An audit by the NASA Inspector General released today indicates that the commercial crew program will likely delayed further due to technical and administrative challenges at significant cost to U.S. taxpayers.
- First commercial crew flights likely to slip to late 2018 — 3 years beyond original schedule
- Boeing and SpaceX facing significant design challenges, including CST-100 weight and excess seawater seeping into the Dragon capsule
- “Significant” delays in NASA evaluation of partner safety and hazard reviews and reports
- NASA to pay additional $490 million ($82 million per seat) for astronaut transport on Russian Soyuz through 2018
Below is a summary from the report. Read the full audit here.
What We Found
The Commercial Crew Program continues to face multiple challenges that will likely delay the first routine flight carrying NASA astronauts to the ISS until late 2018 – more than 3 years after NASA’s original 2015 goal. While past funding shortfalls have contributed to the delay, technical challenges with the contractors’ spacecraft designs are now driving the schedule slippages. For Boeing, these include issues relating to the effects of vibrations generated during launch and challenges regarding vehicle mass. For SpaceX, delays resulted from a change in capsule design to enable a water-based rather than ground-based landing and related concerns about the capsule taking on excessive water.
Moreover, both companies must satisfy NASA’s safety review process to ensure they meet Agency human-rating requirements. As part of the certification process, Boeing and SpaceX conduct safety reviews and report to NASA on potential hazards and their plans for mitigating risks. We found significant delays in NASA’s evaluation and approval of these hazard reports and related requests for variances from NASA requirements that increase the risk costly redesign work may be required late in development, which could further delay certification. Although NASA’s goal is to complete its review within 8 weeks of receipt of a hazard report, the contractors told us reviews can take as long as 6 months. We also found NASA does not monitor the overall timeliness of its safety review process.
Given delays in the Commercial Crew Program, NASA has extended its contract with Roscosmos for astronaut transportation through 2018 at an additional cost of $490 million or $82 million a seat for six more seats. If the Program experiences additional delays, NASA may need to buy additional seats from Russia to ensure a continued U.S. presence on the ISS.
What We Recommended
To improve NASA’s oversight of the Commercial Crew Program, we recommended the Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations (1) implement procedures to monitor the timeliness of NASA’s review process for hazard reports to help reduce risk to the Program’s schedule and (2) coordinate with Boeing and SpaceX to document a path to timely resolution for variance requests and hazard reports that have exceeded the review period goals. In response to a draft of this report, NASA managers concurred with our first recommendation and described responsive corrective actions. Therefore, the recommendation is resolved and will be closed upon verification and completion of those actions.
NASA management partially concurred with our second recommendation, agreeing coordination with its commercial partners is necessary to ensure hazard reports and variance requests are addressed at the appropriate time and stating it will continue to have weekly discussions with the companies to develop a path for timely resolution. However, we believe NASA needs to take additional action to ensure timely review of hazard reports and avoid the possibility of costly redesign late in the development schedule. Therefore, this recommendation is unresolved pending further discussion with Agency officials.