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article imageNASA says Boeing is delaying America's return to space

By Karen Graham     Oct 11, 2018 in Technology
The NASA Office of Inspector General issued a scathing report on Wednesday, saying Boeing's poor “management, technical, and infrastructure issues” have resulted in delays and vast cost overruns for NASA's Space Launch System (SLS).
Since the retirement of NASA's shuttle program in 2011, the space agency has been without its own launch vehicle. Since that time, Boeing was contracted to build the massive SLS, the most powerful rocket ever built.
NASA had wanted to get the SLS in the air by late 2017 at a cost of $5-7 billion. However, the vehicle still isn’t ready for launch, and the price has already ballooned to $11.9 billion, according to Extreme Tech.
As Bloomberg notes, cost overruns seem to be the standard when talking about tax-payer funded projects for the country's military-industrial complex. But the aerospace company is also two years behind schedule, a gap that could widen further, according to an audit by NASA’s inspector general.
NASA acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot has asked Bill Gerstenmaier  associate administrator for ...
NASA acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot has asked Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, to initiate a study to assess the feasibility of adding a crew to Exploration Mission-1, the first integrated flight of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft.
In his 50-page critique of Boeing's contract, NASA’s Inspector General Paul Martin lays most of the blame for the delays and cost overruns at Boeing's feet. NASA itself didn't escape criticism, though. The inspector general cited contract management practices by NASA as contributing to the SLS Program’s cost and schedule overruns.
Martin estimates that NASA will need to spend at least $1.2 billion more in order to fund completion of the first two SLS core rockets. Even with additional funding, NASA's estimated first SLS launch in June 2020 is questionable now.
In a December 2017 interview with CNBC's Jim Cramer, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg gave a brief outline of the SLS mission: “We’re working on that next generation rocket right now with our NASA customers called ‘Space Launch System,'” Muilenburg said. “This is a rocket that’s about 36 stories tall, we’re in the final assembly right now, down near New Orleans. And we’re going to take a first test flight in 2019 and we’re going to do a slingshot mission around the moon.”
Of course, he failed to mention that Boeing was already behind and over-cost. Boeing, of course, denies that it’s at fault for the delays. It says building a new rocket on this scale is new ground, and the IG report doesn’t capture the true state of the project.
The Four RS-25 Engines that will Power SLS.
The Four RS-25 Engines that will Power SLS.
While there may be some "new ground" involved, SLS is being built on proven hardware from the space shuttle and other exploration programs while making use of cutting-edge tooling and manufacturing technology in order to reduce development time and cost, according to Digital Journal in December 2017.
One other problem cited in the report: NASA has improperly awarded tens of millions of dollars to Boeing for performance fees the company has not earned. "We question nearly $64 million in award fees provided to Boeing since 2012 for the 'very good' and 'excellent' performance ratings it received while the SLS Program was experiencing substantial cost increases, technical issues, and schedule delays," the report states.
This is a very serious problem for NASA, especially after a booster failed on a Soyuz rocket transporting Russian cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin and U.S. astronaut Nick Hague to the International Space Station on Thursday — resulting in the two men making an emergency landing.
More about NASA, Boeing, space launch system, 18 months behind, double the cost
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