Hi friends in space, it’s Erik von Ancken.
One of the government watchdog groups tasked with keeping an eye on NASA’s spending is out with its latest report and something happened this time that doesn’t usually happen: NASA agrees with the criticism!
NASA responded to the Government Accountability Office with a yes - that the Space Launch System (the rocket at the heart of the Artemis Moon Missions) is “unaffordable” at current cost levels.
This is not a surprise. Independent estimates have long suggested NASA already spent some $20 billion+ on the Artemis program 🚀.
In June, the Office of Inspector General calculated “from fiscal years 2012 through 2025, NASA’s overall Artemis investment is projected to reach $93 billion, of which the SLS Program costs represent $23.8 billion spent through 2022.”
Remember, the SLS and the Artemis program were supposed to cost a fraction of this number — that’s how NASA sold it to Congress.
NASA top brass did not agree with that June OIG assessment... but this time, it seems they do.
Costs are about to balloon because future Artemis moon missions are about to get more complicated. Sending an uncrewed rocket around the moon is one thing, but sending four astronauts down to the surface of the moon is quite another 👨🚀. A moon-orbiting space station (Gateway) and a spaceship to shuttle the astronauts from the space station down the surface (lunar lander) must be designed, built, tested and then launched into space. Those alone will cost several billions of dollars if not tens of billions of dollars.
So what is NASA doing to control Artemis’ costs 💰? Not enough, according to the latest report.
The GAO says the agency still has not implemented its past recommendations, including plans to measure production costs to monitor affordability.
The GAO says NASA created a rolling 5-year estimate of production and operations costs, but that is a “poor measure of cost performance” because it doesn’t track costs by Artemis mission or for recurring production items.
It’s a tough situation for NASA. The space agency is tasked by Congress and the White House to put people on the moon in the most efficient way possible in the least expensive way possible. Those two directives just don’t mix when it comes to space exploration.
What’s clear is NASA will need a whole lot more money - your taxpayer dollars - to move forward with Artemis as directed and as expected. What’s not clear is if it will get it.
📧 Have any topics you’d like to discuss? Send me an email here.
👋 Here’s a little bit about me.
I’ve covered space for News 6 beginning in the days after Shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry in 2003.
Since then, I’ve been at Kennedy Space Center reporting on nearly every space shuttle launch and the retirement of the shuttle program with Atlantis’ final flight in 2011.
I’ve climbed aboard Shuttle Atlantis’ flight deck and flown twice with the Air Force Thunderbirds in an F-16.
I’ve also reported on the rebirth of KSC and the Space Coast, covering the first SpaceX cargo missions to the International Space Station, leading up to the first crewed launch to the ISS in nearly a decade when the newest American-made rocket with American astronauts blasted off from American soil.
And I continue to track NASA’s SLS as the Artemis I Moon Rocket is readied for rollout and first flight.
I was at KSC when Amazon founder Jeff Bezos first announced his plans to bring his Blue Origin space tourism company to the Space Coast and reported from Long Beach, Calif., on up-and-coming aerospace tech, including Virgin Orbit.
I’ve interviewed Elon Musk one-on-one, and I very much look forward to speaking with you every week.