NASA safety team warns Artemis program of budgetary and technical risks

In WASHINGTON, a NASA welfare team has issued a warning that the efforts of returning humans to the moon by the year 2024 could lead to some compromises, especially to engineering.  Uncertain funding could be the main cause of compromise in the Artemis program. In the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) meeting held on 1st Oct., members cited that “real physical risk” may emerge because NASA pushes on with the Artemis program with no funding availability assurances. 

Further, the panel’s in progress concern is that the continuing resolution is directly related to significant budget constraints. When joining forces with the plans to send people to the moon by 2024, the pressure to compromise engineering increases. Paul Hill, a committee member, said that “pressure increases as the 2024 launches near.” Also, he cited that the problem was not directly in NASA’s control. Nonetheless, the “weakness of the current civil fund allocation environment” delays the federal budget decisions. “It creates real risks for exploration and NASA in general,” he said.

The ASAP conference, held on the fiscal year 2021 first day, started with (CR) continuing resolution, like other meetings. President Donald Trump later signed CR shortly after 1st Oct., which carries on the federal government funding at the 2020 fiscal year levers down 11th Dec. On 30th Sep. hearing, the Senate Commerce Committee chairman, Sen. Roger Wicker, debated about the CR and its impacts on NASA. “That’s not ideal,” he said concerning the CR. However, he noted that it’s relatively brief. The chairman asked a sole witness at NASA’s programs, the NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine about outcomes of a longer CR.

Additionally, Bridenstine referred to the HLS (Human Landing System), a NASA’s program that requested more than $3.2B in the 2021 fiscal year. The House passed the spending bill. However, it was only allocated $600 million, but the Senate is yet to take part in that bill. He also said that the current funds are enough to cover the base period of Origin, SpaceX, and Dynetics April awards, which can go through 2021 Feb. However, if NASA gets to 2021 Feb. without the allocation, their ability to land on the moon by early 2024 will be hard. “Our probability of success to the moon landing depends on sooner appropriations.

The panel’s concerns at the ASAP conference go beyond appropriations. Hill commended NASA for embracing lessons learned from the Booing’s CST-100 Starliner unscrewed test frights. Though these flights suffered some software-related faults, they have enabled the Space Launch System ESD upgrading. Nevertheless, the panel reprobated NASA for failing to integrate SLS/Orion test capability fully.  The panel’s great concern is on the end-to-end integrated test plans and capability, specifically for the flight software. Although NASA stresses on overall test program accountability, ASAP recommends more test-fly apart from the accountability.