GAO Finds Concerns About Structural Integrity of SLS Mobile Launcher

Mobile crawler transporter (Credit: NASA)

Updated May 5 at 12:53 p.m. PDT with information about funding for a second Mobile Launcher.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

There are “emerging concerns about the structural integrity of the Mobile Launcher’s base” from which NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft will lift off, according to a new government assessment.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that “loads models have indicated low stress margins in critical locations in the Mobile Launcher base. The program attributed this issue to an error in their model.

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NASA’s Major Project Costs & Schedule Performance Deteriorated in 2018

NASA: Assessments of Major Projects
Government Accountability Office
May 1, 2018
Full Report

What GAO Found

The cost and schedule performance of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) portfolio of major projects has deteriorated, but the extent of cost performance deterioration is unknown. NASA expects cost growth for the Orion crew capsule—one of the largest projects in the portfolio—but does not have a current cost estimate. In addition, the average launch delay for the portfolio was 12 months, the highest delay GAO has reported in its 10 years of assessing major NASA projects (see figure below).

The deterioration in portfolio performance was the result of 9 of the 17 projects in development experiencing cost or schedule growth.

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GAO: NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Faces Potential Cost Overruns, Delays

Artist’s impression of James Webb Space Telescope. (Credit; NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) says NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is at risk of budget overruns and further schedule delays.

“JWST will also have limited cost reserves to address future challenges, such as further launch delays, and is at risk of breaching its $8 billion cost cap for formulation and development set by Congress in 2011,” GAO said in its annual review of the project. “For several years, the prime contractor has overestimated workforce reductions, and technical challenges have prevented these planned reductions, necessitating the use of cost reserves.”

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GAO: FAA Evaluation of Commercial Launch Insurance Requirements Fell Short

A massive explosion occurred right after the Antares rocket hit the ground.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has failed to fully reevaluate insurance requirements for commercial space launches as required by law, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

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House Space Subcommittee Hearing On Commercial Crew Status Scheduled


House Subcommittee on Space Hearing

An Update on NASA Commercial Crew Systems Development

Date: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 – 10:00am
Location: 2318 Rayburn House Office Building
Subcommittees: Subcommittee on Space (115th Congress)

Hearing Purpose

The purpose of the hearing is to examine the development of the NASA’s two  commercial crew systems, being built by Boeing and SpaceX, to service the International Space Station

Witnesses:

  • Mr. William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, NASA
  • Mr. John Mulholland, vice president and program manager, Commercial Programs, Boeing Space Exploration
  • Dr. Hans Koenigsmann, vice president, Build and Flight Reliability, SpaceX
  • Ms. Cristina Chaplain, director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management, U.S. Government Accountability Office
  • Dr. Patricia Sanders, chair, NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel

GAO Reports on Efforts to Maintain Solid-Rocket Motor Industrial Base

The second and final qualification motor (QM-2) test for the Space Launch System’s booster is seen, Tuesday, June 28, 2016, at Orbital ATK Propulsion Systems test facilities in Promontory, Utah. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Solid Rocket Motors:
DOD and Industry Are Addressing Challenges to Minimize Supply Concerns

Government Accountability Office
October 2017
GAO-18-45 [Full Report]

Why GAO Did This Study

DOD relies on a multi-tiered supply chain to provide SRMs, the propulsion systems behind the various missile systems that provide defense capabilities to meet U.S. national security objectives. The SRM industrial base includes manufacturers that turn to an extensive network of suppliers that provide the raw materials, components, and subsystems needed to build SRMs. DOD is responsible for developing a strategy for the national industrial base that ensures that defense contractors and their suppliers are capable of providing the goods and services needed to achieve national security objectives.

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GAO Report Questions NASA Management of SLS & Orion

Artist’s conception of Space Launch System in Vehicle Assembly Building (Credit: NASA)

NASA management of the Space Launch System, Orion and Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) programs could lead the agency to repeat one of the mistakes that led to the loss of the space shuttle Columbia, according to a new report from the  Government Accountability Office (GAO).

“The approach has dual-hatted positions, with individuals in two programmatic engineering and safety roles also performing oversight of those areas,” the report stated. “These dual roles subject the technical authorities to cost and schedule pressures that potentially impair their independence.

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GAO Finds Potential Benefits, Drawbacks in Moving FAA Space Office

Federal Aviation Administration: Stakeholders’ Perspectives on Potentially Moving the Office of Commercial Space Transportation

GAO-18-96
October 2017

Why GAO Did This Study

The Office of Commercial Space Transportation, which regulates and promotes the U.S. commercial space launch industry, was established in 1984 within the Office of the Secretary of Transportation and transferred to FAA in 1995. In 2015, GAO reported that the Office of Commercial Space Transportation faced challenges associated with the growth of the commercial space launch industry such as licensing more launches. To help meet these and other challenges such as updating regulations, some industry stakeholders and others suggested that the Office of Commercial Space Transportation should be moved back to the Office of the Secretary of Transportation.

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Summary of GAO Report on Plutonium-238 Production

DOE Could Improve Planning and Communication Related to Plutonium-238 and Radioisotope Power Systems Production Challenges

United States Government Accountability Office
GAO-17-673

Selected Excerpts

Why GAO Did This Study

NASA uses RPS to generate electrical power in missions in which solar panels or batteries would be ineffective. RPS convert heat generated by the radioactive decay of Pu-238 into electricity. DOE maintains a capability to produce RPS for NASA missions, as well as a limited and aging supply of Pu-238 that will be depleted in the 2020s, according to NASA and DOE officials and documentation. With NASA funding, DOE initiated the Pu-238 Supply Project in 2011, with a goal of producing 1.5 kg of new Pu-238 per year by 2026. Without new Pu-238, future NASA missions requiring RPS are at risk.

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DOD Space Acquisition Plagued by Delays, Cost Overruns & Fragmented Leadership

Space Acquisitions: DOD Continues to Face Challenges of Delayed Delivery of Critical Space Capabilities and Fragmented Leadership
Government Accountability Office
GAO-17-619T [Full Report]

Statement of Cristina T. Chaplain, Director,
Acquisition and Sourcing Management

Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces,
Committee on Armed Services, U.S. Senate

For Release on Delivery
Expected at 2:00 p.m. ET
Wednesday, May 17, 2017

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GAO: Improvements in NASA Cost & Schedule Performance Might Not Be Sustainable

The LEMNOS project will provide laser communications services to NASA’s Orion vehicle, show in this artist concept. (Credit: NASA)

A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) shows that NASA while has continued to improve its cost and schedule performance on major projects, the space agency might not be able to sustain the trend much longer due to projects such as the Space Launch System and Orion.

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GAO Report: First SLS-Orion Flight to be Delayed

An expanded view of the next configuration of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, including the four RL10 engines. (Credit: NASA)

The first launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion deep-space spacecraft — known as Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) –will be delayed beyond its November 2018 launch date, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

“The EM-1 launch date is likely unachievable as technical challenges continue to cause schedule delays. All three programs face unique challenges in completing development, and each has little to no schedule reserve remaining between now and the EM-1 date, meaning they will have to complete all remaining work with little margin for error for unexpected challenges that may arise.” the report states.

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GAO Report: FAA Launch Insurance Update Remains Work in Progress

Members of the 45th Space Wing’s Incident Management Team responded to an explosion Sept. 1, 2016, on Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. (Credit: 45th Space Wing)

The FAA’s effort to update insurance requirements for space launches remains a work in progress that could expose the federal government to excess financial risk, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Under the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015, Congress required the FAA to update the requirements for insurance that private launch providers must purchase for damages to third parties and federal property.  The requirements had not been updated since 1988.

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SpaceX Pushes Back Red Dragon Mission to Mars by 2 Years

Gwynne Shotwell

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the company would delay its 2018 Red Dragon mission to Mars at least two years to better focus its resources on two programs that a running significantly behind schedule.

“We were focused on 2018, but we felt like we needed to put more resources and focus more heavily on our crew program and our Falcon Heavy program,” Shotwell said at a pre-launch press conference in Cape Canaveral, Florida. “So we’re looking more for the 2020 timeframe for that.”

The mission will land a modified Dragon spacecraft on the martian surface. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said he planned to launch Dragons to the surface every two years beginning in 2018, culminating in a crewed mission in 2024.

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