insight into how the program is performing against the baseline.

... The Mobile Launcher schedule deteriorated since the December 2017 replan due to problems with finalizing construction work prior to moving it to the Vehicle Assembly Building."

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on June 19, 2019 9:55 AM.

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