Costs Rise for NASA’s Space Network Ground Segment Update

Credit: NASA

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s program to upgrade its space communications network has become more expensive even as the scope of the effort has shrunk, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.

“Since the 2015 rebaseline, however, the project’s total costs increased by at least $112.9 million, from $1,207.9 million to $1,320.8 million, even as the scope decreased from upgrading nine terminals at three Space Network sites to six terminals at one site,” the report stated.

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GAO: SLS Making Progress, Major Milestones Lie Ahead

Space Launch System with Orion capsule. (Credit: NASA)

When Congress insisted that NASA build the Space Launch System (SLS) some years back, the argument was simple: just adapt all this technology  from the space shuttle program using the workers and infrastructure that already exist to develop a new heavy-lift booster.

It all sounded deceptively simple — and deceptive it was. NASA and its contractors soon ran into a problem that affects many such projects: it’s often easier to build something from scratch than to modify systems that already exist. And there you have the problem with the SLS program in a nutshell.

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GAO: Landsat 9 Program in Good Shape

Landsat 8 (Credit: NASA)

NASA’s Landsat 9 program is in good shape and on track for a launch as early as December 2020, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.

The positive assessment makes the $885 million Earth observation satellite a rarity among the major NASA projects that GAO evaluated in its annual assessment. The government watchdog found that most of the programs are suffering cost overruns or schedule delays.

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GAO: NASA’s Low Boom Flight Demonstrator Moving Forward

This rendering shows the Lockheed Martin future supersonic advanced concept featuring two engines under the wings and one on top of the fuselage (not visible in this image).

NASA and contractor Lockheed Martin are moving toward a preliminary design review this summer of an ambitious plan to build an experimental aircraft that could help make overland supersonic passenger flights possible.

The Low Boom Flight Demonstrator (LBFD) project is attempting to advance beyond the old Concorde airplanes, which was restricted to supersonic flights over water because of the loud sonic boom they made.

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GAO: Mars 2020 Mission on Track But Faces Technical, Schedule Problems

Artist’s concept of the Mars Science Laboratory entry into the Martian atmosphere. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is facing a number of technical challenges, but space agency officials say it is on track for launch two years from now, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.

“In commenting on a draft of this assessment, Mars 2020 project officials stated the project matured all its new technologies to the appropriate level by critical design review,” the report stated. “Further, officials stated the project had backup technologies but none were required. Officials also stated the project has accommodated schedule delays within available schedule reserves and continues to maintain robust schedule reserve along the critical path.”

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GAO: Orion Program Plagued by Delays, Cost Overruns

NASA’s Orion with the European Service Module (Credit: ESA–D. Ducros)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Cost overruns and schedule delays continue to plague NASA’s Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle, according to a new assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

NASA expects the Orion program to exceed its $11.28 billion baseline budget, which covers expenditures through the Exploration Mission-2 mission, the report stated. The space agency expects to complete a new cost estimate by June.

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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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