Cost and schedule overruns continue to rise for NASA programs

WASHINGTON – NASA has again experienced increasing cost overruns on its major programs in 2020, an issue that a new report says will be exacerbated by the pandemic.

the Government Accountability Office (GAO) annual report on major NASA programs, released on May 20, revealed that the costs of these programs increased by more than $ 1 billion in 2020, the fifth year in a row the overall costs have increased.

The cumulative cost overrun of 20 major development programs, defined as those with a total cost of at least $ 250 million, rose to over $ 9.6 billion in the report. Three programs – the James Webb Space Telescope, the Orion spacecraft, and the Space Launch System – account for $ 8 billion of that total, including $ 4.4 billion for JWST alone.

SLS and the Exploration Ground Systems program effectively accounted for the full $ 1.1 billion in overruns in 2020. Smaller overruns on other programs, including the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar satellite and the Low Boom Flight Demonstrator , were compensated by other programs slightly lower their budgets.

SLS alone accounted for almost $ 990 million in cost increases. About two-thirds of this increase came from NASA’s adoption of a GAO recommendation to reduce the initial baseline cost estimate for SLS to properly reflect the work that had been transferred to later phases of the program. .

Major NASA programs also have 19.7 years of cumulative schedule delays, led by 7.3 years of JWST. These times increased by 37 months in the last assessment, including eight months each for SLS and Exploration Ground Systems and seven months for JWST.

Some of these latest delays, the GAO noted in its report, have been caused by the pandemic, which has limited access to facilities and disrupted supply chains. However, he warned that the overall costs and impacts of the pandemic schedule on major NASA programs have yet to be quantified.

“NASA’s major development plans have yet to experience the full extent of the effects of COVID-19, and challenges will remain as the pandemic continues,” GAO said in its report. “Almost all of the projects report having encountered challenges related to COVID-19 in the past year.”

The GAO report did not estimate the potential impacts of the pandemic on these programs. However, a March report from the Office of the Inspector General of NASA estimated that the total costs for the pandemic agency could reach $ 3 billion, with about $ 1.6 billion coming from large programs such as those tracked by GAO.

“NASA will continue to monitor and address the costs and impacts of COVID-19 on its major projects,” Steve Jurczyk, then acting NASA administrator, said in an April 30 letter responding to the GAO assessment and included in final report. . “A final account of the full impact of COVID-19 on the Agency’s activities will not be available until well after the Agency and its subcontractors and partners are operating in a post-pandemic environment.”

An example of this continuous assessment of the impacts of the pandemic concerns the Orion program. The GAO reported that the pandemic has caused delays in the production of the European service module for the Orion spacecraft that will perform the Artemis 2 mission flight in 2023. A lack of schedule slack means that “any further delay in production or testing will likely cause further delays in the Artemis II mission. “

The Orion program, the report says, will perform a cost analysis and schedule update in the fall due to past cost increases that will refine the Artemis 2 mission launch date and costs associated with everything. new delay.

In the near term, the GAO noted the potential for cost and timing issues with the upcoming Artemis 1 mission, initially scheduled for November 2021 but expected to generally slide in early 2022. SLS’s main milestone has arrived at Kennedy Space Center last month. For integration with other elements of the Orion vehicle and spacecraft, any first-time activities agency officials have warned could cause delays.

“Our previous work has shown that this phase of the procurement process often reveals unforeseen challenges resulting in cost growth and schedule delays,” GAO said in its report.

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