According to the agency’s inspector general, the Space Launch System being created to transport astronauts to the moon is on pace to cost $6 billion more and take six years longer than initially projected.
The lunar project, called Artemis, is scheduled to involve multiple rocket launches prior to a mission that will take humans to the moon. Its first launch occurred in November.
Interesting chart in NASA budget documents this morning that show Artemis 3 still launching in 2025, but Artemis 4 pushed back to 2028. pic.twitter.com/xkURdlwSzr
— Jeff Foust (@jeff_foust) March 13, 2023
In any case, the program is not turning out to be as efficient as NASA scientists had hoped.
“NASA’s spending on the Artemis Moon Program is expected to reach $93 billion by 2025, including $23.8 billion already spent on the SLS system through 2022,” the audit concluded. “That sum represents ‘$6 billion in cost increases and over six years in schedule delays above NASA’s original projections,’” the report states.
Although engineers initially believed that reusing rockets from previous space shuttles would translate into overall cost savings, the inspector general’s report determined that those reductions have not helped keep the project within its original budget. In fact, figuring out how to combine used and new components in the complex spacecraft has been a costly and time-consuming addition to the mission.
According to the audit: “These increases are caused by interrelated issues such as assumptions that the use of heritage technologies from the Space Shuttle and Constellation Programs were expected to result in significant cost and schedule savings compared to developing new systems for the SLS. However, the complexity of developing, updating, and integrating new systems along with heritage components proved to be much greater than anticipated.”
Another central cause of the cost overages, according to the report, is the type of contracts that have been offered to suppliers thus far in the program. So-called “cost-plus” deals allow contractors to tack on additional expenses and raise costs on a whim.
In order to address this issue, the inspector general urges NASA to only offer fixed-price contracts for the remainder of the Artemis program. The agency has indicated that it would accept the recommendations included in the audit, though, as with any bloated federal entity, it remains to be seen whether bureaucrats will be able to keep expenses down in the long run.