For those expecting many details about the independent cost assessment (ICA) of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) recently completed by Booz Allen Hamilton, an executive summary released Tuesday by the space agency was disappointing. The report provides no specific cost numbers for the SLS, the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), or the “21st Century Ground Systems Program”, the suite of spaceport upgrades planned for the Kennedy Space Center to accommodate the SLS. Instead, the summary provides a qualitative assessment of the quality of the cost estimates prepared by NASA.
Supporters and skeptics of SLS will both find something to support their arguments in the executive summary. “The ICA Team concludes that the estimate is acceptable to serve as the basis for near-term, 3-5 year, AoA [analysis of alternatives] and Program decisions,” the report states. However, it’s less positive about the long term. “The estimate is not suitable for long-term budget planning or the development of a program baseline. The SLS cost estimate assumes several cost efficiencies that have not been realized on previous NASA programs. These efficiencies represent cost risk to the program as it is unclear whether they are realistic and leads to the impression that the estimate is optimistic.”
The report raised similar long-term concerns about the costs for MPCV and the spaceport upgrades. “Due to procurement of items still in development and large cost risks in the out years, NASA cannot have full confidence in the estimates for long-term planning,” the report concludes.