NASA Audit Raises Concerns About SLS/Orion Infrastructure Development

Space Launch System on pad. (Credit: NASA)
Space Launch System on pad. (Credit: NASA)

NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has found that while NASA has been making steady progress on rebuilding Kennedy Space Center’s infrastructure for the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion, the agency is facing significant challenges in completing the work in time for a planned November 2018 launch.

“For the most part, these challenges originate from interdependencies between the GSDO, SLS, and Orion Programs, the report reads, referring to the Ground Systems Development and Operations program. “In short, GSDO cannot finalize and complete its requirements without substantial input from the other two Programs, and NASA is still finalizing the requirements for those Programs.”

OIG is particularly concerned that NASA had planned to complete the critical design review for GSDO in March 2015, several months prior to the critical design reviews for SLS (May 2015) and Orion (August 2015).

The audit recommended NASA re-evaluate the timing of the GSDO critical design review. The space agency agreed to move the review to December 2015.

“However, NASA management noted a risk that the dates planned for SLS and Orion could slip and the GSDO review occur first,” the report reads. “Accordingly, NASA should closely monitor the Programs to ensure any such risk is mitigated so as to avoid significant cost increases or schedule delays.”

Key excerpts from the report are below.

NASA’s Launch Support and Infrastructure Modernization:
Assessment of the Ground Systems Needed to Launch SLS and Orion

NASA Office of Inspector General Office of Audits
Report No. IG-15-012
March 18, 2015

What We Found

GSDO has made steady progress on the major equipment and facilities modernization initiatives needed to launch SLS and Orion, but significant technical and programmatic challenges remain to meet a November 2018 launch date. For the most part, these challenges originate from interdependencies between the GSDO, SLS, and Orion Programs. In short, GSDO cannot finalize and complete its requirements without substantial input from the other two Programs, and NASA is still finalizing the requirements for those Programs. Specifically, GSDO must overcome (1) a short timeframe for performing verification and validation testing between the Mobile Launcher, VAB, and Launch Pad 39B; (2) receipt of data and hardware regarding Orion later than planned; (3) the potential that integrated operations for Exploration Mission 1 may take longer than expected; and (4) most significantly, delays associated with development of command and control software.

At the time of our audit, GSDO was scheduled to complete a significant development milestone known as Critical Design Review in March 2015, several months before SLS (May 2015) and Orion (August 2015). The purpose of the Critical Design Review is to demonstrate a project’s design is sufficiently mature to proceed to full scale fabrication, assembly, integration, and testing and technical aspects are on track to meet performance requirements within identified cost and schedule constraints. In our judgment, given the many interdependencies between the Programs, a schedule that has GSDO completing Critical Design Review prior to the other two Programs increases the risk GSDO may experience schedule delays or be required to perform costly redesign work.

Finally, coordinating and integrating development of the three individual Programs to meet a common milestone date presents a unique challenge, particularly since NASA historically has used a single program structure to manage similar efforts such as Apollo and the Space Shuttle. In lieu of central management, NASA established a cross-program integration structure that designates leaders from each Program to coordinate and align the Programs’ development schedules. It is too early to say whether these substantial coordination challenges will result in cost or schedule issues for the Exploration Mission 1 launch. Moreover, new issues are likely to be uncovered during integration – the point at which most projects encounter technical problems that impact cost and schedule. Given these challenges, coordination efforts among the GSDO, SLS, and Orion Programs are essential to successfully meeting NASA’s human exploration goals.

What We Recommended

In order to decrease the risk that the GSDO Program will experience cost increases or schedule delays, we recommended the Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations reevaluate allowing GSDO to complete Critical Design Review before the SLS and Orion Programs. In response to a draft of our report, NASA management concurred with our recommendation and indicated it had changed the dates of the Programs’ Critical Design Reviews so that the SLS and Orion reviews (currently planned for July and October 2015, respectively) will precede the GSDO review (currently planned for December 2015). However, NASA management noted a risk that the dates planned for SLS and Orion could slip and the GSDO review occur first. Accordingly, NASA should closely monitor the Programs to ensure any such risk is mitigated so as to avoid significant cost increases or schedule delays. The recommendation is resolved and will be closed upon verification and completion of the proposed action.