NASA’s SLS Rocket Faces Major Delays and Cost Overruns
NASA’s ambitious plan to return astronauts to the moon through the Artemis program has encountered significant challenges, with the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket falling behind schedule and exceeding its budget, according to a scathing audit released by NASA’s Inspector General. The report warns of potential further cost increases and schedule delays that could jeopardize the entire Artemis mission if not addressed promptly.
The audit highlights that NASA’s spending on the Artemis Moon Program is estimated to reach a staggering $93 billion by 2025, including $23.8 billion already allocated to the SLS system through 2022. These figures reveal cost increases of $6 billion and schedule delays of over six years beyond NASA’s original projections.
The SLS rocket, which made its inaugural launch in November 2022, utilizes four RS-25 engines per launch, with 16 engines salvaged from retired Space Shuttles. However, as the available stock of RS-25 engines depletes (since all SLS engines are expendable), NASA plans to transition to the RS-25E engines being developed by Aerojet Rocketdyne. These newer engines are expected to be 30 percent cheaper and 11 percent more powerful. Additionally, the SLS employs solid rocket boosters provided by Northrop Grumman.
Unfortunately, the use of older technologies has not yielded the anticipated budgetary benefits for NASA. The audit report indicates that the cost overruns and delays are attributed to several interconnected factors, including the assumption that leveraging heritage technologies from the Space Shuttle and Constellation Programs would lead to significant cost and schedule savings compared to developing entirely new systems for the SLS. However, the complexity associated with developing, updating, and integrating new systems alongside existing heritage components has proven to be far more challenging than initially anticipated.
The Inspector General’s report serves as a stark reminder of the formidable hurdles faced by NASA in executing the Artemis mission. As the agency aims to return humans to the lunar surface, it must grapple with the need for cost containment and efficient project management. The audit underscores the importance of reevaluating and addressing the underlying causes of the cost overruns and schedule delays to mitigate potential risks to the Artemis program’s success.
NASA has been working diligently to develop advanced space technologies and foster partnerships with private companies to propel its ambitious goals. Overcoming the challenges encountered by the SLS rocket will require a comprehensive assessment of the program’s management practices, technology choices, and resource allocation. By identifying and implementing necessary adjustments, NASA can strive to bring the Artemis mission back on track, ensuring the nation’s continued progress in space exploration and the eventual return to the moon.