Report: Space Launch System (GAO 2023)

The following are the key points from the GAO report on the Space Launch System program:

  • NASA does not have plans to measure production costs of the SLS program to monitor affordability after the first Artemis I launch.
  • NASA created a 5-year estimate of production and operations costs instead of a cost baseline. This estimate does not track costs by mission or recurring production items, so it is a poor measure of cost performance over time.
  • GAO has recommended since 2014 that NASA establish a separate cost and schedule baseline for SLS that includes production costs beyond Artemis I. NASA has not yet implemented this recommendation.
  • Without measuring production costs, there is limited transparency into the program’s long-term affordability. The SLS program accounts for over a third of NASA’s budget request for Artemis programs.
  • NASA recognizes the SLS program is currently unaffordable at its current cost levels. The program has developed some short-term cost-saving strategies, but it is too early to assess their impact.
  • Longer-term, NASA is considering new operating models, like purchasing SLS launches from a contractor who would own and operate the rocket.

In summary, NASA does not have plans to measure recurring SLS production costs after Artemis I, limiting insights into long-term affordability. GAO has recommended NASA establish cost baselines including production costs since 2014, but NASA has not yet implemented this. NASA is pursuing some cost-saving strategies, but their effectiveness remains uncertain.

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