New GAO Report Blasts NASA’s Accounting for SLS/Orion

The GAO has released a new report, which is harshly critical of NASA’s accounting procedures for the Space Launch System, Orion spacecraft, and the ground systems being built to handle them.

The report, which was requested by retiring Senator Tom Coburn, a frequent critic of government overspending, is not so much an examination of the amounts being spent, but of very questionable accounting methods which seem almost tailor-made to mask cost overruns in the future.

Among the key findings:

-The SLS estimate is based on the funding required to develop and operate the initial 70-metric ton variant through first flight in 2017 but not the costs for its second flight in 2021. NASA is now incurring some costs related to the second flight, but it is not currently tracking those costs for life cycle cost estimating purposes. Furthermore, the estimate does not include costs to incrementally design, develop, and produce future 105- and 130-metric ton SLS variants which NASA expects to use for decades. NASA is now funding concept development and analysis related to these capabilities.

-The Orion estimate does not include costs for production, operations, or sustainment of additional crew capsules, despite plans to use and possibly enhance this capsule after 2021. It also does not include $4.7 billion in prior costs incurred during the approximately 4 years when Orion was being developed as part of NASA’s now-defunct Constellation program.

-The ground systems estimate excludes costs to develop or operate the ground systems infrastructure beyond 2017, although NASA intends to modify ground architecture to accommodate all SLS variants.

As for the amounts being spent:

SLS is projected to have a high side expense of $8.6 billion through the first flight EM-1 in December 2017

Ground Systems Development and Operations is high side projected at $3.1 billion also through EM-1

Orion is projected at $10.3 billion through EM-2, currently scheduled for 2021

All told, the total estimate comes to $22 billion (or nearly $27 billion including a full accounting for Orion) to accomplish EM-1, and fund the capsule, but not the booster or additional ground systems for EM-2, the first crewed flight.

Beyond that point, as GAO goes on to point out,  NASA will need to add in a new upper stage, new solid or liquid strap on boosters, and a new service module for Orion. It will also need to fund the design, engineering and production of the SD-25 E (Expendable) main engines after the supply of Shuttle Main engines runs out.

Posted in: SLS / Orion

About the Author:

1 Comment on "New GAO Report Blasts NASA’s Accounting for SLS/Orion"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

Post a Comment