NASA’s facing pressure as it’s working on the SLS core stage rocket will take humans back to the moon and the Artemis 1 mission. The reason for the pressure is that the cost for the rocket and associated ground infrastructure have ballooned past original cost estimates. The project is so far past its budget that NASA has been forced to notify Congress about the overage.
Recently NASA’s Kathy Lueders, leader of the agency’s human spaceflight efforts, announced that the development baseline cost for SLS is $9.1 billion. The monetary commitment for initial ground-based systems capability to support the rocket’s first mission has swelled to $2.4 billion.
NASA had previous congressional approval for $7 billion for the project. The first launch of the SLS rocket is slated to be on Artemis 1, which is a test flight to send an uncrewed spacecraft around the moon expected to launch in November 2021. Lueders says that the Artemis 1 mission remains on track, but the agency is cautious due to the coronavirus pandemic’s potential impact.
The Orion spacecraft that would carry astronauts remains on track for its first test mission to lunar orbit to occur in November 2023. She said that NASA is well into builds for future missions and has seen significantly improved build rates, high-quality work, and efficiencies across the board. That comes despite the coronavirus pandemic and the social distancing its imposing on workers.
The NASA Office of Inspector General did warn in March that SLS had probably exceeded the 30 percent budget overage rate threshold mandating congressional notification. That report noted that NASA hadn’t adjusted its baseline cost estimate to account for removing about $1 billion in costs related to the SLS’s solid rocket boosters and RS-25 engines.