A report issued by NASA’s inspector general Tuesday said that “much work remains” in the space agency’s effort to prepare its Orion spacecraft for an eventual flight to Mars in the 2030s.
Among the obstacles facing NASA, according to the report, are delivery delays of a service module for the spacecraft, multiple financial shortfalls and the need for a successful test flight in September 2018 that will send Orion around the moon.
That test flight will carry with it 13 small satellites into space as well.
The report found that “officials are working toward an optimistic internal launch date of August 2021 for (a crewed test launch around the moon) – 20 months earlier than the agency’s external commitment date of April 2023.”
According to the report, officials are “concerned” that the schedule, along with the program’s budget, will ultimately mean deferments of certain tasks, resulting in a delay to the schedule and increased costs.
NASA has conducted several splashdown tests on the spacecraft, including one in late August.
The Orion spacecraft will carry with it 13 small satellites when it launches its next test flight.
“Over its life, the Orion program has experienced funding instability, both in terms of overall budget amounts and the erratic timing of receipt of those funds,” the report read. “In past reports, we noted that the most effective budget profilefor large and complex space system development programs like Orion is steady funding in the early stages and increased fundingduring the middle stages of development.”
Lockheed Martin, a main contractor on the mission, was also singled out in the report as spending financial reserves at a higher rate than company leaders expected, which could lead to an eventual financial shortfall for Orion.
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