by Douglas Messier
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will cost NASA an estimated $3 billion due to program delays, according to a report from the space agency’s Office of Inspector General.
The report focused on the pandemic’s impact on 30 major programs and project with life-cycle costs of at least $250 million.
“These major programs and projects accounted for approximately $1.6 billion of the estimated $3 billion total COVID impact reported by NASA,” the report said. “To quantify the impacts to these programs and projects, we reviewed (1) estimated COVID-19 related costs; (2) estimated COVID-19 related project life-cycle delays; and (3) COVID-19’s impact on NASA’s domestic and international program and project partners. We did not evaluate the Agency’s compliance with congressional reporting requirements regarding cost growth and schedule delays.”
The Space Launch System (SLS), James Webb Space Telescope and Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope accounted for 53 percent of the $1.6 billion cost impact relating to major programs, the report said. The Orion crew vehicle, Europa Clipper program and Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) satellite accounted for another 20 percent.
The three main elements of NASA’s Artemis lunar program — SLS, Orion and Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) — accounted for $572.5 million in additional COVID-19 related costs. The uncrewed Artemis I flight test was delayed by three months.
The $3.9 billion Roman Space Telescope was the highest individual program with $402.9 million in additional costs and a six-month launch delay from December 2025 to June 2026.
The pandemic added $100 million to the $9.7 billion Webb telescope, whose launch was delayed by seven months to Oct. 31, 2021. The cost of the $4.3 billion Europa Clipper mission to Jupiter’s frozen moon increased by $97 million.
Other programs to suffer significant impacts included:
- NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) satellite;
- Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER);
- Low Boom Flight Demonstrator;
- Surface Water Ocean Topography (SWOT);
- Space Network Ground Segment Sustainment (SNGSS);
- Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx);
- Polarimeter to Unify the Corona and Heliosphere (PUNCH); and
- Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).
The audit also found that COVID-19 had moderate impacts on:
- International Space Station (ISS);
- Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART);
- Mars Perseverance Rover;
- Dragonfly mission to Titan;
- Psyche asteroid mission;
- Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP);
- Landsat 9 Earth observation satellite;
- On-Orbit Servicing, Assembly and Manufacturing–1 mission; and
- solar electric propulsion development.
NASA was able to launch the Mars Perseverance Rover at the end of July during a launch window that only occurs every 26 months when the planets are in the proper alignment. The rover’s name honors the ability of the agency to complete work on the program despite the pandemic. Perseverance landed on Mars on Feb. 18.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, Laser Communications Relay Demonstration, and Lucy asteroid mission suffered minimal impacts.
The Electrified Powertrain Flight Demonstration (EPFD) project, which aims to develop technology that will allow aircraft to be propelled by megawatt-class power systems, suffered a delay of eight to 12 months in its preliminary design review.
The table below shows estimated cost increases and schedule delays resulting from the pandemic.
|Program||Estimated Life-cycle Cost||Estimated FY 2020 Impact||Estimated Future Impact||Estimated Total Impact||Estimated Schedule Impact|
|Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope||$3.9B||$3M||$399.9M||$402.9M||6-month launch delay to June 2026|
|Space Launch System||$11.5B||$8M||$355M||$363M||3-month schedule delay for Artemis I|
|Orion Crew Vehicle||$12.2B||$5M||$141M||$145M||Impact of the delayed delivery of the second European Service Module is at least 3 months and Lockheed component supplier delays are multiple months (being assessed)|
|Exploration Ground Systems||$3.4 B||$12.1M||$53.4M||$64.5M||Schedule impact TBD|
|James Webb Space Telescope||$9.7B||None reported||$100M||$100M||7-month launch delay to Oct. 31, 2021|
|Europa Clipper||$4.3B||$7M||$90M||$97M||4- to 6-month delay in hardware builds and system testbed progress|
|PACE||$890M||$60M||$29.2M||89.2M||9-month launch delay|
|NISAR||$867M||$10.4M||$36M||$46.4M||7-month launch delay to January 2023|
|Mars Perseverance Rover||$2.7B||$13M||$25M||$38M||No schedule impact|
|On-Orbit Servicing, Assembly and Manufacturing–1||$1.8B||$1M||$36.8M||$37.8M||1-month delivery delay of Space Infrastructure Dexterous Robot Modular Antenna Assembly|
|Psyche||$993M||$19.8M||$16.4M||$36.2M||No schedule delay reported|
|SWOT||$755M||$22.6M||$8M||$30.6M||4-month delay to the management agreement launch date/schedule from February 2022 to June 2022|
|Space Network Ground Segment||$1.5B||None||$26M||$26M||White Sands Test Facility closed onsite access from March to August 2020|
|PUNCH||$220 – $265M||None Reported||$23.1||$23.1M||Potential 9- to 10-month launch delay from February 2023 to November 2023|
|Low Boom Demonstrator||$583M||$22.2M||TBD||TBD||Approximately 4-month delay to first flight|
|ISS||$94.4B (through 2026)||$1.8M||$18.9M||$20.7M||No schedule delays reported|
|Lucy||$981M||None reported||$16M||$16M||4-month delay to assembly, test, and launch operations|
|IMAP||$776M||None||$15M||$15M||3-month Preliminary Design Review delay from February 2021 to May 2021|
|Landsat 9||$839M||$459,000||$13.5M||$13.96M||1-month launch delay|
|VIPER||$350-$435M||None reported||$12.2M||$12.2M||Schedule impact TBD|
|SPHEREx||$451M||None reported||$8-19M||$8-19M||10-month launch delay to June 2024|
|DART||$314M||$2.6M||$3.8M||$6.4M||25-day delay to integration & test|
|Commercial Crew||$8.5M||$2.2M||$2.3M||$5.5M||No schedule impact reported|
|Dragonfly||$2-2.3B||$80,000||$5.3M||$5.38M||Schedule impact TBD|
|SOFIA||$3B||None||$2M||$2M||70 flights cancelled and 6-month delay to closing out a cancelled instrument development effort|
|Laser Communications Relay Demonstration||$311M||$100,000||$500,000||$600,000||No schedule impact reported|
|Solar Electric Propulsion||$336M||$500,00||TBD||TBD||3-month delay of Plasma Diagnostic Package Critical Design Review from February 2021 to May 2021|
|Electrified Powertrain Flight Demonstration||$311.8 – $469.4M||None reported||None reported||None reported||8- to 12-month delay for Preliminary Design Review|
The report found that 90 percent of NASA’s workforce was working from home by mid-April 2020 due to the pandemic. Twelve of the agency’s major facilities were closed, with the others transitioning to in-person support for “mission critical” operations only.
“To accomplish this dramatic shift in operations, NASA had to make difficult decisions about which missions to prioritize (designated ‘excepted projects’) and which ones to pause or delay. Although NASA managers build schedule margin into their plans to address unforeseen circumstances, in many cases this was insufficient to absorb the full impact of delays caused by COVID-19 in FY 2020,” the report said.
Congress passed the $2.3 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March 2020. The amount given to NASA wasn’t sufficient to ameliorate the shortfall.
“NASA received $60 million under the CARES Act and the Agency directed the funds across seven broad categories to fund potential mission delays and contractor costs, enhanced information technology infrastructure, facility cleaning, and personal protective equipment,” the report said.
Read the full report.