NASA OIG: NASA's Management Of The Artemis Program

Status Report From: NASA Office of Inspector General
Posted: Monday, November 15, 2021


Full report


The Artemis program seeks to return humans to the Moon by late 2024 rather than 2028 as initially planned. Faced with a shortened timeframe, an uncertain budget, and the nascency of the required development work, NASA implemented modifications to its routine procurement and program management practices in an attempt to accelerate the mission schedule and reduce costs. The Agency's lunar strategy includes development of the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy- lift rocket, the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (Orion) capsule, a Human Landing System (HLS) to transport astronauts from lunar orbit to the Moon's surface, the Gateway outpost orbiting the Moon, next-generation spacesuits, and delivery of science investigations and technology demonstrations to the lunar surface by commercial landers.

Currently NASA's most ambitious and costly activity, the Artemis program faces schedule, procurement, technical, and funding risks. This includes procurement of Artemis-related technologies and space flight hardware using research and development contracts that leverage commercial capabilities but require a Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) deviation for acquiring services and hardware. SLS and Orion have also experienced technical challenges in later development phases as well as the effects of COVID-19 restrictions and severe weather events. Additionally, the Gateway and HLS Programs received significantly less funding in fiscal year (FY) 2021 than required to meet NASA's initial acquisition strategy.

As the second in a series of audits examining NASA's Artemis plans, this report assessed the Artemis program's schedule and projected costs as well as how the Agency's acquisition and programmatic approaches facilitate landing astronauts on the Moon. To complete this work, we reviewed documents, systems, policies, and procedures pertaining to schedule, cost, budget, operations, acquisition strategy, and program/project management requirements related to Artemis, its programs, and contactors. We also reviewed contracts, interviewed NASA and contractor officials, and conducted site visits at SpaceX headquarters in California and its Starbase facility in Texas.


NASA's three initial Artemis missions, designed to culminate in a crewed lunar landing, face varying degrees of technical difficulties and delays heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic and weather events that will push launch schedules from months to years past the Agency's current goals. With Artemis I mission elements now being integrated and tested at Kennedy Space Center, we estimate NASA will be ready to launch by summer 2022 rather than November 2021 as planned. Although Artemis II is scheduled to launch in late 2023, we project that it will be delayed until at least mid-2024 due to the mission's reuse of Orion components from Artemis I. While the Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) Division—which includes HLS, Gateway, and next-generation spacesuits—is working on an integrated master schedule (IMS) for Artemis III that incorporates Exploration Systems Development (ESD) Division programs—SLS, Orion, and Exploration Ground Systems—the draft version does not include information on programs critical to Artemis that are outside of AES and ESD. Given the time needed to develop and fully test the HLS and new spacesuits, we project NASA will exceed its current timetable for landing humans on the Moon in late 2024 by several years.

In addition, NASA lacks a comprehensive and accurate cost estimate that accounts for all Artemis program costs. For FYs 2021 through 2025, the Agency uses a rough estimate for the first three missions that excludes $25 billion for key activities related to planned missions beyond Artemis III. When aggregating all relevant costs across mission directorates, NASA is projected to spend $93 billion on the Artemis effort up to FY 2025. We also project the current production and operations cost of a single SLS/Orion system at $4.1 billion per launch for Artemis I through IV, although the Agency's ongoing initiatives aimed at increasing affordability seek to reduce that cost. Multiple factors contribute to the high cost of ESD programs, including the use of sole-source, cost-plus contracts; the inability to definitize key contract terms in a timely manner; and the fact that except for the Orion capsule, its subsystems, and the supporting launch facilities, all components are expendable and "single use" unlike emerging commercial space flight systems. Without capturing, accurately reporting, and reducing the cost of future SLS/Orion missions, the Agency will face significant challenges to sustaining its Artemis program in its current configuration.

Further, for HLS, NASA has modified its traditional acquisition approach for large space flight programs to reduce costs, encourage innovation, and meet an aggressive schedule for its Artemis lunar landings. While its acquisition approach relies on competition to drive down costs and ensure redundancy, the Agency selected a single provider—SpaceX— after receiving $2.5 billion less than requested for HLS development in FY 2021. To help compensate, the Agency is accelerating its Lunar Exploration Transportation Services procurement for sustainable, regularly-recurring crewed lunar transportation services, and in September 2021 awarded five HLS contracts for the continued development of sustainable HLS capabilities as a prelude to the competitive services procurement. Over the past year, NASA has worked to solidify its HLS requirements and standards, established insight and collaboration teams, and plans to establish resident offices at SpaceX. However, under NASA's tailored project management approach, HLS will use less standardized milestone reviews and instead utilize other techniques such as annual synchronization reviews throughout development and testing, but this approach runs the risk of technical changes later in development. Finally, instead of using a systems integrator or Artemis program manager, NASA is establishing various collaborative processes including new boards and a multi-directorate council to facilitate the communication and approval process. The effectiveness of this approach remains to be seen. While these modified approaches have the potential benefit of decreasing costs and encouraging innovation, they also raise the possibility of schedule and performance risks on NASA's human-rated systems.


To increase accuracy, transparency, and safety of human space flight, we recommended NASA's Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate: (1) develop a realistic, risk-informed schedule that includes sufficient margin to better align Agency expectations with the development schedule; (2) expand upon the existing draft Artemis IMS to include Artemis programs outside AES and ESD to properly align dependencies across directorates; (3) develop an Artemis-wide cost estimate and update it on an annual basis; (4) maintain an accounting of per-mission costs and establish a benchmark against which NASA can assess the outcome of initiatives to increase the affordability of ESD systems; (5) definitize outstanding Artemis-related contracts within 180 days in accordance with NASA FAR Supplement 1843.7005(a); (6) develop a realistic funding profile and schedule given the underfunding of HLS in FY 2021, selection of one HLS award, and desire to compete a sustainability contract for future lunar missions; and (7) identify measurable cost reduction targets for its ESD contractors. We also recommended NASA's Chief Engineer in coordination with the HLS Program Manager: (8) validate annual synchronization reviews meet the intent and expectations of the milestone reviews replaced by the tailored acquisition approach, and the NASA Deputy Administrator in coordination with Mission Directorate Associate Administrators: (9) codify the remaining governance structure such as the Federated Boards and Joint Directorate Program Management Council.

We provided a draft of this report to NASA management who concurred with Recommendations 1, 5, 6, 7, and 8, and described planned actions to address them. We consider the proposed actions responsive for these recommendations and will close them upon completion and verification. In addition, the Agency partially concurred with Recommendations 2 and 9 and non-concurred with Recommendations 3 and 4. These four recommendations will remain unresolved pending further discussions with NASA.

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