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Final Report - IG-13-022 - Status of NASA's Development of the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle

Press Release From: NASA Office of Inspector General
Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2013

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NASA Inspector General Paul K. Martin today released a report evaluating NASA’s development of its new crew capsule known as the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV).  In April 2013, NASA announced plans to launch by 2025 a mission to identify, capture, and relocate an asteroid while emphasizing that Mars is its ultimate destination for beyond low Earth orbit exploration.  Some members of Congress, however, advocate a return to the moon as the next step in human exploration for NASA.  Whatever the destination, successful development of the MPCV is critical to the overall success of NASA’s human exploration efforts.  In this audit, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) examined the MPCV Program’s progress in meeting cost and schedule goals, as well as its challenges coordinating with other NASA and non-NASA programs.

The MPCV is an outgrowth of NASA’s defunct Constellation Program and in accordance with the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 is being developed “to the extent practicable” using contracts, investments, workforce, and capabilities associated with that Program.  As adjuncts to the MPCV Program, NASA is developing a new “heavy lift” rocket known as the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program (GSDO) to support both the capsule and the rocket.  The Agency also is looking to the European Space Agency (ESA) to provide the MPCV Service Module, a critical component of the new spaceflight system, for at least one test flight.

The MPCV Program anticipates receiving approximately $1 billion per year for the remainder of the 2010s and into the 2020s.  The OIG found that constrained funding for the MPCV has forced Program managers to adopt a less-than-optimal incremental development approach in which elements necessary to complete the most immediate tests are given priority while development and testing is delayed on other important but less time-sensitive aspects of the Program.  Although we believe MPCV Program officials are managing the Program as effectively as they can within a constrained budget, we are concerned about the risks associated with incremental development.  We also noted the risks to the Program that flow from its dependencies on the SLS and GSDO Programs and the ESA. 

For example, the MPCV Program is beginning to experience testing delays that could result in schedule interruptions and cost increases down the road.  Specifically, test dates have slipped 4 years on the Ascent Abort-2 test and 9 months on the Exploration Flight Test-1.  NASA has also delayed development of many of the life support systems required for crewed missions.  Similarly, reliance on timely progress of the SLS and GSDO programs and the ESA for the Service Module adds risk that is outside the control of the Program and could have a negative impact on the MPCV and NASA’s overall exploration mission goals.

Moreover, even after the MPCV is fully developed and ready to transport crew, NASA will continue to face significant challenges concerning the long-term sustainability of its human exploration program.  For example, unless the Agency begins a program to develop landers and surface systems, NASA astronauts will be limited to orbital missions using the MPCV.  Under the current budget environment, it appears unlikely that NASA will obtain significant funding to begin development of additional exploration hardware, thereby delaying such development into the 2020s. 

Although we did not make specific recommendations for corrective action, we encouraged NASA managers to be as transparent as possible when discussing the issues facing the MPCV Program and the risk associated with its incremental development.  We believe it vital that Congress and the public recognize that incremental spacecraft development is not an optimal way to sustain a human space program.  Further, we urge NASA to enhance communication between the MPCV, SLS, and GDSO programs to ensure that the schedules for these interdependent programs remain aligned.

The full report can be found on the OIG’s website at http://oig.nasa.gov/ under “Reading Room” or at the following link:  http://oig.nasa.gov/audits/reports/FY13/IG-13-022.pdf  

Please contact Renee Juhans at 202-358-1220 if you have questions.

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