NASA Inspector General Calls Artemis Lunar Program Costs ‘Unsustainable’ – Parabolic Arc

A close-up view of the Artemis I Space Launch System rocket inside High Bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on September 20, 2021. The 10 levels of working platforms have been retracted around the rocket as part of the umbilical release and retraction test. (Credit: NASA/Frank Michaux)

by Douglas Messier
Chief Editor

Earlier this week, NASA Inspector General Paul K. Martin presented the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee with the results of his office’s latest analysis of the old effort. space agency’s decade-long effort to return astronauts to the moon, otherwise known as the Artemis program. The results were mind-boggling, depressing and not at all surprising.

We’ll start with the eye popping, which came in the form of a series of numbers:

  • $53 billion: amount NASA will spend between fiscal years 2021 and 2025
  • $93 billion: amount NASA will have spent since fiscal year 2012 (when work on Artemis began in earnest) and fiscal year 2025
  • $25 billion: amount that NASA excluded from budget estimates through fiscal year 2025 for work beyond the Artemis III mission
  • $4.1 billion: cost to launch each Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft in the first four missions
  • Hundreds of billions of dollars: Likely amount NASA will spend on the crewed Artemis and Mars missions over the next two decades.

“Our detailed review of the Artemis program contracts revealed that its costs were unsustainable. Given our estimate of a cost per launch of the SLS/Orion system of $4.1 billion for at least the first four Artemis missions, NASA needs to accelerate its efforts to identify ways to make its Artemis-related programs more affordable,” Martin said in his writing. testimony. “Otherwise, relying on such an expensive single-use heavy rocket system will, in our view, impede, if not derail, NASA’s ability to sustain its long-term human exploration goals of the Moon and Mars. In addition, the Agency has seen significant growth in the costs of mobile launchers, spacesuits and, to a lesser extent, the Gateway.”

Another unsurprising discovery is that Artemis’ ever-shifting timeline is likely to slip even further to the right. NASA plans to launch SLS and Orion on the Artemis I uncrewed mission to the moon by this summer. However, the IG said there would likely be a two-year gap until the next flight with astronauts on board.

“With Artemis II, NASA faces additional schedule delays – until at least mid-2024 – due to the second mission’s reuse of Orion components from Artemis I. Finally, given the time required to develop and fully test the HLS and NASA’s next-generation spacesuits needed for lunar exploration, the date for a crewed lunar landing will likely slip to 2026 at the earliest,” Martin said.

The return of American astronauts to the Moon would thus take place at least a year or more beyond NASA’s current plan to land them on the surface in 2025.

“The Artemis program lacks transparency. In particular, NASA does not have a complete and accurate estimate of all the costs related to the Artemis program. Since NASA has not defined Artemis as a formal program as part of the Agency’s spaceflight program and project management requirements, an estimate of full life cycle costs at the scale of Artemis is not required. Instead, NASA’s disparate programs and projects individually submit budget estimates through their divisions and directorates to the Office of the Chief Financial Officer,” the IG said.

Nothing in Martin’s testimony was new. NASAS IG and the Government Accountability Office have come to similar conclusions in a series of reports dating back many years.

Martin suggested that NASA encourage more competition and move away from cost-plus contracts where companies can charge more as the program progresses to fixed-price contracts where they must deliver for the amount specified. in the contract. The space agency used fixed-price contracts on the Commercial Crew and Commercial Cargo programs.

“With emerging capabilities provided by business partners, the Agency may have future options that can help control costs to achieve its exploration goals,” Martin said in his testimony.

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