Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Another NASA Cost Overrun for Mars Mission
A NASA artist's concept of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover.
Florida Today reports that "Technical and budget challenges threaten another costly delay to the planned launch late this year of NASA's flagship Mars rover from Cape Canaveral, the agency's internal watchdog reported today."
Click here to read the entire audit report on NASA's web site.
According to the audit overview:
Due to planetary alignment, the optimal launch window for a mission to Mars occurs every 26 months. MSL was scheduled to launch in a window between September and October 2009. However, in February 2009, because of the late delivery of several critical components and instruments, NASA delayed the launch to a date between October and December 2011.
This delay and the additional resources required to resolve the underlying technical issues increased the Project’s development costs by 86 percent, from $969 million to the current $1.8 billion, and its life-cycle costs by 56 percent, from $1.6 billion to the current $2.5 billion. If the Project is delayed to a late 2013 launch window, NASA’s costs would further increase, at least by the $570 million that would be required to redesign the mission to account for differences in planetary alignment and the Martian dust storm season.
The project "has received three budget increases, most recently an infusion of $71 million in December 2010," the auditors wrote. "However, in our judgment because Project managers did not adequately consider historical cost trends when estimating the amount required to complete development, we believe the Project may require additional funds to meet the 2011 scheduled launch date."
The audit notes that "approximately 1,200 reports of problems and failures observed by Project personnel remained open as of February 2011. If these reports are not resolved prior to launch, there is a possibility that an unknown risk could materialize and negatively affect mission success."
I wrote on Sunday about a Florida Today investigative report which concluded that the James Webb Space Telescope, another NASA flagship mission, is billions over budget and years behind schedule. That article followed an October 2010 audit which cited "poor program and cost control practices" and "the lack of effective oversight" by the Goddard Space Flight Center in charge of the program.
UPDATE June 9, 2011 — Florida Today reports that in response to the audit findings, "a senior project executive told reporters NASA had made significant progress addressing the report's concerns."
"Based on where we are now, we have a very high degree of confidence that we will make that window and don't anticipate any reason that it would slip," said Dave Lavery, program executive for the project at NASA headquarters ...
He said the mission would likely dip into but not exhaust $22 million in reserves already set aside by NASA's Science Mission Directorate, and there were no plans to ask for more money.