SLS/Orion Launch Software Exceeds Cost And Schedule Estimates

March 31, 2016 – NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently concluded an audit on NASA’s Ground Systems Development and Operations (GSDO) Program, which is responsible for developing the software that will support the launch of the SLS rocket and Orion capsule from the Kennedy Space Center. OIG found that the development effort has significantly exceeded initial cost and schedule estimates.

The software is being developed as an end-to-end command and control infrastructure for processing and launching the next generation of NASA space flight, including Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), scheduled for November 2018.

Development costs are now projected to exceed $207 million, or 77 percent above initial cost estimates, and software development is more than a year behind schedule.

The root of the issue is largely a result of NASA’s 2006 decision to integrate multiple products, or in some cases, parts of products, rather than developing software in-house or buying an off-the-shelf product. Managers did not want to rely on a single company’s software because if that company encountered financial difficulties or stopped providing technical support NASA’s space exploration efforts could be negatively impacted. At the time the decision was made, managers believed the effort to integrate the various software products would not be overly time-consuming or technically complex. The decision may have been reasonable based on what managers knew at the time, but it’s now clear that they underestimated the complexity of the computer code required to “glue” together nine major software products.

Release of a fully operational version has slipped by 14 months, from July 2016 to September 2017 and several planned capabilities have been deferred because of cost and timing pressures.

NASA intends to use the software for EM-1 – the first launch of the combined SLS-Orion system. The 22-day mission will launch without a crew from Kennedy’s Launch Pad 39B to test system readiness for future crewed operations. NASA plans the first crewed flight of the combined system, known as Exploration Mission-2, no later than 2023.

NASA officials agreed to conduct an independent assessment of the command and control system once the software for Exploration Mission-1 is successfully delivered. They also acknowledged they had underestimated the difficulty and complexity of integrating COTS products with custom code and noted they had initiated a series of process improvements during the course of the audit.

Inspector General Paul Martin deemed NASA’s plan to conduct an independent assessment responsive and considers the matter resolved.

Orion flew its first test flight in December 2014, launching without a crew from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket and successfully completing a 4-hour, two-orbit trip around Earth. The test flight used command and control software developed by The Boeing Corporation and used by United Launch Alliance for the Delta rocket.

To view the full Audit of the Spaceport Command and Control System, see: