NASA expects it'll spend $6 billion on a rocket that's six years behind schedule

NASA has conducted an audit on its Artemis Moon Program and found that it expects to spend an additional $6 billion on a rocket that's behind schedule.

2 minutes & 18 seconds read time

NASA's Inspector General has released a new audit on NASA's management of the Space Launch System rocket, which is slated to be the transportation astronauts will take to the Moon.

NASA expects it'll spend $6 billion on a rocket that's six years behind schedule 984

The audit states that NASA will spend as much as $93 billion on the Artemis Moon Program by the end of 2025, with $22 billion being spent just in 2022 on the development of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Notably, the audit states that mounting costs can be attributed to development hurdles and missteps, resulting in the SLS rocket being behind schedule by six years. Furthermore, NASA's audit states that the space agency expects these costs to increase as well as the SLS schedule.

The development of the SLS rocket has already pushed NASA's budget for its Artemis Moon Program over by $6 billion, and according to the audit, these schedule delays and mounting costs can be traced back to poor assumptions of reusing salvaged engines from Space Shuttle launches. More specifically, the SLS rocket uses four RS-25 engines for every launch, which are either destroyed or abandoned entirely after launch.

"These increases are caused by interrelated issues such as assumptions that the use of heritage technologies from the Space Shuttle and Constellation Programs were expected to result in significant cost and schedule savings compared to developing new systems for the SLS. However, the complexity of developing, updating, and integrating new systems along with heritage components proved to be much greater than anticipated," the audit states.

Once NASA has made its way through the 16 salvaged RS-25 engines, it will switch to RS-25E engines, which are poised to be 30% cheaper and 11% more powerful. The Inspector General's audit states that the space agency didn't anticipate the complexity of developing, updating, and integrating new systems along with heritage components, which has seemingly burned a very large hole in the Artemis Moon Program budget.

Additionally, the audit says these mounting costs can be traced back to the use of "cost-plus" contracts, which enable suppliers to increase the price of component development. The NASA audit recommends switching to fixed-price contracts. In particular, the booster contract has seen significant budget and timeline increases, rising from $2.5 billion when the Artemis program was announced to $4.4 billion with a development delay of 5 years.

"$6 billion in cost increases and over six years in schedule delays above NASA's original projections," the report states

For those who don't know, the Artemis program was originally based on the Constellation program, which planned on returning astronauts to the surface of the Moon by 2020. However, that program was abolished by the Obama administration, resulting in widespread criticism for the thousands of jobs that were no longer guaranteed.

Will we get back to the Moon? While the SLS rocket is suffering from a development delay, there is another option - SpaceX's Starship rocket. However, Starship did explode shortly after its first orbital launch attempt, and while SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says another launch is expected to take place in just a few months, there are some hurdles the company will need to jump through before we see Starship airborne again.

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Jak joined the TweakTown team in 2017 and has since reviewed 100s of new tech products and kept us informed daily on the latest science, space, and artificial intelligence news. Jak's love for science, space, and technology, and, more specifically, PC gaming, began at 10 years old. It was the day his dad showed him how to play Age of Empires on an old Compaq PC. Ever since that day, Jak fell in love with games and the progression of the technology industry in all its forms. Instead of typical FPS, Jak holds a very special spot in his heart for RTS games.

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