oversight

Space Station: Impact of the Grounding of the Shuttle Fleet

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-09-12.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                 United States General Accounting Office

GAO              Report to the Chairman, Committee on
                 Commerce, Science, and
                 Transportation, U.S. Senate


September 2003
                 SPACE STATION
                 Impact of the
                 Grounding of the
                 Shuttle Fleet




GAO-03-1107 

                                                September 2003


                                                SPACE STATION

                                                Impact of the Grounding of the Shuttle
Highlights of GAO-03-1107 a report to           Fleet
Chairman, Committee on Commerce,
Science, and Transportation, U.S. Senate




In 1998, the National Aeronautics               Although the effects of the Columbia accident on the space station are still
and Space Administration (NASA)                 being explored, it is clear that the station will cost more, take longer to
and its international partners—                 complete, and have further delay in the achievement of key research
Canada, Europe, Japan, and                      objectives. Due to the limited payload capacity of Russia’s Soyuz and
Russia—began on-orbit assembly                  Progress vehicles—which the program must now rely on to rotate crew and
of the International Space Station,
envisioned as a permanently
                                                provide logistics support—the station is currently in a survival mode. On-
orbiting laboratory for conducting              orbit assembly is at a standstill, and the on-board crew has been reduced
scientific research under nearly                from three to two members. NASA officials maintain that delays in on-orbit
weightless conditions. Since its                assembly will be at least a “month for month” slip from the previous
inception, the program has                      schedule. However, these delays have presented a number of operational
experienced numerous problems,                  challenges. For example, several key components that were ready for
resulting in significant cost growth            launch when the Columbia accident occurred have been idle at Kennedy
and assembly schedule slippages.                Space Center and now require additional maintenance or recertification
                                                before they can be launched. Moreover, certain safety concerns on-board
Following the loss of Columbia in               the station cannot be addressed until the shuttle fleet’s return to flight. The
February 2003, NASA grounded the                grounding of the shuttle fleet has also further impeded the advancement of
U.S. shuttle fleet, putting the
                                                the program’s science investigations. Specifically, the limited availability of
immediate future of the space
station in doubt, as the fleet, with            research facilities and new science materials has constrained on-board
its payload capacity, has been key              research.
to the station’s development. If
recent discoveries about the cause              NASA has yet to estimate the potential costs and future budget impacts that
of the Columbia’s disintegration                will result from the grounding of the shuttle fleet. Throughout the life of the
require that the remaining shuttles             program, however, maintaining goals and objectives for the space station
be redesigned or modified, delays               has been a challenge for NASA. NASA has analyzed anticipated costs that the
in the fleet’s return to flight could           program will incur to keep a limited crew on board the station until the U.S.
be lengthy. In light of these                   shuttles resume flight, and officials have stated that there would not be
uncertainties, concerns about the               significant changes to the execution of the current budget and that the fiscal
space station’s cost and progress
                                                year 2004 budget request would remain at current levels. NASA plans to
have grown.
                                                continue to develop hardware and deliver station elements to Kennedy
This report highlights the current              Space Center to be prepared for launch as previously scheduled. However, a
status of the program in terms of               number of factors will likely result in increased costs, including costs to
on-orbit assembly and research; the             maintain and store station components and costs for extending contracts.
cost implications for the program
with the grounding of the shuttle               Important decisions regarding funding and partner agreements still need to
fleet; and identifying significant              be made. For example, agreements that cover the partners’ responsibility for
program management challenges,                  shared common operations costs may need to be adjusted, an adjustment
especially as they relate to reaching           that could result in NASA’s paying a larger share of these costs. In addition,
agreements with the international               logistics flights using Russian vehicles may need to be accelerated to ensure
partners.
                                                continued operations on-board the station. Russia has stated that additional
                                                flights are possible, but it could need additional funding from the other
                                                partners. However, the United States may be prohibited from providing
                                                certain payments due to a statutory restriction. NASA and its partners must
www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-03-1107.
                                                also develop a plan for assembling the partners’ modules and reaching
To view the full product, including the scope   agreement on the final station configuration. The partners were on a path to
and methodology, click on the link above.       agree on final configuration by December 2003, but this process has been
For more information, contact Allen Li (202)
512-4841 or LiA@gao.gov.
                                                delayed by the Columbia accident.
Contents 



Letter                                                                                   1
                Results in Brief 
                                                       2
                Background
                                                              3
                Grounding of Shuttle Fleet Has Further Delayed On-Orbit 

                  Assembly of Space Station and Research                                 6
                Cost Implications Have Yet to Be Determined, but Increases Are
                  Likely                                                               11
                Uncertainty of the Shuttle’s Return-to-Flight Date Delays
                  International Partner Agreements                                     14
                Conclusions                                                            15
                Agency Comments                                                        16
                Scope and Methodology                                                  16

Appendix I 	    Comments from the National Aeronautics and Space
                Administration                                                          18



Appendix II 	   Prior GAO Reports and Testimonies Related to the
                International Space Station Program                                     20



Appendix III    Staff Acknowledgments                                                   22



Table
                Table 1: Projected Funding for the Space Station Program               12


Figures
                Figure 1: International Space Station On-Orbit                           4
                Figure 2: The Logistics Module Scheduled for March 2003 Shuttle
                         Launch Being Unpacked at Kennedy Space Center in
                         Florida                                                         7
                Figure 3: Solar Array Wings                                              8




                Page i                                           GAO-03-1107 Space Station
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Page ii                                                      GAO-03-1107 Space Station
United States General Accounting Office
Washington, DC 20548




                                   September 12, 2003

                                   The Honorable John McCain
                                   Chairman, Committee on Commerce, Science,
                                    and Transportation
                                   United States Senate

                                   Dear Mr. Chairman:

                                   In 1998, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and
                                   its international partners—Canada, Europe, Japan, and Russia—began on-
                                   orbit assembly of the International Space Station, envisioned as a
                                   permanently orbiting laboratory for conducting materials and life-sciences
                                   research as well as earth observations under nearly weightless conditions.
                                   Since its inception, the space station program has experienced numerous
                                   problems that have resulted in significant cost growth and assembly
                                   schedule slippages. In February 2003, the immediate future of the space
                                   station was placed in doubt when NASA grounded the shuttle fleet
                                   following the loss of the shuttle Columbia. The U.S. shuttle fleet had been
                                   key to the station’s development because of its greater payload capacity
                                   for transporting essential hardware.

                                   Delays in the fleet’s return to flight could be lengthy if recent discoveries
                                   about the cause of the Columbia accident require substantial redesign or
                                   modifications to the remaining shuttles or if organizational changes are
                                   recommended by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.1 With the
                                   grounding of the U.S. shuttle fleet and the uncertainty about its return to
                                   flight, concerns about the space station’s cost and progress have grown. In
                                   view of these concerns, you asked that we (1) describe the current status
                                   of the program in terms of on-orbit assembly and research; (2) determine
                                   the cost implications for the program with the grounding of the shuttle
                                   fleet; and (3) identify significant program management challenges,
                                   especially as they relate to reaching agreements with the international
                                   partners.




                                   1
                                    The Columbia Accident Investigation Board’s report was not issued at the time our work
                                   was completed.



                                   Page 1                                                      GAO-03-1107 Space Station
                   Although the effects of the Columbia accident on the space station are still
Results in Brief   being explored, it is clear that the station will cost more, take longer to
                   complete, and further delay the accomplishment of key research
                   objectives. Until the shuttle fleet is cleared to fly again, the space station is
                   basically in a survival mode. Owing to the limited payload capacity of the
                   Russian launch vehicles—which the program must now rely on to rotate
                   crew and provide logistics support—on-orbit assembly is at a standstill,
                   and the on-board crew has been reduced from three to two members.
                   Delays in on-orbit assembly have also presented a number of operational
                   challenges. For example, several key components that were ready for on-
                   orbit assembly when the Columbia accident occurred have been idle at
                   Kennedy Space Center and now require additional maintenance or
                   recertification before they can be launched. Moreover, certain safety
                   concerns on-board the station cannot be addressed until the shuttle fleet
                   returns to flight. The grounding of the shuttle fleet has also further
                   impeded the advancement of the program’s science investigations.
                   Specifically, the research being conducted on the station has been
                   constrained by the limited availability of research facilities and new
                   science materials.

                   NASA has yet to estimate the potential costs and future budget impacts
                   incurred because of the grounding of the space shuttle fleet. Yet
                   throughout the life of the program, NASA has been challenged to maintain
                   goals and objectives for the space station. NASA has conducted an
                   analysis to anticipate costs the program will incur to keep a limited crew
                   on-board the station until the shuttle resumes flight. Officials have stated
                   that there would not be significant changes to the execution of the current
                   budget and that the fiscal year 2004 budget request would remain at
                   current levels. However, a number of factors will likely result in increased
                   costs, including costs for unplanned maintenance and storage of station
                   components at Kennedy Space Center that were ready for launch; test and
                   recertification of some components; and costs for extending contracts for
                   the retention of critical skills longer than planned to complete
                   development and assembly of the station.

                   The Columbia accident has delayed important decisions affecting
                   international partner funding and agreements. Agreements that cover the
                   partners’ responsibility for shared common operations costs may have to
                   be adjusted, and could result in NASA’s assuming a larger share of these
                   costs. In addition, alternative funding may be needed to sustain the station.
                   To ensure operations continue on-board the station, flights using the
                   Russian Progress logistics vehicle will need to be accelerated and
                   additional flights may be required. Depending on the duration of the


                   Page 2                                                 GAO-03-1107 Space Station
             shuttle fleet’s grounding, Russia has stated it can provide additional
             Progress flights, if necessary, and the Russian Aviation and Space Agency
             is negotiating with its government in an attempt to secure the necessary
             funding to build those vehicles. If the Russian government does not fund
             the needed vehicles, other international partners may have to fund them.
             However, current law may prohibit the United States from providing
             certain payments due to a statutory restriction. NASA and its partners
             must also develop a plan for assembling the partners’ modules and
             reaching agreement on the final station configuration. The partners were
             on a path to agree on a final on-orbit configuration of the station by
             December 2003, but this process has been delayed by the Columbia
             accident.

             NASA commented on a draft of this report and agrees with its content and
             conclusions. NASA’s response is included as appendix I.


             The International Space Station program has three key goals: (1) maintain
Background   a permanent human presence in space, (2) conduct world-class research in
             space, and (3) enhance international cooperation and U.S. leadership
             through international development and operations of the space station.
             Each of the partners is to provide hardware and crew, and each is
             expected to share operating costs and use of the station.2

             On-orbit assembly of the space station began in November 1998 and, since
             October 2000, two to three crew members, who maintain and operate the
             station and conduct hands-on scientific research, have permanently
             occupied the space station. The space station is composed of numerous
             modules, including solar arrays for generating electricity, remote
             manipulator systems, and research facilities. The station is being designed
             as a laboratory in space for conducting experiments in near-zero gravity.
             Life sciences research on how humans adapt to long durations in space,
             biomedical research, and materials-processing research on new materials
             or processes are under way or planned. In addition, the station will be




             2
               In 1996, NASA and the Russian Aviation and Space Agency signed a “balance protocol”
             listing the services that each side would provide to the other during assembly and
             operations. Protocol Including Terms, Conditions, and Assumptions, Summary Balance of
             Contributions and Obligations to International Space Station and Resulting Rights of NASA
             and Russian Aviation and Space Agency to International Space Station Utilization
             Accommodations and Resources, and Flight Opportunities (June 11, 1996).




             Page 3                                                       GAO-03-1107 Space Station
used for various earth observation activities. Figure 1 shows the
International Space Station on-orbit.

Figure 1: International Space Station On-Orbit




Since its inception, the station program has been plagued with cost and
schedule overruns. When the space station’s current design was approved
in 1993, NASA estimated that its cost would be $17.4 billion.3 By 1998, that
estimate had increased to $26.4 billion. In January 2001, NASA announced
that an additional $4 billion in funding over a 5-year period would be
required to complete the station’s assembly and sustain its operations. By
May 2001, that estimated cost growth increased to $4.8 billion. Since fiscal
year 1985, the Congress has appropriated about $32 billion for the
program. In an effort to control space station costs, the administration
announced in its February 2001 Budget Blueprint, that it would cancel or
defer some hardware and limit construction of the space station at a stage
the administration calls “core complete.” The administration said that
enhancements to the station might be possible if NASA demonstrates
improved cost-estimating and program management, but the


3
    All amounts are stated in current-year dollars.




Page 4                                                GAO-03-1107 Space Station
administration is only committed to the completion of the core complete
configuration.

In July 2001, the NASA Administrator appointed an independent
International Space Station Management and Cost Evaluation Task Force
to assess the financial management of the station program and make
recommendations to get costs under control. The task force published its
report in November 2001 and recommended that the program (1) extend
crew rotations from 4 to 6 months and reduce the number of shuttle flights
to 4 per year; (2) consolidate the number of contracts and reduce
government staff in station operations and sustaining engineering;
(3) establish an Associate Administrator for space station at NASA
Headquarters, with total responsibility for engineering and research; and
(4) prioritize research to maximize limited resources.4 NASA implemented
most of the recommendations, and the task force reported in December
2002 that significant progress had been made in nearly all aspects of the
program, including establishing a new management structure and strategy,
program planning and performance monitoring processes, and metrics.
NASA was postured to see results of this progress and to verify the
sufficiency of its fiscal year 2003 budget to provide for the core complete
version of the station when the Columbia accident occurred.

In response to the task force’s recommendations, the Office of
Management and Budget (OMB) imposed a 2-year “probation” period on
NASA to provide time to reestablish the space station program’s
credibility. Activities that are to take place during this period include
establishing a technical baseline and a life-cycle cost estimate for the
remainder of the program, prioritizing the core complete science program,
and reaching agreement with the international partners on the station’s
final configuration and capabilities. OMB, with input from NASA, is
developing criteria that are to be used for measuring progress toward
achieving a credible program. NASA provided its input to OMB in June
2003, but as of August 2003, OMB and NASA had not reached agreement
on the success criteria.




4
 National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Report by the International Space
Station Management and Cost Evaluation Task Force to the NASA Advisory Council
(Nov. 1, 2001).




Page 5                                                    GAO-03-1107 Space Station
                              The grounding of the U.S. shuttle fleet has presented a number of
Grounding of Shuttle          operational challenges for the space station program. With the fleet
Fleet Has Further             grounded, NASA is heavily dependent on its international partners—
                              especially Russia—for operations and logistics support for the space
Delayed On-Orbit              station. However, due to the limited payload capacity of the Russian space
Assembly of Space             vehicles, on-orbit assembly has been halted. The program’s priority has
                              shifted from station construction to maintenance and safety, but these
Station and Research          areas have also presented significant challenges and could further delay
                              assembly of the core complete configuration. While some on-board
                              research is planned, it will be curtailed by the limited payload capacity of
                              the Russian vehicles.


Current On-Orbit              The space shuttle fleet has been the primary means to launch key
Assembly, Maintenance         hardware to the station because of the shuttle’s greater payload capacity.
Operations, and Safety        At about 36,000 pounds, the shuttle’s payload capacity is roughly 7 times
                              that of Russia’s Progress vehicle and almost 35 times the payload capacity
Challenges                    of its Soyuz vehicle. With the shuttle fleet grounded, current space station
                              operations are solely dependent on the Soyuz and Progress vehicles.5
                              Because the Soyuz and Progress vehicles’ payloads are significantly less
                              than that of the U.S. shuttle fleet, operations are generally limited to
                              transporting crew, food, potable water,6 and other items, as well as
                              providing propellant resupply and reboosting the station to higher orbits.
                              On-orbit assembly of the station has effectively ceased.

                              Maintaining the readiness of ready-to-launch space station components
                              has also presented a number of operational challenges, as in the following
                              examples:

                         •	   A logistics module, which carries research facilities and life support items
                              to the station, that was scheduled and ready for launch in March 2003 had
                              to be opened and unpacked (see fig. 2). Several racks were removed to
                              provide the proper preventative maintenance of the contents until they
                              can be rescheduled on a future flight. In addition, crew-specific items had
                              to be removed in anticipation of crew changes for the next shuttle flight.


                              5
                               The Progress vehicles transport materials—such as propellant, food, and water—and
                              supplies to the space station. Once a Progress vehicle arrives and is unloaded, it is
                              repacked with trash, undocks from the station, and burns up when it re-enters the
                              atmosphere.
                              6
                               Potable water is a constraint to sustaining station operations. For example, crew
                              members currently have a limit of two liters of water per day per crew member.




                              Page 6                                                        GAO-03-1107 Space Station
     This module requires more than 2 months to be repacked and tested prior
     to launch.

     Figure 2: The Logistics Module Scheduled for March 2003 Shuttle Launch Being
     Unpacked at Kennedy Space Center in Florida




•	   One of the solar array wings scheduled for launch in May 2003 was
     approaching its 45-month prelaunch storage limit. Due to the launch delay,
     the wing had to be removed from the truss section and replaced with a
     new wing (see fig. 3). The removed wing was shipped to the contractor for
     deployment testing, which NASA hoped would result in a lengthening of
     the prelaunch storage limit to at least 60 months. However, according to
     NASA officials, preliminary results were very positive, and the storage life
     certification could be extended to as much as 8 years or more.




     Page 7                                                GAO-03-1107 Space Station
Figure 3: Solar Array Wings




                                   Truss section where the canister containing a solar array wing was removed to be tested (photograph
                                   on left), and the removed canister (foreground) and its replacement (background) that is being
                                   readied for assembly on the truss section (photograph on right).


                              •	   The performance of the batteries on the truss sections that were ready for
                                   launch has also raised concerns. Prolonged storage at ambient
                                   temperatures could shorten the overall life of the battery. According to
                                   NASA officials, a process has been developed to charge the batteries
                                   periodically without removing them from the trusses during storage, then
                                   to provide a charge capability on the launch pad just prior to launch. This



                                   Page 8                                                              GAO-03-1107 Space Station
process, however, will require a new device to be developed and
expending resources not previously planned for this function.

Station program managers are resolved to meet these challenges and have
station components ready for flight when the next shuttle is ready for
launch. In addition, NASA is using this longer storage time to determine
the feasibility of adding new testing procedures. For example, NASA is
developing tests to apply power to some elements and may also perform
additional leak tests.

The grounding of the shuttle fleet has also hampered NASA’s ability to
correct known safety concerns on-board the station. For example, NASA
has had to delay plans to fly additional shielding to the space station to
adequately protect the on-orbit Russian Service Module from space debris.
NASA’s analysis of the problem shows the probability of orbital space
debris penetrating the module increases by 1.6 percent each year the
shielding is not installed. NASA accepted this risk by issuing a waiver for
the noncompliance with a safety requirement, but planned to have the
shielding installed within 37 months of the module’s launch in July 2000.
Six of the required 23 panels have been installed on the module, and NASA
is negotiating with the Russian Aviation and Space Agency to manufacture
the 17 remaining panels. NASA officials told us that they are studying
alternatives for launching and installing the debris protection panels
earlier than originally planned. In addition, there will be delays in
analyzing the failure of an on-orbit gyro—one of four that maintain the
station’s orbital stability and control. According to NASA, a shuttle flight
planned for March of this year was to carry a replacement gyro to the
station and return the failed unit for detailed analysis. Because the shuttle
flight was canceled, the failed unit was not returned. Consequently, NASA
is unable at this time to provide a definitive analysis of the reasons for the
failure of the unit or to know if the problem applies to the remaining units.

NASA had planned to assemble the core complete configuration of the
station by February 2004. NASA officials have maintained that assembly
delays will be at least a “month for month” slip from the previous
schedule, depending on the frequency of flights when the shuttles resume
operations. At best, then, the core complete configuration would not be
assembled before sometime in fiscal year 2005.




Page 9                                               GAO-03-1107 Space Station
Current Research Efforts        While the space station crew’s current responsibility is primarily to
Curtailed by Limited            perform routine maintenance, the two-crew members will conduct some
Payload Capability              research on-board the station. An interim space station research plan
                                developed by NASA details the amount and type of research that will be
                                conducted. Further, NASA states that although the crew has been reduced
                                from three to two members, more crew time will be available to carry out
                                research tasks because no assembly or space walks are planned.
                                Regardless, the limited payload capability of the Russian vehicles directly
                                affects the extent of research that can be conducted, as illustrated in the
                                following examples:

                           •	  Outfitting of U.S. research facilities halted: Lacking the shuttle fleet’s
                               greater lift capability, the amount of research hardware transported to and
                               from the station has been significantly limited. With the fleet grounded,
                               three major research facilities—which, according to NASA, complete the
                               outfitting of the U.S. laboratory—could not be launched in March of this
                               year, as planned.7 As of August 2003, 7 of the 20 planned research facilities
                               are on orbit. NASA had planned to add 7 more facilities by January 2008.
                               At this time, it is unknown when the full configuration of the 20 research
                               facilities will be on-board the station.
                           • 	 Existing hardware failures: Because new and additional hardware
                               cannot be transported, NASA has to rely more heavily on existing on-orbit
                               science facilities—facilities that have already experienced some failures.
                               For example, in November 2002, the Microgravity Science Glovebox—
                               which provides an enclosed and sealed workspace for conducting
                               experiments—failed and did not become operational until late March 2003.
                               NASA officials state there also have been failures of the existing
                               refrigerator-freezers on-board the station, which serve as the main cold
                               storage units until a larger space station cold temperature facility becomes
                               available. The larger cold temperature facility was one of three facilities
                               that had been planned for launch in March 2003.
                           • 	 Limited science material: Currently, there are no allocations for science
                               materials to be transported to or from the space station by the Russian
                               Soyuz and Progress vehicles. Based on the payload planning for these
                               flights, however, there will be limited opportunities to launch small
                               research projects. NASA officials state that the next two Progress flights
                               could carry up to 40 kilograms and 100 kilograms, respectively, based on
                               continuous payload planning. This would be much greater than the April
                               2003 Soyuz flight, which was able to carry 2.5 kilograms (about



                                7
                                 The research facilities that were packed in a logistics module awaiting launch had to be
                                removed from the flight module and serviced.




                                Page 10                                                       GAO-03-1107 Space Station
                       5.5 pounds) of science material to the station for experiments in the
                       current increment.

                       As a result, research experiments for the current flight increment have
                       been reduced. Specifically, only about two-thirds of new investigations
                       and about three-quarters of ongoing investigations from previous
                       increments will be accomplished on the current increment. Further,
                       returning samples from these investigations will be delayed until the U.S.
                       shuttle fleet returns to flight because of the Soyuz’s limited storage
                       capacity. The investigations on the next increment are also in jeopardy as
                       there is no planned up mass allocation for science material.8

                       Delays in transporting needed hardware and materials for research to the
                       space station could be further constrained, depending on any safety
                       modifications to the shuttle fleet based on recommendations of the
                       Columbia Accident Investigation Board. If safety modifications to the
                       shuttle increase the vehicle’s weight, the payload carrying capability for
                       research could be adversely affected. For example, if NASA determines
                       that the shuttle’s robotic arm is needed on future flights to address safety
                       concerns, approximately 1,000 pounds of weight would be added, which
                       would reduce the shuttle’s payload capacity for research equipment and
                       other hardware.


                       Since the program’s inception, we have repeatedly reported on the
Cost Implications      challenges NASA has faced in maintaining goals and objectives for the
Have Yet to Be         space station program.9 And while NASA has conducted reassessments
                       and independent reviews of the program in efforts to institute corrective
Determined, but        actions that would ensure proper cost controls, difficulties in controlling
Increases Are Likely   costs have persisted. NASA budgets and funds the space station program
                       at essentially a fixed annual average level of about $1.7 billion a year based
                       on full cost accounting.10 To date, NASA officials stated they have not
                       completely estimated the potential increased costs and future budget



                       8
                        Currently, science material is flown to the station on a space and weight available basis.
                       For example, if food or other life support items were not depleted between flights, science
                       material might be transported.
                       9
                           Appendix II lists prior GAO reports and testimonies related to the space station program.
                       10
                         Full cost accounting is an accepted accounting practice that ties all NASA costs
                       (including government personnel costs) to major activities (programs and projects) and
                       budgets, accounts, reports, and manage programs and projects from a full cost perspective.




                       Page 11                                                          GAO-03-1107 Space Station
impact incurred due to the grounding of the space shuttle fleet. However,
they have identified a number of factors that will likely result in increased
costs—including the continued maintenance and storage of ready-to-
launch station components as well as the testing and recertification of
some components and the need to extend contracts to complete
development and assembly of the station. NASA officials told us that the
agency is assessing these potential cost and schedule impacts and how to
mitigate the impacts within existing resources.

In fiscal year 2003, NASA received $1.85 billion in appropriated funds for
the space station and has requested $1.71 billion for fiscal year 2004 (see
table 1). The funding reduction in fiscal year 2004 was based on near
completion of the hardware development for the U.S. core configuration
and the transition to on-orbit operations. NASA estimates that after the
last year of development, the annual cost to operate the station will
average $1.5 billion over a 10-year useful life. This estimate does not
include all funding requirements, such as costs associated with necessary
upgrades to preclude on-orbit hardware obsolescence, launch costs, and
other support costs that are captured in other portions of NASA’s budget.

Table 1: Projected Funding for the Space Station Program

 Dollars in millions
 Office of Space Flight                           Pres. Budget FY 2003       Pres. Budget FY 2004
 Total                                                          $6,107                      $6,110
     Space Station                                               1,851                       1,707
     Space Shuttle                                               3,786                       3,968
     Space Flight Support                                         471                         434
Source: NASA’s fiscal year 2004 budget request.


NASA officials told us that soon after the Columbia accident, they
published ground rules and assumptions that stated there would be no
significant changes to the station’s budget execution and would maintain
budget requests at current levels until the shuttle returns to flight. At that
point, NASA program officials stated they will begin to evaluate the impact
that new developments, enhancements, inventories, and staffing needed to
sustain and operate the space station will have on future budget
submissions, including requests for supplemental appropriations, and the
execution of the station funding, including program reserves.

NASA’s strategy for the station program following the Columbia accident
has been to continue developing hardware as planned, to deliver these



Page 12                                                                  GAO-03-1107 Space Station
     components to Kennedy Space Center as scheduled, and to prepare them
     for launch when the shuttle fleet returns to flight. Through contingency
     planning efforts, NASA has identified additional costs to be incurred by
     the space station program office as a result of these continuing
     developmental operations. However, these additional costs are based on
     an assumption that the shuttle will return to flight within 12 months of the
     Columbia accident, an assumption that is subject to change based on more
     definitive information concerning the status of the shuttle fleet’s
     operations. NASA officials state they have not finalized plans or risk
     assessments for continued assembly and operation of the space station if
     the shuttle fleet is grounded for a longer period of time.

     NASA has also implemented a management decision analysis11 that
     anticipates additional costs to be incurred in keeping a crew on-board the
     station while the shuttle fleet is grounded. The analysis is based primarily
     on management decisions regarding crew rotation and payload issues that
     involve shifting cargo and the use of consumables, such as potable water.
     Other factors, according to NASA officials, that the station program office
     identified could also result in cost increases, but it has not fully quantified
     these costs:

•   recertification of hardware;
•   disassembly and reassembly of component parts;
•	  unpacking and repacking equipment from the logistics module that was
    ready for launch;
• storage of station components that are ready for launch;
• maintaining battery life;
• 	 unfurling and testing solar array wings, which could be affected by
    prolonged storage;
• 	 additional travel to Russia to facilitate discussions on Soyuz and Progress
    vehicles’ schedules and payloads and export controls issues;
• additional resupply flights; and
• 	 retention of some critical skills necessary to complete development and
    assembly of the station.




     11
       A management decision analysis is a process for reviewing potential risks in the station
     program that could impact costs. The process includes reviews of outstanding safety
     waivers and the identification of additional required testing.




     Page 13                                                        GAO-03-1107 Space Station
                        In addition to the operational challenges facing NASA, funding and partner
Uncertainty of the      agreements present significant challenges.12 While long-term plans are not
Shuttle’s Return-to-    well defined at this time, alternative funding may be needed to sustain the
                        station, let alone achieve the station’s intended goals. At the same time,
Flight Date Delays      NASA and its partners must develop a plan for assembling the partners’
International Partner   modules and reaching agreement on the final station configuration. In
                        addition, since the final on-orbit configuration is likely to be different from
Agreements              the configuration when the Intergovernmental Agreements were signed in
                        1998, NASA officials state the partners may have to adjust agreements that
                        cover the partners’ responsibility for shared common operations costs.

                        Depending on the duration of the shuttle fleet’s grounding, the space
                        station program may need to consider funding alternatives to sustain the
                        station. International agreements governing the space station partnership
                        specify that the United States, Canada, Europe, and Japan are responsible
                        for funding the operations and maintenance of the elements each
                        contributes, the research activities it conducts, and a share of common
                        operating costs. Under current planning, NASA will fund the entire cost of
                        common supplies and ground operations, then be reimbursed by the other
                        partners for their shares. Depending on contributions made by the
                        partners while the shuttle fleet is grounded, the share that each partner
                        contributes to the common operations costs may have to be adjusted and
                        could result in NASA’s paying a larger share of those costs.13 For example,
                        the European Automated Transfer Vehicle is scheduled to begin flying in
                        September 2004. If that vehicle takes on a larger role in supporting the
                        station than currently planned, the European’s share of common
                        operations costs could be reduced with the other partners paying more.

                        Station requirements dictate that some Progress launches be accelerated
                        and, depending on how long the shuttle fleet is grounded, could require
                        additional flights. Russia maintains that it can provide additional launches,
                        and the Russian Aviation and Space Agency is negotiating with its
                        government in an effort to obtain the necessary funding. If those
                        negotiations are unsuccessful, the other partners may have to provide the


                        12
                          Agreement Among the Government of Canada, Governments of Member States of the
                        European Space Agency, the Government of Japan, the Government of the Russian
                        Federation, and the Government of the United States of America Concerning Cooperation
                        on the Civil International Space Station, Jan. 29, 1998.
                        13
                          The international agreements stress that the partners should seek to minimize the
                        exchange of funds through the performance of specific space station operations activities
                        or, if concerned partners agree, through the use of barter.




                        Page 14                                                       GAO-03-1107 Space Station
                needed funding. However, the U.S. may be prohibited from making certain
                payments due to a statutory restriction.14 NASA is engaged in discussions
                with the other partners on how to sustain operations if additional flights
                are required.

                Further, following the release of the Columbia Accident Investigation
                Board’s report and recommendations, NASA and the partnership must
                agree on a final configuration of the on-orbit station that will be
                acceptable to all parties. Prior to the Columbia accident, options for the
                final on-orbit configuration were being studied, and a decision was
                planned for December 2003. NASA officials told us the process has been
                delayed, and NASA now expects the partners to agree on a program action
                plan in October 2003 that will lead to an agreement on the final on-orbit
                configuration.

                During a July 2003 meeting, international partner space agency leaders
                from the U.S., Europe, Canada, Japan, and Russia expressed support of the
                space station program. The leaders recognized the Russian Aviation and
                Space Agency for its support of station operations, logistics, crew
                transportation, and crew rescue while the shuttle fleet is grounded. The
                partners also expressed their support of NASA’s return to flight strategy,
                the resumption of station assembly, and the opportunity to enhance the
                use of the station for conducting world-class research.


                This is one of the most challenging periods in the history of the
Conclusions 	   international space station program. NASA officials acknowledge that the
                loss of the space shuttle Columbia poses cost and schedule risks that have
                direct implications on completing the development and assembly of the
                station and the research that is to be conducted on-board as well as on
                NASA’s budgets for fiscal year 2004 and beyond. However, NASA officials
                told us that that it is too soon to determine the magnitude and costs of
                delayed assembly and implications of any recommendations from of
                Columbia Accident Investigation Board to the space station. Until the
                shuttle return-to-flight date is known, it is difficult to determine how and
                when potential cost and schedule increases will impact the station
                program or the agency as a whole.




                14
                     Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000, Pub. L. 106-178.




                Page 15                                                    GAO-03-1107 Space Station
                  In written comments on a draft of this report, NASA’s Deputy
Agency Comments   Administrator said that the agency agrees with the content and
                  conclusions in the report. He said that the space station program is taking
                  the steps necessary to be ready to resume assembly immediately upon the
                  space shuttle’s return-to-flight and to eliminate or offset cost impacts. He
                  also pointed out that the international partners continue to collaborate on
                  how to best support near-term space station on-orbit operations until the
                  space shuttle returns to flight. NASA offered some technical comments on
                  the report, which have been incorporated as appropriate.


                  To describe the current status of the space station program in terms of on-
Scope and         orbit assembly and research, we reviewed NASA’s plans for completing
Methodology       station assembly prior to the Columbia accident and compared those plans
                  to the agency’s actions following the accident to continue on-board
                  operations while the shuttle fleet is grounded. To assess the planned
                  research program, we reviewed NASA’s efforts to prioritize research on-
                  board the station as well as plans to continue research while the shuttle
                  fleet is grounded. We also interviewed NASA officials regarding the
                  agency’s efforts to maintain the station and continue research following
                  the Columbia accident.

                  To determine the cost implications for the program with the grounding of
                  the shuttle fleet, we reviewed NASA’s fiscal year 2003 budget amendment
                  and appropriations as well as the agency’s fiscal year 2004 budget request.
                  We also reviewed NASA’s assessments of potential cost impacts to the
                  program and plans for mitigating those potential impacts. In addition, we
                  reviewed NASA’s plans/interactions with its international partners to
                  secure support for the station while the shuttle fleet is grounded and to
                  reach agreement on a final station configuration that will be acceptable to
                  all partners. We interviewed NASA officials with responsibility for
                  estimating and controlling space station costs, managing space station
                  research, and dealing with the international partners.

                  To identify program challenges facing the space station program, we
                  reviewed actions being taken by NASA to ensure continued safe
                  operations of the station, toured the Space Station Processing Facility to
                  view flight-ready hardware in storage, and reviewed NASA’s actions in
                  response to the International Space Station Management and Cost
                  Evaluation task force report. We interviewed space station program
                  officials to obtain their views on the challenges facing the program.




                  Page 16                                             GAO-03-1107 Space Station
To accomplish our work, we visited NASA headquarters, Washington,
D.C.; Johnson Space Center, Texas; and Kennedy Space Center, Florida.
We also attended two meetings of the NASA Advisory Council.

We conducted our work from November 2002 through August 2003 in
accordance with generally accepted government standards.


Unless you publicly announce the contents earlier, we plan no further 

distribution of this report until 30 days from its issue date. At that time, we 

will send copies to the NASA Administrator; the Director, Office of 

Management and Budget; and other interested parties. We will also make 

copies available to others on request. In addition, the report will be 

available on the GAO Web site at http://www.gao.gov. 


Please contact me at (202) 512-4841 if you or your staff have any questions 

about this report. Major contributors to this report are listed in

appendix III. 


Sincerely yours, 





Allen Li 

Director 

Acquisition and Sourcing Management 





Page 17                                               GAO-03-1107 Space Station
Appendix I: Comments from the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration




         Page 18             GAO-03-1107 Space Station
          Appendix I: Comments from the National
          Aeronautics and Space Administration




Page 19                                            GAO-03-1107 Space Station
Appendix II: Prior GAO Reports and
Testimonies Related to the International
Space Station Program
               NASA: Major Management Challenges and Program Risks. GAO-03-114.
               Washington, D.C.: January 2003.

               Space Station: Actions Under Way to Manage Cost, but Significant
               Challenges Remain. GAO-02-735. Washington, D.C.: July 17, 2002.

               NASA: Compliance With Cost Limits Cannot Be Verified. GAO-02-504R.
               Washington, D.C.: April 10, 2002.

               NASA: Leadership and Systems Needed to Effect Financial Management
               Improvements. GAO-02-551T. Washington, D.C.: March 20, 2002.

               NASA: International Space Station and Shuttle Support Cost Limits.
               GAO-01-100R. Washington, D.C.: August 31, 2001.

               Space Station: Inadequate Planning and Design Led to Propulsion
               Module Project Failure. GAO-01-633. Washington, D.C.: June 20, 2001.

               Space Station: Russian-Built Zarya and Service Module Compliance
               With Safety Requirements. GAO/NSIAD-00-96R. Washington, D.C.: April
               28, 2000.

               Space Station: Russian Compliance with Safety Requirements.
               GAO/TNSIAD-00-128. Washington, D.C.: March 16, 2000.

               Space Station: Russian Commitment and Cost Control Problems.
               GAO/NSIAD-99-175. Washington, D.C.: August 17, 1999.

               Space Station: Cost to Operate After Assembly Is Uncertain.
               GAO/NSIAD-99-177. Washington, D.C.: August 6, 1999.

               Space Station: Status of Russian Involvement and Cost Control Efforts.
               GAO/T-NSIAD-99-117. Washington, D.C.: April 29, 1999.

               Space Station: U.S. Life-Cycle Funding Requirements.
               GAO/T-NSIAD-98-212. Washington, D.C.: June 24, 1998.

               International Space Station: U.S. Life-Cycle Funding Requirements.
               GAO/NSIAD-98-147. Washington, D.C.: May 22, 1998.

               Space Station: Cost Control Problems. GAO/T-NSIAD-98-54. Washington,
               D.C.: November 5, 1997.



               Page 20                                          GAO-03-1107 Space Station
Appendix II: Prior GAO Reports and
Testimonies Related to the International
Space Station Program




Space Station: Deteriorating Cost and Schedule Performance Under the
Prime Contract. GAO/T-NSIAD-97-262. Washington, D.C.: September 18,
1997.

Space Station: Cost Control Problems Are Worsening.
GAO/NSIAD-97-213.Washington, D.C.: September. 16, 1997.

NASA: Major Management Challenges. GAO/T-NSIAD-97-178. Washington,
D.C.: July 24, 1997.

Space Station: Cost Control Problems Continue to Worsen.
GAO/T-NSIAD-97-177. Washington, D.C.: June 18, 1997.

Space Station: Cost Control Difficulties Continue.
GAO/T-NSIAD-96-210.Washington, D.C.: July 24, 1996.

Space Station: Cost Control Difficulties Continue. GAO/NSIAD-96-135.
Washington, D.C.: July 17, 1996.

Space Station: Estimated Total U.S. Funding Requirements.
GAO/NSIAD-95-163. Washington, D.C.: June 12, 1995.

Space Station: Update on the Impact of the Expanded Russian Role.
GAO/NSIAD-94-248. Washington, D.C.: July 29, 1994.

Space Station: Impact of the Expanded Russian Role on Funding and
Research. GAO/NSIAD-94-220. Washington, D.C.: June 21, 1994.




Page 21                                         GAO-03-1107 Space Station
Appendix III: Staff Acknowledgments


                    Individuals making key contributions to this report included Jerry Herley,
Acknowledgments 	   James Beard, Fred Felder, Lynn LaValle, Rick Cederholm, Josh Margraf,
                    and Karen Sloan.




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                    Page 22                                            GAO-03-1107 Space Station
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