NASA IG: SLS, Orion, Ground Systems Interdependency Creates Unique Challenges

NASA IG: SLS, Orion, Ground Systems Interdependency Creates Unique Challenges

NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) is concerned about the interdependencies among the three elements of NASA’s effort to build a system to take humans beyond low Earth orbit — the Space Launch System (SLS), the Orion spacecraft, and their Ground Systems Development and Operations (GSDO) — especially the timing of conducting Critical Design Reviews (CDRs) for each of them.  The GSDO CDR was going to be first, but the OIG thought it should be last.  NASA agreed and switched the order, but also warned the OIG that there might be delays in those for Orion and SLS.  Thus, the OIG remains concerned that the CDRs be conducted in the most effective order.

GSDO is the ground infrastructure at Kennedy Space Center needed to support SLS and Orion. NASA already has spent $975 million on GSDO and plans to spend another $2.4 billion over the next 5 years.   The OIG report concluded that GSDO is making steady progress, but “significant technical and programmatic challenges remain to meet a November 2018 launch date.”

The OIG’s major concern is getting the timing aligned for all three elements:  SLS, Orion and GSDO.   The interdependencies among the three create unique challenges “particularly since NASA historically has used a single program structure to manage similar efforts such as Apollo and the Space Shuttle.”  NASA has identified 462 interdependencies and 295 (62.8 percent) have been resolved, the OIG reports.

When it began its investigation, the OIG says, NASA planned to conduct the CDR for GSDO before those for SLS or Orion.  Because the three elements are so interdependent, though, it recommended that NASA reconsider performing the GSDO CDR first.   NASA agreed and rescheduled the CDRs so GSDO would be last instead of first.  The new plan is to conduct the CDR for SLS in July 2015, for Orion in October 2015 and for GSDO in December 2015.  

NASA informed the OIG, however, that the dates for the SLS and Orion CDRs could slip and GSDO could once again be first in the queue.  Thus the OIG remains concerned. 

The report notes that the original launch date for SLS was December 2017 and the 11-month slip to November 2018 increased the GSDO cost by $208 million above its baseline estimate of $2.6 billion. 

It should be noted that although the OIG report states
in several places that NASA committed to the first launch of SLS in
November 2018, that is actually a launch readiness date.   Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Human
Exploration and Operations, carefully distinguishes between a
launch readiness date (when the systems will be ready to fly) and a
launch date (when the launch will actually take place).  He explains
that because Orion has not yet completed its Key Decision Point-C
(KDP-C) review, NASA cannot commit to a launch date.  Instead, it is
committed to having SLS and GSDO ready by November 2018 — their launch
readiness date.  The launch date will be determined after Orion’s KDP-C
is finished. The Orion capsule that will be used for that first flight
of SLS, called Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), will not carry a crew.


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