The stack of reports critical of various aspects of NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft grew a little taller today.
NASA’s Office of Inspector General has released a rather unflattering audit regarding the Spaceport Command and Control (SCCS) for SLS & Orion. The system, which will be used to control the network of ground operations necessary to support each SLS and Orion launch, is being cobbled together from a hodgepodge of prior systems using more than 2.5 million lines of computer code described as “glue-ware.” And that is just what has been written so far.
In what appears to be a repeat of at least two past exercises in which the agency spend nearly $500 million only to subsequently cancel or severely trim its efforts, the OIG report has concluded that the present program is significantly over budget, behind schedule, and likely to be watered down.
From the report:
“The SCCS development effort has significantly exceeded initial cost and schedule estimates. Compared to fiscal year 2012 projections, development costs have increased approximately 77 percent to $207.4 million and the release of a fully operational version has slipped by 14 months from July 2016 to September 2017. In addition, several planned capabilities have been deferred because of cost and timing pressures, including the ability to automatically detect the root cause of specific equipment and system failures. Without this information, it will be more difficult for controllers and engineers to quickly diagnose and resolve issues. Although NASA officials believe the SCCS will operate safely without these capabilities, they acknowledge the reduced capability could affect the ability to react to unexpected issues during launch operations and potentially impact the launch schedule for the combined SLS-Orion system.”
The full audit (pdf) is here.
As the OIG points out, NASA could have elected to use commercial software as both SpaceX and Orbital Sciences have done in recent years, but instead the agency declined, citing a fear of reliance on a contractor which might go out of business.
Note: In a warped sense, they may have a point here. With launches anticipated to take place at a rate below one per year, but over a stretch of time which is sometimes cited as lasting some 30-40 years, that could make a precarious business case indeed.