NASA has struggled for years with the rising costs of the rocket and spaceship it intends to employ to carry men to the moon. It currently has major issues with an inconspicuous but critical piece of technology required to carry and launch the rocket: a scaffolding tower known as a mobile launcher.
NASA's inspector general said in a damning report released Thursday that a second version of the mobile launcher, required to accommodate a higher version of the rocket, is likely to cost at least $1 billion — more than double the initial contract value that NASA granted in 2019. The IG estimated that it would take another 212 years to complete.
However, that transportable launch tower will need to be replaced after only three flights because NASA intends to utilise a different version of the SLS, one with a more powerful upper stage that would increase the rocket's height by 40 feet, for further journeys to the moon as part of its Artemis lunar campaign. Later versions of the SLS will be able to transport 40% more cargo to the lunar surface.
The additional launch tower cost and anticipated delay were only two of the issues cited by the inspector general with the programme. It blamed the contractor, Bechtel, for "poor performance" and "underestimation of the extent and complexity of the ML-2 project." ML-2 is an abbreviation for mobile launcher 2.
According to Bechtel officials, a portion of the cost increase was caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The company went through several leadership teams and saw a lot of turnover. According to the IG investigation, business officials told NASA at one point that they are "not designers and do not generally execute these kind of designs."
Bechtel spokesperson Fred deSousa said in a statement that the business is "committed to successfully delivering" the launcher.
" The project's cost and schedule had risen far over the initial good faith estimates, which failed to account for the project's complexity and the need for adjustment as a result of concurrent design evolution of all launch systems," he stated. "Unfortunately, the Inspector General's report does not give a comprehensive picture of what led to the current situation, and we strongly disagree with the report's broad conclusions on the fundamental drivers of the cost increases."
The Inspector General also discovered that "NASA's management procedures led to the project's cost hikes and schedule delays." For example, the space agency gave the contract to Bechtel before the final design for the rocket's upgraded upper stage was complete.
According to the study, despite Bechtel's poor performance, NASA gave the corporation $8.2 million in performance rewards.
The IG cautioned that cost overruns might continue because NASA has already spent $435.6 million on the project and building has yet to begin. According to the report, an investigation revealed just 3.9 percent trust in the $1 billion price estimate, which might rise to $1.5 billion.
The SLS rocket that will be utilised in the first Artemis mission has returned to the launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center for a second round of fuelling and countdown testing.
An previous test was cut short due to a broken valve in the rocket's second stage and a leak in one of the fuel lines identified by NASA. NASA aims to fly the Orion spacecraft into orbit around the moon later this year, without any humans on board.