As SOFREP has covered in the past, NASA has made a consistent habit in recent years of failing to meet deadlines in the development of a number of projects, including the currently delayed James Webb Space Telescope and, of course, NASA’s crown jewel, the Space Launch System (SLS). The SLS in particular is already two years beyond its initial projected launch date, and according to NASA’s expert estimations, the platform still won’t be ready until well into 2020. In keeping with recent tradition, however, NASA acknowledged that 2020 figure before telling lawmakers that they will execute the platform’s first launch in 2019 anyway.
It seems likely, then, that NASA may still not recognize the importance of adhering to the timetables they provide, and instead continue to simply tell lawmakers what they think they want to hear.
“While the review of the possible manufacturing and production schedule risks indicate a launch date of June 2020, the agency is managing to December 2019,” Robert Lightfoot, acting NASA administrator, said in a statement. “Since several of the key risks identified have not been actually realized, we are able to put in place mitigation strategies for those risks to protect the December 2019 date.”
That statement seems to suggest that NASA has been pushing the date back based on perceived risks rather than actual ones, meaning there’s potential that the space faring organization may manage to shed a few months from the delay that will be nearing four years by the time the SLS is slated to take to the skies. However, NASA has proven unable to meet its self-prescribed deadlines repeatedly in recent years, leaving many with little confidence that they’ll manage to turn things around so quickly.
“It is very disappointing to hear about delays caused by poor execution when the U.S. taxpayer has invested so much in these programs,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee in a hearing on Thursday morning. “NASA and the contractors should not assume future delays and cost overruns will have no consequences.”
“If delays continue, if costs rise, and if foreseeable technical challenges arise, no one should assume the U.S. taxpayers or their representatives will tolerate this forever.”
Representative Smith went on to lament a laundry list of other delayed NASA programs and recognized that a shift away from the SLS to a different, less troubled platform would invariably cost more and take even longer. However, he reminded NASA officials that the more delays and cost overruns compound, the more support will arise for scrapping the project altogether in favor of an alternative.
“Congress needs to have confidence in NASA and the exploration systems contractors, which I don’t believe we have now. That confidence is ebbing, and if it slips much further NASA and its contractors will have a hard time rebuilding its credibility,” he concluded.
For its part, NASA seems to believe they may be able to get the SLS, which will be the most powerful rocket ever flown, into the sky in December of 2019 despite their track record of setbacks, though they acknowledge the likelihood that delays may push the launch back as far as June of the following year.
Until then, NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station will continue hitching rides aboard Soviet era Russian capsules and potentially, aboard private rockets belonging to companies like SpaceX, who have been rapidly developing low-cost, reusable rocket platforms in recent years.
In the meantime, NASA released a dramatic animated depiction of what the SLS will look like when the behemoth finally does launch… whenever that may be.
You can see the video below:
Image courtesy of NASA