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Good morning, and happy Friday. Humanity is building a team. At long last, NASA said yesterday it’s assembling a group to study supposed UFO sightings. 

In today’s newsletter:
📝 NASA OIG report
📚 Weekend recs

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Tower of Terror

Image: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

The NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) published its report on the agency’s management of a second mobile launch tower for the SLS mega-moon rocket—and the forecast isn’t looking good. Right now, the OIG anticipates that the project will cost more than twice what was originally budgeted and will be completed ~2.5 years behind schedule.

The ML-2 contract: The first mobile launch tower for SLS, which is currently on the pad awaiting its wet dress rehearsal, was completed in 2010. In 2019, NASA awarded Bechtel National a $383M contract to build ML-2, a second launch tower for later, larger iterations of SLS.

Bechtel originally planned to complete construction on the tower by March 2023. So far, construction on the tower has not begun.

Bottom line up front: The tower is going to be late, over budget, and too heavy. 

The OIG report concluded that Bechtel’s poor performance caused 70% of the cost overruns and 1.5 years of project delays. The project had already cost NASA $436M by March 2022; it’s expected to cost $960M when all is said and done. 

The OIG report estimates that delivery won’t be until October 2025 at the earliest, which would delay Artemis IV to no earlier than 2026.

  • The culprits: underestimating the scope of the project, staff retention issues, and design flaws.
  • Bechtel came back with a statement (h/t Eric Berger) challenging the finding that its poor performance was to blame. Its argument: the OIG report ignored the impacts of the pandemic and unexpected design changes.

These numbers are what the OIG report sees as a best-case scenario. An independent review team analysis found that the project will most likely cost in the ballpark of $1.5B, with delivery in 2027 and Artemis IV thus delayed to 2028. 

Though the review primarily blames Bechtel, NASA isn’t off the hook, either. The agency awarded the ML-2 contract before it had finalized the design for the Exploration Upper Stage, leading to design changes during the contract period. It also didn’t follow an OIG recommendation from March 2020 to create separate project guidelines for the ML-2 contract.

Recommendations: The OIG urged NASA to take “corrective action” to speed up the project, but at this point, there’s not much to be done. NASA leadership is reportedly considering moving to a fixed-price contract for the rest of the project, but haven’t yet reached an agreement.

In Other News

  • ESA Director Josef Aschbacher says Europe should prioritize building its own commercial space industry. “Europe missed the boat in the dot-com, Big Tech, and AI domains, but can avoid the same fate in space,” Aschbacher tweeted Thursday.
  • ULA’s Vulcan rocket is unlikely to fly this year, Ars Technica reports. 
  • Stratolaunch’s Roc plane completed its 6th test flight, and flew for nearly an hour and a half. 
  • NASA says “there is no evidence UAPs [unidentified aerial phenomena] are extra-terrestrial in origin.”
  • The US joined the Space for Climate Observatory, an initiative to combine satellite data and scientific research to track climate change.

Weekend Reads

🔊 Pathfinder #0002 with Rob Meyerson, the founder/CEO of Delalune Space and former president of Blue Origin. We discuss commercial space, investing, and going back to the Moon. Listen on Spotify or Apple.

📡 Politico Magazine examines how Starlink has helped Ukraine stay connected. Volodymyr Zelenskyy has reportedly been using Starlink.

🕹️ NASA made an arcade-style video game to hype up the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope.

🛰️ The Financial Times created an interactive visualization all about orbital debris. ICYMI: We’ve got our own series on debris—read Part 1 and Part 2.

The View from Space

Image: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ. of Nottingham/H. Russell et al.; Optical: NAOJ/Subaru

NASA captured this composite image of Abell 2146, a pair of colliding galaxies that created a 1.6 million light years-long shock wave, “like a sonic boom generated by a supersonic jet,” per the agency.

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