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NASA lunar rover experiences big budget overruns

NASA revealed yesterday that the budget for VIPER, a new NASA-built lunar rover, has increased from $250 million to $433.5 million.

The cost of the mission has gone up significantly. At the time NASA announced VIPER in October 2019, it projected a cost of about $250 million. As part of the confirmation review, known as Key Decision Point C, NASA set a formal cost commitment for the mission. NASA spokesperson Alison Hawkes said March 3 that the new lifecycle cost for the mission is $433.5 million.

NASA didn’t disclose the reason for the cost increase, but NASA officials said in June 2020 that they were postponing VIPER’s launch by about a year to late 2023 to change the rover’s design so it can meet the goal of operating for 100 days on the lunar surface. At the time, the agency declined to comment on VIPER’s cost.

This is very typical of modern NASA. Even though its planetary program produces some spectacular spacecraft and results, that program — like all NASA-built programs — rarely does so for the budget promised. For the planetary program, however, the overage for VIPER is startlingly high, especially in so short a time.

Be prepared for more delays and overages for this project, since that is usually what happens for NASA projects that experience such large budget increases.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

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  • Captain Emeritus

    Sounds like a job for the Tesla Cyber Truck.
    Modified for airless operations on the moon, for roughly 1/12 of the fermenting NASA budget.

  • JhonB

    NASA, Budget overruns.. No, I just don’t believe it. That is just not like them.

  • Jeff Wright

    Lubrication issues in a vacuum may drive the expense up. Now here is where a seemingly un-related bit of tech can play a role. Some of you may have seen the video of the Starship derived Single Launch Space Station SLSS. Now this uses a rump Starship upper stage that-in the video-are linked with others of its kind. I’d prefer it use hypergols for what comes next. You see, I want to spread them out as a giant skycrane/Eagle deal. Why you may ask? Because a lot of heavy earth-moving equipment is already electrical! I want their worksites to have a contained atmosphere FIRST so these earthmovers can be moved as is-in a shirtsleeve nitrogen only environment for fire prevention. The astronauts only need oxygen masks and cooling suits. Perfect for lava tube worksites. Don’t drive front end loaders too fast-the weight is less but the mass is still there and could go flying. Lead batteries/reactors over drill-bits so you you have purchase and can bear down. Mass driver coils have to be in trenches and have three points of anchoredge. Put them on stalks and the torque will break the coils loose.

  • wayne

    a repeat from me…

    Spacecraft with Wheels: The Lunar Roving Vehicle
    NASA film (1971-ish)

  • MDN

    What a joke.

    SpaceX would just strip down a Tesla ModelX and dedicate a full Falcon Heavy or Starship mission to ship a half dozen up. And I bet they’d still come in under the original budget. The spares would cover the reliability concerns, and if those weren’t as bad as feared then they’d have 2X or 3X or 6X as many rovers to use.

    Sadly the modern NASA is managed by morons.
    : (

  • Jeff Wright

    Tesla wasn’t built to work in a vacuum. It is electric yes—but lubricants suffer in vacuums. Get a Tesla as it, and after awhile the grit will seize it up most likely—if you don’t tear it down every so often. A simpler solution might be zip lines on towers. Looser tolerances.

  • pzatchok

    What did NASA do for its rover?
    What about the Chinese now?

    Can’t modern engineers drop back and use old tech or at most just improve cheaply and easily what already works?

  • Edward

    Jeff Wright wrote: “Tesla wasn’t built to work in a vacuum. It is electric yes—but lubricants suffer in vacuums

    There are vacuum approved lubricants available. Some real problems include: a Tesla chasis is heavier than necessary, air cooling is not available, and the tires are not appropriate for lunar travel. None of these are insurmountable problems. We have seen many landers not get bogged down with grit, and even Teslas are not so affected by grit on Earth.

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