NASA is under pressure because the cost of the SLS core-stage rocket and associated ground infrastructure has exceeded initial cost estimates and far exceeded budgets, so much so that NASA has had to inform Congress of the cost overspend.
Kathy Lueders, NASA’s leader in manned spaceflight, recently announced that the baseline cost of developing the SLS was $9.1 billion, but now the budget for the initial ground system capability to support the rocket’s first mission has ballooned to $2.4 billion.
NASA has previously received congressional approval to allocate $7 billion for the project. The first launch of the SLS rocket is scheduled to take place on Artemis 1, a test flight to send an unmanned spacecraft around the moon, and is expected to be launched in November 2021. Lueders said the Artemis 1 mission is still proceeding as planned, but the agency is cautious about reaching that point because of the potential impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Orion spacecraft, which will carry astronauts, is still being developed and built as planned, and its first lunar orbit test mission will take place in November 2023. NASA says it’s well into the process of building future missions and has seen significant improvements in completion, high-quality work and efficiency.
NASA’s Office of the Inspector General warned in March that the SLS may have exceeded the 30 percent budget overspend threshold, meaning Congress must be notified. NASA is not currently adjusting its baseline cost budget to consider cutting about $1 billion in costs associated with SLS solid rocket boosters and RS-25 engines, the report said.