Cost and schedule performance of NASA’s major acquisition programs continues to deteriorate and the average delay in launch dates is 13 months, the longest ever reported by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the auditing agency says in a new report.

The GAO says the increases in program costs and schedule delays is primarily due to its James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) program for “integration and test challenges,” and that cost pressure is also due to the Space Launch System (SLS) due to production challenges. Northrop Grumman [NOC] is developing the JWST, which will be used for astronomy and cosmology, and Boeing [BA] is making the SLS, a heavy-lift launch vehicle for deep space exploration.

Illustration of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Photo: NASA.

“According to program officials, Boeing underestimated both the complexity of engine section assembly and the time and manpower that would be needed to complete the effort, which has contributed to cost growth,” GAO says.

Since it reported last May on major program performance a year ago, GAO says “cost growth has increased to 27.7 percent and the average launch delay is approximately 13 months, the largest schedule delay we have ever reported.”A year ago, GAO reported that overall cost growth was 18.8 percent and the average launch delay was about a year.

Excluding the JWST program, which is scheduled to launch in March 2021, 14 years after the original plan, the average launch delay is about nine months, GAO says.

For its review, GAO completed assessments of 21 of 24 major projects, which are defined as having a life-cycle cost estimate of greater than $250 million.

The report also attributes cost growth to four other programs: the Space Network Ground Segment Sustainment that General Dynamics [GD] is the prime contractor for, the Ionospheric Connection Explorer satellite, the Mars 2020 rover, which NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is manufacturing, and the Orion crew exploration vehicle under development by Lockheed Martin [LMT].