Space Projects:

Status and Remaining Challenges of the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility

NSIAD-92-77: Published: Feb 28, 1992. Publicly Released: Mar 10, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF) program, focusing on the: (1) program's cost and schedule status; (2) results of tests of the observatory's outer mirrors; and (3) remaining technical challenges.

GAO found that: (1) since fiscal year 1989, the program's estimated cost has increased from $1.6 billion to $1.9 billion, an increase of $380 million; (2) although there has been some cost growth in the program, most of the increase can be attributed to schedule stretchouts caused by budget cuts; (3) in order to keep program costs from increasing, NASA plans to reduce the number of spare parts it will purchase and use a portion of the cost reserves it is holding for future unanticipated changes; (4) reducing spare parts increases the program's schedule risk, since certain parts cannot be replaced quickly; (5) if NASA decides to launch the observatory on an expendable launch vehicle rather than the space shuttle, it could cost up to $286 million to redesign the observatory and an additional $250 million for a launch vehicle; (6) NASA was required to fabricate and test the largest pair of mirrors to an exact standard for mirror resolution before beginning other tasks and test results completed in September 1991 showed that the mirrors met the requirement; (7) NASA believes that those test results to date provide confidence that all pairs of mirrors, when assembled, will meet the contractual standard for collecting and focusing X-rays; and (8) before it can launch the observatory, NASA must resolve such challenges as developing additional test equipment, other observatory components, and science instruments.

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