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IG report: NASA’s Orion is a program of lies

The Orion capsule

In a report [pdf] released today, NASA’s inspector general confirmed unequivocally what I have been saying for years, that the agency’s project to build the Orion capsule has been built on lies, from the beginning.

First of all, the report slams NASA for purposely excluding from its public budget almost 60% of the total cost for the entire Orion project.

The total projected Life Cycle Cost for the Orion spacecraft through FY 2030 is $29.5 billion.

We found that NASA’s exclusion of more than $17 billion in Orion‐related costs has hindered the overall transparency of the vehicle’s complete costs. Both federal law and NASA policy call for a Life Cycle Cost estimate for all major science and space programs costing more than $250 million, and for the Agency Baseline Commitment (ABC) to be based on all formulation and development costs. The Orion Program received approval from the NASA Associate Administrator to deviate from those requirements, resulting in exclusion of $17.5 billion in Orion‐related costs from fiscal year (FY) 2006 to FY 2030 due to the Agency’s tailored approach to program management and cost reporting. Although these exclusions have been approved, the tailoring of these cost reporting requirements significantly limits visibility into the total amount spent on development and production efforts. [emphasis mine]

In other words, since 2006 NASA has been illegally mislabeling 59% of Orion’s cost to hide this from the public. Through 2030 it expects Orion to cost almost $30 billion, but it has been advertising the cost as only $12 billion.

It appears that to Congress NASA has been more honest, though they and Congress have worked together to try to keep this fact quiet. In writing my 2017 policy paper, Capitalism in Space, I had reviewed all Congressional appropriations for Orion since 2004 in order to determine the true cost of the program. I did not trust NASA’s numbers, because I had found them to change from report to report, and appear inconsistent. I found the total appropriated by Congress through 2021 equaled about $18 billion. Since appropriations per year averaged slightly more then $1 billion, extending the Orion project to 2030 would add about $10 billion to this appropriation estimate, bringing my total to $28 billion, quite close to the total estimate of the inspector general.

When Orion finally launches its first crew in 2023, it will have taken NASA twenty years to build and fly one manned Orion mission, for a total cost through that year of more than $20 billion. To repeat, NASA will have flown one manned capsule for $20 billion and taken 20 years to do it.

And yet, even these numbers do not detail the entire cost of that single manned mission. As absurdly high as they are, this estimate does not include the cost for the capsule’s service module, the section that will provide all of its life support, fuel, power, and its main engine. This is being built by the European Space Agency, with a cost for future service modules still under negotiation.

For comparison, SpaceX’s manned Dragon capsule, already flying, cost NASA less than $6 billion total, and that cost includes about a dozen manned flights, not one. It also took SpaceX 13 years to build and fly it, with much of that time consumed by delays imposed on the company by NASA.

Secondly, the IG report finally admits something I have also been saying for years, that Orion has never been the interplanetary spaceship that NASA has been claiming. The report has a section titled “Orion’s Limited Utility as a Deep Space Vehicle,” which states this:

The current crew module can accommodate up to four astronauts for 21 days in its 316 cubic feet of habitable space—similar in size to a minivan—and thus will not be suitable on its own for Mars missions. In contrast, NASA’s notional Mars architecture, called Deep Space Transport—similar in size to a large two-bedroom apartment—will support a crew of four in 3,500 cubic feet of habitable space for a 3-year mission, with private and public crew spaces, a galley, medical and exercise systems, and research stations. Orion’s involvement in a Mars mission would thus be limited to transport of astronauts to and from the Gateway at the beginning and conclusion of the mission. [emphasis mine]

In other words, Orion is really nothing more than an over-priced and over-designed ascent and decent capsule that can provide ferrying services to lunar orbit. It is not the interplanetary spaceship that NASA has been touting publicly for years. SpaceX could provide NASA the same capability, do it now, and do it for far less.

The report also outlines the on-going cost overruns and schedule delays at Lockheed Martin. Despite being giving ungodly amounts of money, the company continues to go over budget and deliver late. Moreover, NASA awarded Lockheed Martin the follow-on contract to build future Orions (assuming Congress approves the full Artemis program) without competitive and open bidding, despite these cost overruns and scheduling delays.

Overall this IG report is quite damning. It illustrates the corruption and failure of our leaders and their bureaucracy in Washington, going back almost twenty years. They can’t get the job done, and they lie about it continually. It is past time for these people to be fired, with the work given to someone else.

And that someone else should be free Americans, in the private sector, doing what they wish to do.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.


The print edition can be purchased at Amazon. Or you can buy it directly from the author and get an autographed copy.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • Tom Billings

    ” It is past time for these people to be fired, with the work given to someone else.”

    Agree with the first half of the sentence, but not the second one.

    The tasks of building human-carrying spacecraft should never again be under the supervision of the United States Congress!

    Political allocation of these resources is the *direct* cause of this low productivity. NASA has been forced by Congress, yet again, to do things in order to spend money in politically useful districts, rather than to spend money to get spaceflight accomplished!

  • Tom Billings: Maybe I should have been clearer. I was not suggesting that we should give this work to other government bureaucrats, but to private companies instead.

  • In fact, I decided to add a sentence to the post to clarify myself.

  • john hare

    Actually, I believe this is one that should be used as an example to people that want the government to take over some sector. Mainly because it is high profile and clear cut enough to make a point.

    The educational and medical corruption is massively more damaging to society, while also being much more difficult targets.

  • Tim Smyth

    Isn’t this just another instance of Texas politicians hating the fact the SpX is based in California not wanting to give up their pork(McGregor/Waco and Boca Chica/Brownsville aren’t “real” Texas only Houston where Cornyn and Cruz are from “is”). In fact according to Rand Simberg going way back to the early 2000s the fact that LockMart unlike Northrop Grumman where he was consulting at the time was offering to do the work in Houston instead off LA was considered a huge plus to the GW Bush administration era NASA.

  • Brad

    The Obama administration had a chance to fix the Orion spacecraft mess and the Ares launch vehicle mess, and they utterly failed. All that Obama seemed to accomplish was cancelling return to the Moon.

    So NASA ended up with the worst of all possible outcomes, saddled with expensive hardware projects and left directionless towards any practical manned exploration goal. A recipe for burning money while going nowhere beyond LEO.

    But as bad as that was, somehow core mismanagement of those programs made the situation even worse! Orion and SLS should have flown by 2017, yet it now seems the first manned flight won’t be until 2023!?

    What the heck happened during the years of the Obama administration? As bad as Congress was in saddling NASA with SLS and Orion, no one can fairly blame Congress for the mismanagement of Orion and SLS projects. How did Orion and SLS balloon out of all recognition? Clearly the Obama administration was not minding the store, and negligent in handling NASA.

  • Tim Smyth


    Lori Garver(Obama’s Deputy Administrator) is on Twitter saying that she was lied by the managers beneath her and never approved these cost overruns for whatever it is worth. The story that I suspect is more likely is that Lori wanted to kill Orion altogether and when Congress said no, she washed her hands of it and let and is letting Congress now take the heat.

  • Dick Eagleson

    The Obama administration certainly exhibited a nearly unmatched ability to find “sour spots” in many of the matters it dealt with, but the Orion mess well predates Obama’s entire administration. This IG report notes that the exclusion of Orion expenses being complained about was authorized by a NASA Associate Administrator and dates from fiscal year 2006. Bill Gerstenmaier was Associate Administrator of HEOMD from 2005 until his removal last year by Administrator Bridenstine. Gerst is the one responsible for this bit of book cooking – a fact that amply justifies, in retrospect, his removal, though he was also responsible for a lot of other management malpractice that was the basis, at the time, for his removal.

  • Apostate

    The assignation of executive branch mismanagement and collective Congressional action to a handful of unnamed ‘Texas politicians’ who, bizarrely, don’t consider huge swathes of Texas to be ‘real Texas,’ is stupid and betrays utter ignorance of Texas politicians.

    “That’s not REAL X; only *I* live in REAL X” is a California/New York attitude. Not a Texan one.

    Hide your bigotries better.

  • As much as I credit Lori Garver for successfully making the commercial space effort at NASA a success, she can’t wash her hands of this IG report. Gerstenmaier clearly worked to hid the problems at Ares/SLS/Orion, but she was his boss. Since the actual appropriation numbers to Congress were correct, it means she knew what the actual cost was for Orion, and thus participated with Gerstenmaier and Lockheed Martin to hide from the public those numbers.

  • I must add that NASA was able to get away with this because so few journalists were willing to do their job. The actual numbers were public information, buried in Congressional appropriation bills. All journalists had to do was dig them out, as I did for my policy paper.

    Instead, they parroted NASA’s press releases and powerpoint presentations, accepting at face value the lies NASA’s management was telling them.

  • LocalFluff

    And those are best case costs. If something goes wrong during an actual launch (if that ever happens), it could quickly get much more expensive. Meanwhile, the stainless steel rocket is making headways.

    I think that space costs can run away out of the limit, because politicians do not understand astronomy and are afraid to look stupid. Trump called it “the Oreo space raft”. Like that ten billion dollar beryllium mirror that is sitting in someone’s bathroom and getting old. I can only hope that some girl is enjoying herself in its reflexions. Otherwise it will never be of any use at all.

  • David

    As bad as the Orion project has been (and it is plenty bad), I actually think the SLS project may be worse (and not just in terms of money). SLS will not be ready to fly next year, and I doubt it will fly in 2022.
    Orion was much more expensive in terms of net dollars, I think, but SLS has a lot importance in terms of lift and any future Government- civilian space program/
    For an agency that managed Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and the Space Shuttle…and also the international space station….how did NASA get so broken and incompetent?

    All those programs had problems, were less than perfect. Apollo One killed three good men on the pad.

    The Space Shuttle killed two crews….after many missions were also successful. The Challenger catastrophe was clearly a management decision mistake, launching outside of mission parameters, and they nearly had the same burn through problem on the previous mission in November of 1985.

  • Brad

    Thanks for the responses, everyone.

    Yes, the lapdog press is particularly at fault. They gave Obama and his people every benefit of the doubt and bent over backwards to support the administration party-line, acting as if they were members of the administration. Perhaps in truth they really were.

    Ironically the Obama administration hated the press and treated them with contempt.

    I remember my own frustration during the early years of the Obama administration, trying to find out just what the heck was happening with space policy. I still don’t know why they did what they did.


    As for Lori Garver, from everything I’ve read of her statements since the Obama administration, I find her an untrustworthy witness. And why all the focus on Garver anyway? Didn’t Bolden have any part of this? Was he just a figurehead? Who was really managing NASA? Who was responsible?

  • Edward

    Brad asked: “What the heck happened during the years of the Obama administration?

    As Paul Spudis phrased what Obama left for NASA in his book The Value of the Moon: “Regrettably, strategic confusion currently abounds in the American civil space program.” That is Obama’s legacy for NASA.

    You wrote: “For comparison, SpaceX’s manned Dragon capsule, already flying, cost NASA less than $6 billion total, and that cost includes about a dozen manned flights, not one. It also took SpaceX 13 years to build and fly it, with much of that time consumed by delays imposed on the company by NASA.

    You may be shortchanging SpaceX. For that $6 billion, SpaceX has also provided a cargo spacecraft and has already successfully flown 19 missions (and launched another that failed), with a few more to go on the contract. In addition for that same $6 billion, SpaceX will have a third spacecraft, this one also for cargo. Essentially $6 billion bought three spacecraft and about 30 missions. More if you include demonstration flights.

    Orion suffered greatly under the Obama administration. It had been originally designed for the Constellation program to return people to the Moon (with the ability to dock with the ISS), but Obama’s attempt to kill it failed, resulting in horrible wounds to the program. When Congress resuscitated it, Obama then declared a mission for which it was not intended and not designed to perform, which is where the wounds come in.

    The way I see it, government officials work hard to not embarrass the president, and this is no different. Orion was not designed for a long mission to an asteroid, a mission that even asteroid scientists didn’t want. With Orion being declared as usable for a long duration mission, how could it not be used for a mission to Mars? Thus, a culture of lies was formed at NASA. No one was eager for an asteroid mission, so there was no sense of urgency, allowing for a series of delays. After all, if they ever get close to launching to an asteroid then they would have to admit that their flight hardware could not perform the job.

    Obama turned NASA into a cluster bleep, defined in the movie “Heartbreak Ridge” as an operation that lacks the proper equipment for the job. To quote: “They shouldn’t be sitting around on their sorry asses filling out request forms for equipment they should already have.

    I think that the real question is whether NASA and its culture can turn around in a short time and change from a “no can do” culture to the “can do” culture that it was in the 1960s. The opportunity is here, with a project to return to the Moon, which I’m sure many at NASA have been eager to work on all their lives (if you are going to promise the Moon to a girl, shouldn’t you build the spacecraft to get her there?), and there is a serious urgency to do it — before another president can do the same job on NASA as Obama did.

    But just as was the case for Apollo, NASA is not the right team for a sustained presence on the Moon. Eventually there will be a president or Congress that will not want to spend the money. The correct people to do keep us on the Moon is the commercial sector, who will find a profitable reason, not a political reason, to be on the Moon. Then we wouldn’t have to hear these lies.

  • MrSatyre

    I gave up raking NASA over the coals for their endless exaggerations and outright lies regarding SLS and Orion in public forums years ago. They never once tried to counter or deny my allegations of b.s. and fraud.

    Now do an article about how NASA and the Feds are wasting even more tax-payer money with not just Orion (which has always been, as you know, a glorified taxi), but with Boeing’s virtually identical and pointless, over-budget and behind schedule Starliner. “But, the mission parameters are different!” the fan bois regurgitate…

  • Donald Meaker

    My ex-wife says she would be willing to do nothing and tell lies for only half a million a year.

  • Michael S. Kelly

    In 2009 and 2010, I worked on the Orion Launch Escape System Attitude Control Motor (LES/ACM) at ATK Elkton, albeit at a system engineering level that was in rather an oversight role. What I saw was, frankly, incredible. The LES contract was actually with Orbital, on a subcontract from Lockheed-Martin. NASA Marshall and NASA Langley both thought that they ran Lockheed-Martin’s contract. Design reviews at Elkton easily had 10 NASA/LockMart/Orbital personnel for every ATK person. “Requirements” shifted in major ways on a weekly basis, usually driven by the ever worsening dynamics of the Ares 1 vehicle.

    It’s no wonder that the contract was worth $100 million a year (IIRC) to ATK, which put forth the most noble effort I’ve ever seen in an aerospace company to keep costs to a minimum while performing on a level that was truly excellent. Any other contractor I have known (and I know them all) would have done a far worse job for far more money.

    Still, the ACM was a very minor part of the Orion program. About an 1,800 pounds of propulsion system, it cost about $56,000 per pound to develop. That’s 12.6 times what LockMart’s development cost/weight ratio was at the time. Virtually all of the excess, IMHO, was driven by the out-of-control requirements spiral, the conflicting control authority among the Centers, LockMart, and Orbital.

    Since then, the management structure has been significantly simplified. But the cost damage has been done.

  • Edward: As much as the Obama administration made things worse for the Constellation/SLS/Orion program, the lies began in the Bush administration, which always sold Orion as the spacecraft we will use to get back to Mars.

    Furthermore, in 2004, when Bush first proposed his Moon program Congress was controlled by Republicans. They and Bush chose to make its Moon program another big government boondoggle, while consciously leaving us without any way to launch astronauts as they retired the shuttle. NASA (under Bolton and Garver) just kept that lie going during Obama because it served their interests.

    In other words, we can’t be partisan here. The fault lies with the entire Washington establishment, from both parties, which until Trump was working together to funnel tax dollars to their private accounts while caring little about the nation, its interests, or their responsibility.

    Whether Trump will really change things remains a very big unknown right now. At times I think so. At other times I throw up my hands in frustration at his failures.

  • Tim Smyth

    I guess one positive thing if you look at today’s conditions from the perspective of the old 1970-80s battles over the space shuttle between NASA, the DOD, and commercial space is that assuming Starliner finally works and SpX and ULA are the two finalists for the next round of EELV contracts is that the US will have two redundant launch systems with no component overlap that effectively meet all of the intended original NASA and DOD requirements for STS at fractions of the cost. Given all the disasters of the original STS, Shuttle C, National Launch System, and the original EELV awards which both used RL-10 one has to say the US launch system capability is perhaps in the best shape it ever has been. The big loser though of course is NASA Marshall and the old Shuttle industrial base which really has no role to play in either the SpaceX Falcon or ULA Atlas/Vulcan stacks.

  • Tim Smyth

    I will also point as problematic as Starliner is at least the Atlas V is cheap enough and has a high enough production rate compared to SLS that the Demo flight can be re-done in a somewhat reasonable amount of time. If Orion has major problems on EM-1 which again given the experience of Starliner I can easily imagine it will set the problem back years and billions basically waiting for another SLS.

  • Justanolddegignengineer

    Just remember what NASA’s top priority is ….. ” To keep NASA employees employed”

  • Edward

    You wrote: “consciously leaving us without any way to launch astronauts as they retired the shuttle.

    I recall that Orion-Ares would cover that until commercial crew became operational (after commercial resupply proved that private companies can operate in space). I didn’t think that Orion was supposed to go to Mars unaided, as that goal requires far more additional hardware, such as a lander. However, if they were proposing just Orion and a lander, similar to Apollo, then they were not being realistic.

    Trump cannot make NASA a reliable master of space, because it is at the whim of the politicians and what they want to do at any given moment. Once Trump is out of office, someone else will want NASA to do something else. True ownership of space exploration and utilization must be with commercial, for-profit companies, because as they figure out how to make profits from space endeavors they are the ones who will have the incentive to remain and keep doing it. Even better, they will pay for it, not the taxpayer, so the taxpayer can continue to squander money on the endless War on Poverty.

    This is why I look forward to commercial space stations (or habitats), because they will be able to make profits from experimentation, manufacturing, tourism, and any other manned industries they find that work in space. This is what happened with commercial communications in the 1960s and commercial Earth observation in the 2000s.

    In the meantime, I hope that NASA gets straightened out, because it has been able to show what can be accomplished in space. It just does not have the support it needs to keep up any given accomplishment. Once it shows the way, Congress gets bored and wants to move on to the next boondoggle, like going to an asteroid as a stepping stone to going to Mars. The long-term staying power definitely rests with for-profit companies.

    Outer Space Treaties want outer space to benefit all the people, but how can we benefit from it if we do not or cannot use it? This is where commercial space companies come in, to produce products that benefit us all. The various spacefaring governments have done very little of this in the six decades since they became orbital.

  • Edward wrote, “I recall that Orion-Ares would cover that until commercial crew became operational (after commercial resupply proved that private companies can operate in space). I didn’t think that Orion was supposed to go to Mars unaided, as that goal requires far more additional hardware, such as a lander. However, if they were proposing just Orion and a lander, similar to Apollo, then they were not being realistic.”

    Sadly your memory is not correct. Bush sold the “Crew Exploration Vehicle” (what became Orion) as the spacecraft that would take us to the Moon and beyond, and would also provide all ferrying services to ISS. And during his administration NASA always backed him up, making believe the CEV would be a future Mars vehicle, and in the early years of the program also touted it as a way to ferry astronauts to and from ISS.

    They were lying, however, and they knew it. The CEV was really meant to cost a lot, take a long time to build, and be overbuilt for ferrying astronauts to ISS. It could never be a ferry to ISS. See for example these two Space Watch columns I wrote for UPI in 2004 and in 2005.

    This is why NASA in 2008 eventually looked to commercial companies to build cargo ships to ISS that the agency hoped would eventually be upgraded to manned capsules. It knew it could not build an affordable manned spaceship itself.

    Nor could the capsule they were building, Orion, ever be an interplanetary spaceship. Note NASA’s specifications as outlined in those two columns. This was merely an ascent/descent capsule. From the start they claimed it would take us to the Moon and beyond, and from the start that was a lie.

  • roy_batty

    What happened to all the unreported $$,$$$,$$$,$$$, where exactly did it go? (what I’d really like to know)

  • James Claypool


  • Edward

    It looks to me as though we agree more than you think. Orion would be used to go to the Moon, would be a terribly expensive way to get to ISS, and your 2005 article notes that NASA’s request for proposals (RFP) requires that Orion “should be able to rendezvous and dock with future lunar landers and interplanetary modules.

    I think it most likely that NASA intended that Orion travel to Mars with the interplanetary module to be used to reenter Earth’s atmosphere without the need to slow the module back into Earth orbit. Unfortunately, that would make the module a one-use item, just like Orion, which is consistent with the rest of NASA’s philosophy for Constellation and even Artemis.

    However, commercial services, such as manned transport to ISS, was not an official plan in 2005, so it took two years or so to officially have a plan to have Orion be replaced for ISS work. Thus for two years, NASA’s plan was for an expensive manned transport to ISS. No wonder they were so eager for a commercial alternative. Every ISS trip would reduce the ability for deep space manned exploration.

    Now, fifteen years later, SpaceX is working on its own deep space spacecraft. What I find most impressive is that SpaceX is not getting government funding but is using its own resources for this expensive development work. XCOR was its own money with their suborbital craft, but sadly they lost their main source of income and went out of business before Lynx could become a revenue source. Both of these companies are (or were) more committed to their goals than Lockheed Martin or McDonnell Douglas were with their single stage to orbit plans.

    The dishonesty at NASA, hiding the costs of Orion and who knows what other projects, is disheartening. It suggests that the management is not interested in getting the job done but in getting the job. NASA is behaving like its contractors, more interested in the funding than in the end product for government use. This is a good reason to shift from building hardware under NASA but instead for NASA to buy hardware that has been designed and built by private companies for their own purposes.

    This kind of paradigm shift is tricky. The Air Force made this attempt in the 1980s, but Northrup’s F-20 Tigershark was rejected by the Air Force for not being superzoomy enough, and after that fiasco no other company dared spend its own money developing airplanes (and most other items) for military consumption again.

    The only hope is that this time the commercial space companies are starting to make space hardware for their own purposes. The Falcons and the small launch rockets are all this way. If all goes well, they will not need NASA in order to make a profit. We become less dependent upon NASA for space exploration and use, and NASA can spend less of our hard-earned money, which it doesn’t track properly.

  • Lee S

    Thanks for all the info in this thread guys… I know as a European I have no dog in this race, but I have been deeply frustrated that every change in your government has moved the goal posts regarding the manned space program over there. NASA has both the best and the worst record of flying people to space… And while the shuttle accidents were tragic, it remains the most complex thing ever constructed by mankind… Perhaps not a good thing in retrospect, but should one fly tomorrow I would still give a kidney to be on it.
    The explanation of how the pork is spread and why, in the thread above is priceless… And although I have a few problems with your current government, I have none with the handling of NASA in general… it seems that a firmer hand is being used, ( Europa clipper springs to mind ) and that once the money pit that is Orion and the SLS are completed I can see them being retired faster than they were developed..
    The free market is definitely making NASA look like a snail… I just hope the skills that your agency has will eventually turn back to the stuff you best, but with tighter budget constraints. Gateway is pointless and will no doubt fall by the wayside, a moon mission is looking more and more doable, and with your president no doubt set for a second term, fingers crossed that mars will be set in stone in my lifetime!

  • Tim Smyth

    I found an old Congressional hearing with Mike Griffin from 2015 below. All I can say is I have no idea why everyone and his brother thinks Griffin is some type of genus.

    Griffin’s interesting and inconsistent points:

    1. SLS should NOT be used as a national security launch vehicle(Good to hear as many SLS supporters think otherwise)

    2. There should be two redundant national security launch vehicles that should government owned thus reversing a central premise of the 1995 EELV program(Some 80s and 90s definition’s of redundancy included the Space Shuttle now retired of course with the support of Mike Grifffin).

    3. The Atlas V is a “great” rocket but not good enough for Griffin to recommend for either crew launch or COTS.

    4. In 2015 the government should have nationalized the Atlas V and tried to directly replace the RD-180 with AR-1.

    5. The Air Force shouldn’t have funded the ULA Vulcan R&D despite Griffin acknowledging this is exactly what he did at NASA with COTS.

  • Edward

    Upon further reflection on this IG report, there is another factor covered that I have some thoughts on. The failure to report all the Orion costs is disturbing, because it is costing much more than we have believed. There seems to be valid internal reasoning to not include these costs in reporting, since the report says such reporting “may not be practicable,” but not having this total cost biases our thinking about the Orion and Artemis programs and perhaps government space programs in general. Quite a bit of the report focuses on another aspect of the financing.

    The report calls not paying the maximum award or incentive fees as a “savings” rather than as not getting the best performance out of the contract. If an award or incentive for better performance is part of the contract, then shouldn’t it follow that better performance is more desirable than not paying more money to the contractor?

    If all that is desired is a “satisfactory” performance evaluation, where the “Contractor has met overall cost, schedule and technical performance requirements…,” then why even have the higher criteria standards and awards for meeting them? Clearly, NASA wants better performance than just meeting the minimum contract requirements and is willing to pay for it, making it unclear to me why the IG thinks that not getting this higher performance is a “savings” rather than a disappointment or that getting the higher performance is an “additional cost” rather than desirable.

    Not explicitly stated but implied in the report is that NASA was not getting value for its incentive and award money. The report says that the rating system “is based on subjective criteria,” as are all rating systems, even the cost-plus system, although the report says that “a cost-plus incentive fee is based on objective criteria for evaluation periods.” So how do we really know that NASA is not getting what it wants from any contract? Does the IG know what NASA expects from its contractors or does the IG see things differently? I suspect the latter, because the report thinks in terms of saving money rather than exceeded requirements, that money can be saved if the contractors merely meet expectations. This is one reason why I believe that even the cost-plus fee is not based on objective criteria, otherwise the IG would be able to explicitly list exactly where it thinks NASA did not get value for its money. Another is the word “overall” in the criterion for meeting a “satisfactory” evaluation. Some deficient performances may be offset by other superior performances.

    The IG complains that early deficiencies can be made up in latter reviews, but isn’t a superior end product a desirable outcome? Some incentive to excel at the end of the contract may be desirable, but the IG only sees cashflow, not end product. If NASA didn’t want this kind of performance review and reward, then why did it set up the system in this way. Over my career I learned to be careful what you measure and what you reward, because that is the performance or behavior you will get.

    The IG has a different criteria for success, the saving of money, than NASA has, the expectations for higher performance. NASA is willing to pay extra for higher performance, the IG is not. Not only are the criteria subjective, but what is desirable from the contract is also subjective. Two groups, two expectations. How subjective.

    In contrast, we could compare and contrast Lockheed Martin’s Orion cost-plus contract and performance to SpaceX’s Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner. All three have had successes and failures. Robert has done this for cost and schedule, and he has included the expected performances of each.

    Lee S wrote: “I know as a European I have no dog in this race, but I have been deeply frustrated that every change in your government has moved the goal posts regarding the manned space program over there.

    This does tend to be costly with little to show for it. Politics and governments have serious limitations.

    with your president no doubt set for a second term, fingers crossed that mars will be set in stone in my lifetime!

    Thinking like this is becoming obsolete. It assumes that NASA and other government space programs are the only organization that will get things done is space in the future. Congress has the pursestrings, so it is NASA’s ultimate boss. Congress is why Orion lived through Obama’s reign and why SLS exists.

    It looks more and more like Man On Mars Soonest (MOMS, I just made that up) does not depend upon the president or Congress. SpaceX has long stated that Mars is its goal, and it wants to get there during this coming decade. An advantage to having commercial space companies operating in space is that they, not government, get to choose what to pursue, largely independent of government. Examples include the Ansari X-Prize, Blue Origin’s New Shepard, Virgin Galactic, (the late) XCOR, SpaceX, and all the upstart startup small launcher companies. This his a good thing, because these companies have incentive to work on projects that will be profitable long into the future, they get to choose how to do it, and they spend private money, not government money, to do it. This frees up NASA to do what it does best, and gives NASA inexpensive ways to do it.

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