An audit by NASA’s Inspector General showed that NASA’s plan of adapting engines from old shuttles to create the Space Launch System (SLS) rockets has backfired. “Cost increases, and schedule delays on its booster and RS-25 engine contracts” has cost NASA $6 billion and over 6 years in schedule delays above the original projections. These issues can endanger the entire Artemis program.
NASA’s Artemis mission was originally a part of the Constellation program which started in 2005 and was closed by the Obama administration in 2010. In the same year NASA started developing the SLS rockets. These rockets are supposed to help NASA put astronauts on the Moon by 2025 and on Mars eventually.
NASA decided to use heritage technology and space shuttles from the Constellation program to build the RS-25 engines. The contracts were given to Aerojet Rocketdyne. NASA had salvaged 16 engines from retired space shuttles which were to be adapted for use in the Artemis mission. The process was supposed to decrease the cost of building the RS-25 engines by 30 percent while making the engines 11 percent stronger.
According to the audit, NASA had made some miscalculations resulting in the cost increases and delays. The delays and the cost increases are results of “long-standing, interrelated issues such as assumptions that the use of heritage technologies from the Space Shuttle and Constellation Programs” would “result in significant cost and schedule savings compared to developing new systems for the SLS.”
So far only 5 out of 16 engines have been salvaged completely while NASA had already spent $23.8 billion on the SLS project. There have been delays and cost increases in the booster making contract as well. The rocket boosters are being made by Northrop Grumman.
The audit has raised questions about NASA’s ability to manage the expenses and the schedules. The Inspector General has made eight recommendations including the advice to move towards fixed-cost contracts. NASA has accepted all the recommendations.