Space Projects:

Astrophysics Facility Program Contains Cost and Technical Risks

NSIAD-94-80: Published: Jan 28, 1994. Publicly Released: Jan 28, 1994.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO reviewed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF) program, focusing on the: (1) reasonableness of the NASA program cost estimate; and (2) extent that the redesigned program will provide scientific returns comparable to the original program.

GAO found that: (1) NASA has made the AXAF program more affordable by redesigning and dividing AXAF into two satellites; (2) the redesigned program has reduced estimated program development and operating costs by 54 percent; (3) revising the AXAF program will further reduce costs by an undetermined amount; (4) funding reserves may be inadequate for the AXAF-I portion of the program; (5) NASA did not account for the increased technical risks inherent in the new design; (6) the inability to repair AXAF-I in orbit could result in the need for higher quality original components and more stringent qualification testing; (7) the redesigned AXAF program should achieve most of the original program's scientific objectives because the satellites operate more efficiently than the single-satellite design due to higher orbits and greater individual use of instruments; and (8) the mission to launch AXAF-S could affect the satellite's scientific capabilities.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO recommended that NASA assess the adequacy of AXAF-I funding reserves. NASA has done so.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should review the AXAF-I development program to determine whether funding reserves are realistic in light of the program's uncertainty and risk.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO recommended that NASA assess the appropriateness of the AXAF-I payload classification. NASA has agreed to do so.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should review the AXAF-I development program to determine whether the AXAF-I payload classification is prudent given the complexity, costs, and lack of repair capability inherent in the new design.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

 

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