In a new report, the federal department charged with analyzing how effectively US taxpayer dollars are spent, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), says NASA lacks transparency about the true cost of its Space Launch System (SLS) rocket program.
Published on Thursday, the document examines the billions of dollars spent by NASA to develop the big rocket, which successfully debuted at the end of 2022 with the “Artemis I” mission. Surprisingly, as part of the report writing process, agency officials admitted that the project was too expensive to support their efforts to explore the moon as part of the “Artemis” program.
“Senior NASA officials told the GAO that, at current spending levels, the SLS program is unsustainable,” the new report emphasized.
Poor tools to understand NASA’s true costs
The GAO expressed serious concern about NASA’s decision to not adequately estimate the cost of production of elements of the SLS rocket, including the main stages and engines needed for future launches. Instead, the agency told the report’s authors that it plans to “monitor production costs and program effectiveness by estimating five-year production and operating costs.”
However, according to the document, these are “poor tools” for a baseline cost estimate for the rocket program and will make it difficult for taxpayers to measure the costs and performance of NASA and its suppliers. over the course of the year. In addition, the report indicated that the agency did not periodically revise the five-year production cost estimates. And it also raises concerns about development costs hardware future of the program, including the Higher Exploration Stage.
Another problem with NASA’s spending budget is that didn’t seem to mind mission delays “Artemis“. “Artemis II,” a crewed flight around the Moon, is unlikely to be launched before 2025. And the crewed landing of “Artemis III” is likely to be returned to at least 2026, or even later, with the more delays. At least one NASA official reportedly told the GAO that these postponements will have no cost impact, which is unlikely.
“Some NASA officials have told us that changes to the Artemis mission dates should not affect the cost estimate of the SLS program,” the report said. “Some officials stressed that the budget for program costs should be increased to take into account the delay of the ‘Artemis IV’ mission, which has moved from 2026 to 2028.”
How to reduce the unsustainable cost of SLS
NASA officials interviewed by the GAO acknowledged that they were concerned about the cost of the SLS rocket.
“NASA recognizes the need to improve the efficiency of the SLS program and is taking steps to do so,” the report emphasized. “Senior agency officials have told us that, at current spending levels, the program is unsustainable and exceeds what NASA officials expect will be available for the Artemis missions.”