Space Shuttle:

NASA Faces Challenges in Its Attempt to Achieve Planned Flight Rates

NSIAD-92-32: Published: Dec 6, 1991. Publicly Released: Jan 8, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) future space shuttle flight plans, focusing on the: (1) factors associated with achieving planned flight rates; (2) processes to ensure that NASA does not compromise safety by increasing flight rates; (3) impact of variations in flight rate estimates on subsystem and spare parts procurement; and (4) planned use of expendable launch vehicles for payloads not requiring the shuttle.

GAO found that: (1) although NASA has reduced its maximum annual shuttle flight rate projection to 10 flights a year, it will not be able to achieve that rate before late in the decade; (2) NASA may be unable to achieve 10 flights a year, especially if it fails to reduce shuttle ground processing time or loses or severely damages another orbiter; (3) no evidence existed suggesting that NASA might compromise safety to increase its flight rate; (4) since the Challenger accident, NASA has delayed shuttle launches over reasonable questions about safety concerns, and has implemented adequate controls to ensure that safety is considered during shuttle processing modification or elimination decisions; (5) although optimistic flight rate projections have not resulted in excess procurement of spare parts, adjustments in delivery schedules for shuttle subsystems made necessary when NASA did not achieve projected flight rates have created inefficiencies; (6) NASA is moving from a policy that exclusively relies on shuttles to launch its payloads to one using shuttles only when necessary; (7) 89 percent of the payloads on the shuttle's current manifest require either human interaction or some unique shuttle capability to be launched, and the remaining payloads are on the shuttle manifest for national security reasons or because expendable launch vehicles are unavailable to meet launch schedules; (8) NASA is designing most of its new payloads to fly on expendable launch vehicles; and (9) NASA has contracted to build advanced solid rocket motor production facilities in excess of current requirements.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Equipment has been reduced to support the NASA current maximum shuttle flight rate.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should implement plans to reduce advanced solid rocket motor manufacturing equipment to be consistent with the agency's current projection of the maximum shuttle flight rate.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA has reviewed cost reduction options, including decreasing the size of the ASRM production facilities.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should identify possible cost savings from reducing the size of advanced solid rocket motor (ASRM) production facilities to those needed to produce 11 motor sets a year.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA ASRM facility capacities are being adjusted to the currently authorized flight rate.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should review the decision not to reduce facility sizes, if warranted by the potential cost savings.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

 

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