NASA Spending $23.8 Billion Developing Deep Space Exploration Programs

sls_orion_ground_costs_fullA new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report places the formulation and development costs of the Space Launch System (SLS), the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and related ground systems at just under $23.8 billion.

The total includes $11.28 billion for Orion, $9.69 billion for SLS, and $2.81 billion for exploration ground systems at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The figures are included in a new GAO report released last week titled, “NASA: Assessment of Major Projects.” In the report, GAO looked at the space agency’s deep space exploration effort and other major programs.

The space agency is working toward a November 2018 launch readiness date of an uncrewed Orion capsule aboard an SLS capable of lifting up to 70 metric tons (77 tons) into low-Earth orbit. The new rocket’s core stage will be powered by four RS-25 engines and extended five-segment solid rocket boosters derived from the space shuttle program.

A flight test with crew members aboard is planned for April 2023. However, NASA officials continue to work toward an internal launch readiness date of August 2021.

The GAO’s $9.7 billion estimate for the Orion program only covers the first crew flight.

“This life-cycle cost estimate does not include production, operations, or sustainment of additional crew vehicles, despite NASA’s plans to use and possibly enhance the vehicle after 2023,” the report stated.

The space agency also plans to evolve SLS to have the capacity to lift 130 metric tons (143.3 tons) to low-Earth orbit. The upgraded launch vehicle would use advanced boosters and a more powerful upper stage.

The GAO report found that NASA faces a number of challenges in keep to its schedule. Issues include challenges with developing the rocket’s interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS), the need to redesign Orion’s heat shield, delays in writing ground system software, and limited cost and schedule reserves.

  • Those numbers are interesting. When NASA did Apollo, JSC spent about the same on the CSM/LM as Marshall spent on the Saturn V. If JSC is spending more on just the Orion capsule than the entire SLS development budget, either: 1) America is getting a smoking deal on SLS reuse items, or 2) we are getting screwed on Orion costs.

    Granted, it’s hard to cost both programs long term because I bet this omits a bunch of RS-25E costs (which haven’t been paid) and European SM costs…