NASA: Ending Constellation Will Cost More

The $2.5 billion in NASA’s Fiscal 2011 budget request to terminate the Constellation Program is probably “oversubscribed,” and will not cover all of the expenses expected to grow from shutting down the shuttle-follow-on effort. Elizabeth Robinson, the former Office of Management and Budget career official appointed by President Barack Obama as the space agency’s chief financial officer, told the Robert H. Goddard Memorial Symposium here last week that the funds are not intended to cover contract termination liability — the cost to a contractor and NASA of shutting down contractor facilities, terminating leases and the like. Instead, they will go for the cost to the government of pulling Constellation equipment out of its own facilities, environmental remediation at those facilities, and keeping civil servants on the payroll until new work can be found for them, Robinson said. “The program termination costs and the civilian transition costs are the primary things in the $2.5 billion,” she said. NASA has spent about $9 billion on Constellation to date — largely to develop the Ares I crew launch vehicle and the Orion crew exploration vehicle just completing preliminary design review. The Fiscal 2011 budget includes $1.9 billion in Fiscal 2011 and $600 million in Fiscal 2012 for the program termination and civilian transition costs associated with stopping it. Robinson said NASA is developing a plan for managing the requested funds and handling the additional contract termination liability. She conceded the $2.5 billion has quickly become a potential cash cow within the agency as NASA struggles to change direction in human access to orbit from Constellation vehicles to a purely commercial approach. “Everyone says that line will take care of it,” she said. “I think it will be oversubscribed.”

By Frank Morring, Jr./Aviation Week

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