Another NASA Program Is Over Budget, Behind Schedule

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Ethan Barton Managing Editor
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A developing NASA system is nearly $100 million over-budget, more than a year behind schedule and is delaying critical functions that ensure spacecraft safety, thanks to a nearly decade-old agency decision, a government watchdog reported.

The reason, according to the Monday report, is that NASA in effect is trying to build a Ford using parts from a Chevy, Toyota, Honda and Buick, according to the agency’s inspector general (IG). The IG compared the effort to “taking automobile parts not designed to work together from several different brands and attempting to assemble a new car.”

NASA’s developing Spaceport Command and Control System (SCCS) – part of a Kennedy Space Center upgrade – will control various functions in ground equipment once it’s completed and online.

But “developing the SCCS software in this manner has cost millions more than expected, resulted in a schedule that continues to slip and will produce a product with less functionality than planned,” the IG said.

“The SCCS development effort has significantly exceeded initial cost and schedule estimates,” the IG said. The program’s development cost increased from $117.3 million to 207.4 million, and has been delayed by 14 months from July 2016 to September 2017.

Additionally, several planned functions, such as “the ability to automatically detect the root cause of specific equipment and system failures,” “have been deferred because of cost and timing pressures,” the report said. “Without this information, it will be more difficult for controllers and engineers to quickly diagnose and resolve issue.”

The federal space agency has a history of complex software projects going over budget and behind schedule. The agency spent more than $500 million “to update command and control software” at the Kennedy Space Center, but both projects “failed to meet their objectives,” the report said.

SCCS’s problems stem from NASA’s 2006 decision to link separate existing software elements together through computer code, rather than creating a new system, according to the IG.

“Writing computer code to ‘glue’ together disparate products has turned out to be more complex and expensive than anticipated,” the report said.

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