WASHINGTON—A NASA audit concluded that the cost of the COVID-19 pandemic to the agency may reach US$3 billion, with several major scientific and exploratory programs accounting for the majority.
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (OIG) stated in a March 31 report that the agency expects the pandemic’s impact on the agency (from closed facilities to damaged supply chains) to nearly $3 billion. Among them, approximately $1.6 billion comes from 30 major plans and projects, which are defined by NASA as plans and projects with a total cost of at least $250 million.
The OIG report stated: “Although NASA managers have included planned profits in plans and project plans to deal with unforeseen circumstances, in many cases these profits are not enough to absorb the impact of the pandemic.” It added that the pandemic’s All cost accounting “cannot be done until the COVID-1
The project with the largest increase in cost in the report is the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, whose predecessor was the Wide Area Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST). It reported that the pandemic in fiscal year 2020 caused a cost of 3 million U.S. dollars, but estimates that it will bring nearly 400 million U.S. dollars in additional impact in the next few years. The life cycle cost of this task is 3.9 billion US dollars.
The report stated: “Subcontractors working on the Roman Space Telescope have been significantly affected, resulting in reduced bids for proposed work, longer delivery times, and delays in the assembly of parts.” “This in turn affected the contractor and affected more High timetable for assembly and testing.”
NASA officials have previously said that Roman has been hit particularly hard because the pandemic was carried out at the peak of its estimated expenditures, just as the pandemic passed the Critical Decision Point C review in early March 2020. The review approved plans for a full-scale development telescope in space.
Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division, said at the National Academy of Sciences’ Space Research Committee Astronomy and Astrophysics Committee meeting on March 25: “The COVID has had a considerable impact on the Rome Space Telescope.” “The COVID happened to happen. Hit in the worst time of the mission.”
Hertz did not quantify the cost and timetable impact of the pandemic on Rome. Although he had previously said that the launch might be delayed by six months, the report of the Office of Inspection also pointed out the delay. Once these effects have been independently verified, “we will go through the process of resetting the Rome timetable and resetting costs.”
The Office’s report stated that, given the known impact of the pandemic, “officials have anticipated that more funds will be needed for [fiscal year] Rome’s “2022”.
In terms of overall U.S. dollars, the cost increase of the space launch system was the second highest, at 363 million U.S. dollars, of which 8 million U.S. dollars occurred in fiscal year 2020 and 355 million U.S. dollars occurred in fiscal year 2021 to 2023. The first SLS mission was postponed for three months, and Artemis 1 and “rewrite production” each accounted for about one-third of the cost. The rest comes from the “surge cost” of the compression plan and the cost of facility closures.
The cost of the Orion spacecraft is US$146 million, including US$5 million in fiscal year 2020 and US$66 million in fiscal year 2021. As the “Orion” spacecraft used for Artemis 1 mission was almost completed during the pandemic, the spacecraft for Artemis 2 and 3 missions that are still in production have the greatest impact on Orion. These problems spread to Europe, delaying the production of Artemis 2 Orion European service modules.
The cost of the James Webb Space Telescope will increase by $100 million due to the delay in launch from March to October this year. However, this increase will be included in the mission’s cost ceiling of US$8.8 billion for the use of existing budget reserves.
The Europa Clipper and Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud and Marine Ecosystems (PACE), two scientific missions under development, reported that costs increased by US$97 million and US$89.2 million, respectively. The cost increase of PACE accounts for about 10% of the estimated total cost, and the start-up of PACE will also be reduced by 9 months.
However, the cost growth of many other large projects and programs is much lower. In 2020, the cost of the Commercial Flight Attendant Program has increased by US$2.2 million and is expected to increase by US$2.3 million in the next few years. The increase in 2020 is due to the use of NASA aircraft for mission-essential travel during the pandemic, as well as the provision of astronauts and other personnel before the launch of Demo-2 and Crew-1 in May and November 2020, respectively. Social accommodation”.
How NASA will cover these costs is still uncertain. The agency received only $60 million in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of March 2020, which the agency used for pandemic-related expenses, from enhanced information technology infrastructure To personal protective equipment. Hertz pointed out in a recent speech that some of NASA’s astrophysics portfolio overspent, such as flagship missions JWST and Roman, will not be able to benefit from other parts of the portfolio, such as smaller missions or research funding.
The Ombudsman added that the cost estimates included in the report are unlikely to be final figures. “Due to the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, NASA may continue to have an impact on its major plans and projects.”