Spiraling costs connected to NASA’s Space Launch System have prompted an internal review of the troubled rocket program, driven by White House concerns over its affordability.
The review was initiated by the NASA transition team appointed by President Joe Biden, Ars Technica reported on Monday, citing two sources. It will be led by Paul McConnaughey, a former deputy center director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
The Space Launch System, or SLS, is NASA’s first rocket designed for human space travel since the Saturn V, and it’s the key piece of the Artemis I lunar mission. As NASA states on its website, the SLS boasts “unprecedented power and capabilities” and is “the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts, and cargo to the Moon on a single mission.”
But the SLS program has also run into a series of problems in recent years. Monday’s news about the internal review came about a year after NASA’s Office of Inspector General issued a report saying that the program was beset by rising costs and delays due to management and technical issues, as well as problems associated with contractors such as Boeing, Aerojet and Northrop Grumman.
Costs for the SLS rocket are now estimated to push above $2 billion per flight, according to Ars Technica. That cost is in addition to the $20 billion NASA has already spent developing the rocket and its ground systems. Some incoming Biden administration officials “do not believe the Artemis Moon Program is sustainable with such launch costs,” Ars Technica reported.
The BBC reported last month that Biden backs the effort to return to the moon under the Artemis program, which was started under Donald Trump. But the White House also wants NASA to increase its focus on more earthly matters, such as working to better understand climate change.
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