HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - A new federal audit, Government Accountability Office, reveals that NASA doesn't have enough money to get its new, $12 billion dollar rocket system off the ground by the end of 2017 as planned.
NASA planned to have an initial test flight of the new system by December 2017, but they are currently $400 million dollars short of reaching that goal. The GAO report issued Wednesday said the system is at "high risk" of missing its planned December 2017 initial test flight.
Cristina Chaplain is the author of the report. She said NASA "can't meet the date with the money they have." Chaplain also said it isn't because the agency has had any technical problems, but that NASA didn't get enough money to carry out the massive project.
The report put the current shortfall at $400 million dollars, but did say that NASA is making progress on the project. NASA launch officials have conceded that there is a 90% chance that they will not hit the launch date at this time.
NASA will either have to push back the test launch date, get more money or scale back the plans.
Former NASA associate administrator, Scott Pace, said these findings usually mean that NASA has to delay the test launch date, get more money or be less ambitious about what it plans to do with SLS.
Pace said he was not surprised by the current situation.
"Welcome to aerospace," Pace said. "You shouldn't believe initial cost estimates."
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville is leading the development of the Space Launch System, or SLS. The SLS is described as a heavy-lift rocket that will be able to carry fuel and supplies for missions beyond Earth's atmosphere to places like Mars and asteroids.
Kim Henry works at the center and says the report was conducted by an independent firm based on data from 2011. Henry said the project is actually on track and she believes will meet the December 2017 deadline.
"The folks here at Marshall Space Flight Center and across other agencies have been working hard to get this rocket into deep space so we can be on our path to Mars," Henry said.
NASA has been reluctant to put an overall price tag on SLS, but the GAO report says it will cost $12 billion to get to the first launch and potentially billions more beyond that for future missions.
You can read the full GAO audit right