Audit finds NASA’s Mars rocket is over budget

Chabeli Herrera
Orlando Sentinel

Orlando, Fla. – The NASA Office of the Inspector General released a scathing audit of Boeing and the space agency Wednesday morning, detailing Boeing’s delays and billions of dollars of cost overruns in building key components of a next-generation rocket destined for missions to the moon and Mars.

The report also accused NASA of being overly generous with its evaluations of Boeing, leading to questionable payments.

Under a NASA contract, Boeing is currently building two of the core stages of the Space Launch System, a heavy-lift rocket that will carry the Orion spacecraft that will take astronauts into deep space. The components of the rocket will be put together and tested at Kennedy Space Center, before they launch from Florida’s Space Coast.

But the project is behind schedule and grossly over budget, the OIG report found, partially as a result of “Boeing’s poor performance.”

“With $5.3 billion spent as of July 2018, NASA expects Boeing to exhaust the contract’s current value by early 2019, nearly three years before the contract is supposed to end and without delivering a single core stage or the (exploration upper stage),” said Ridge Bowman, director of the NASA OIG.

At the current rate, the report found that Boeing will spend at least $8.9 billion through 2021 – “double the amount initially planned – while delivery of the first core stage has slipped 21 / 2 years from June 2017 to December 2019 and may slip further.”

On a call with reporters last week, Boeing’s Space Launch System vice president and program manager, John Shannon, said the project is on track to deliver the first core stage of the rocket to Kennedy Space Center by the end of the year, where it will be integrated with the other components.

But the report disputed that estimate, saying Boeing would need an infusion of $1.2 billion through a renegotiated NASA contract for it to meet its goal of delivering to the Space Coast in December 2019 and then holding a test flight in June 2020.