NASA watchdogs document rocket missteps

SLS test intertank on barge
A structural test version of the intertank for NASA’s new deep-space rocket, the Space Launch System, arrives at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in March for testing aboard the barge Pegasus. The intertank is the second piece of structural hardware for the massive SLS core stage. (NASA Photo)

NASA’s Space Launch System, the rocket that’s being designed to send astronauts to the moon and Mars, seems likely to miss the schedule for its first test launch in 2020 due to poor management by Boeing and its overseers, the space agency’s auditors say.

report released today by the NASA Office of Inspector General projects that the delivery of the first Boeing-built core stage for the heavy-lift SLS rocket may slip beyond its currently scheduled date of December 2019. What’s more, the cost of SLS development is on track to amount to at least $8.9 billion, which is twice what was originally budgeted, the auditors say.

“Boeing’s cost and schedule challenges are likely to worsen, given that the SLS has yet to undergo its ‘Green Run Test’ — a major milestone that integrates and tests the Core Stage components,” NASA said in a summary of the report.

To meet the schedule for an uncrewed test flight around the moon by 2020, followed by a crewed flight in 2022 and the development of a new upper-stage booster for flights after that, the SLS program will have to be given a “major increase in funding” and renegotiate NASA’s contract with Boeing, the report says.

Much of the blame was laid on mismanagement at Boeing.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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