November 29, 2022

Finally, we know the production costs of SLS and Orion, and they are large

Finally, we know the production costs of SLS and Orion, and they are large

Zoom / A technician works on the Orion spacecraft, above an SLS rocket, in January 2022.

NASA

NASA Inspector General Paul Martin serves as an independent observer of the space agency’s myriad activities. For nearly all of his tenure as inspector general, since his appointment in 2009, Martin has followed NASA’s development of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft.

Although his office has released a dozen or so reports on various aspects of these programs, he has never stated briefly his thoughts on the programs — until Tuesday.

Appear before House of Representatives Science Committee session At NASA’s Artemis program, Martin revealed the operational costs of the large rocket and spacecraft for the first time. Furthermore, it has targeted NASA and especially its aerospace contractors for their “extremely poor” performance in developing these vehicles.

Martin said the operating costs alone for a one-off Artemis launch — just for the rocket, Orion spacecraft and ground systems — would be $4.1 billion. This, he said, “is a price that seems to us unaffordable.” With that comment, Martin basically threw up the gauntlet and said that NASA couldn’t have a purposeful exploration program based on SLS and Orion at this cost.

cost division

Later in the hearing, Martin split the costs per flight, which will apply to at least the first four launches of the Artemis program: $2.2 billion to build a single SLS rocket, $568 million for ground systems, $1 billion for the Orion spacecraft, and $300 million to the European Space Agency for the Orion service module. Martin said that NASA has verified and confirmed those numbers.

What is remarkable about these costs is that they do not include the tens of billions of dollars that NASA has already spent developing the Orion spacecraft since 2005 and the Space Launch System rocket since 2011. If one were to consume the development costs more than 10 flights of SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft Satellite, the $4.1 billion figure Martin cited would easily double.

This number is much higher than NASA had hoped. five years ago, A senior NASA official told Ars The space agency wants to cut its operating costs for one mission per year to $2 billion or less. Another source said at the time that the internal target was $1.5 billion.

Martin also said that NASA hides the costs it spends on the Artemis program, and that his office believes that NASA will spend $93 billion from 2012 to 2025 on the Artemis program.

“Without fully calculating NASA and accurately reporting the total costs of the current and future Artemis missions, it will be very difficult for Congress and the administration to make informed decisions about NASA’s long-term funding needs—a key to making Artemis a sustainable project,” Martin said.