A mobile launcher platform for the Space Launch System rocket isseen inside the Vehicle Assembly Building during a NASA "Apollo - Then and Now" event at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral

2024 Moon trip facing delays as Space Launch System runs over budget

Image credit: reuters

Nasa’s Space Launch System (SLS), the vehicle that will be used to send humans to the Moon, is “unlikely” to meet its June 2020 construction date, which may delay the Moon trip plans beyond the scheduled 2024 departure date.

The US Government’s General Accounting Office (GAO) also found that SLS had also gone drastically over budget by around $1.8bn (£1.4bn).

Nasa has estimated that the budget for the programme has increased by just $1bn, but the GAO said this was “understated”.

This is because the space agency shifted some of the planned scope for SLS to future missions, but did not reduce the program's cost baseline accordingly. When GAO reduced the baseline to account for the reduced scope, the cost growth is about $1.8bn, it said.

The GAO also cast doubt on Nasa’s suggested 5.7 per cent cost growth for the Orion Spacecraft, the four-person capsule designed to take humans to the Moon.

It said the estimate assumes a launch date seven months earlier than Orion's baseline launch date and if it fails to meet this, costs will increase further.

The issues around the rocket’s development, led by Boeing, mean that the first launch of the SLS originally scheduled for late 2017 could be delayed until June 2021.

Boeing’s space division restructured the SLS leadership team in 2018 and early 2019 to adjust to the program challenges and simplified its manufacturing process, Boeing spokesman Jerry Drelling said.

“No one is building a rocket like this and we’re creating a very in-depth database for all future rockets,” he said.

The Trump administration directed Nasa in March to land humans on the lunar surface by 2024, part of a broader program called Artemis that will use the moon as a staging ground for eventual missions to Mars.

The accelerated timeline, four years faster than originally planned, is likely to cost $20bn to $30bn over the next five years, Nasa Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in an interview with CNN last week.

In March 2019, it emerged that the agency was considering using commercial rockets from the likes of Elon Musk’s SpaceX or United Launch Alliance to send the Orion Spacecraft into a lunar orbit without crew next year due delays in the SLS programme.

Officials from Nasa and Boeing also underestimated the manufacturing complexity of the “core stage” of four attached rocket engines, which could increase the cost and cause delays of two years or more, the report said.

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