A new report from the Government Accountability Office found that the prime contractors for the Space Launch System and Orion rocket received hundreds of millions of dollars in award prices despite continued issues that will likely lead to further delays in the programs.
The June 19 report, which introduced an unusually strong response from NASA, concluded that the agency should use upcoming contract discussions with Boeing for the SLS, and Lockheed Martin for Orion, to find different ways to structure award prices “to incentivize contractors to obtain better outcomes.”
“NASA’s award price plans for the SLS stages and Orion crew spacecraft contracts provide for hundreds of millions of dollars to incentivize contractor performance, but the programs continue to fall behind plan and incur cost overruns,” the report stated.
Boeing, for instance, got $271 million in award prices over the life of its SLS contract, the report noted. That includes $146 million since NASA established formal cost and schedule baselines for the program, 81 percent of the total that Boeing could have earned.
Boeing got evaluation scores of “excellent” or “very good” since 2014, with the exception of the most recent period added in the report of October 2017 through September 2018, when it received a lower score of “good.”
During that time, though, the schedule for the first SLS launch has slipped by several years. The GAO noted in its report that the program won’t meet a planned June 2020 launch date because of ongoing problems, particularly with the development of the rocket’s core stage. NASA officials have said there are 6 to 12 months of “risk” to that launch date, meaning it could slip to as late as June 2021.
Dennis Muilenburg, the president, and chief executive of Boeing, didn’t address the report in a June 19 speech at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston where he discussed the company’s various space activities, including SLS. “The first launch is next year, an uncrewed launch,” he said.
At a meeting of a NASA Advisory Council committee May 28, Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development at NASA, said the company was still trying to carry out the first SLS launch in 2020 even if decides to hold a “green run” static-fire test of the core stage. “Obviously, everything has to go perfectly” to maintain that 2020 launch date, he said, “but there’s a shot.”