NASA Advisory Council Briefed on ISS and Overall NASA Financial Status

At a recent meeting of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) NASA personnel briefed the committee on International Space Station progress - with a specific focus on cost issues. Representatives from the NASA Comptrollers provided additional information on ISS costs as well as progress towards revamping NASA's accounting system.

Bill Gerstenmeier, the newly-appointed manager of the ISS program (named to the position upon the retirement of Tommy Holloway) gave the NAC and overview of major ISS programmatic milestones:

With regard to ISS elements, Gerstenmeier said "Node 2 will arrive at KSC in February 2003. This date may slip - but plans are in place to make up for this slip. Kibo is due for shipment from Japan to KSC in January 2003 ship to KSC. Some new facilities are being built to accommodate it. Columbus is due for shipment to KSC in the Summer of 2003. Canada's SPDM is undergoing acceptance review and may fly in 2004 or 2005 - this is part of a trade study underway. Right now it is shown as flying in 2007. The Centrifuge Accommodation Module and Centrifuge payload hardware are due to be delivered to KSC in November 2006 and launched in 2007. This may be affected by funding issues NASDA is having."

Regarding ISS logistics, Gerstenmeier said: "ESA's ATV is due to make its first flight in 2004. The ISS program is looking to fly 5 Russian Progress missions next year. Four flights per year are needed to keep the ISS in orbit. With the advent of the ATV, which has a cargo capability equivalent to 3 Progress tankers, this will provide the program with more flexibility. Meanwhile, Japan's HTV is currently in design review."

Gerstenmeier noted that the ISS program is now moving away from a focus only on assembly in space to one where some reconfiguration is being done in space - "something NASA has not done much of before". One of the most complex examples will be mission 12.A.1 - "the most complicated on orbit operation we will ever do". During this mission there will be a period of 48 hours wherein there will be no power to payloads. The visiting orbiter will be so heavy at launch that the ISS will need to have its orbit dropped down to 205 miles.

Gerstenmeier spoke rather confidently of the ISS program's current financial performance. He said that the FY 2002 budget "is on track." He went on to say "We are burning $100 million less than we anticipated at this point." He went on to describe ongoing cost exercises and the things that will no longer be funded in the FY 2004 budget. Knowing that certain things will not be funded in future years. Gerstenmeier said that he was looking at closing these activities down in FY 2002 thus saving additional funds. "We are trying to run $200 -$300 million below our budget so that we can carry funds over into the FY 2003 budget." He was careful to note that "we moved some work from 2002 to 2003 but it was not considered as 'savings'."

With regard to reducing the ISS workforce ad the program moves ahead, Gerstenmeier said "we need to get development people off of the program as soon as their hardware is completed. We are cutting the current 26 support contracts down to 7. We currently have an RFI out and are getting comments back from industry."

Gerstenmeier also spoke of chemistry problems within the ITCS (Integrated Thermal Control System) loops wherein joint welds were affected. Another problem centers on the treadmill The plastic slats broke and were replaced with Aluminum slats. Now there is an issue with the bungee cords that hold the astronauts in place.

Another challenge has been software. An update which will soon be made will require 1.45 million lines of code to be installed on the ISS- a vehicle currently using 44 separate computers. This software will be taken up on a CD-ROM. "To radio it up would have taken the better part of a day." Gerstenmeier said.

Gerstenmeier was asked about the ability of the U.S Lab module to handle high speed data connections - and whether an investment in additional bandwidth might not be prudent as crew time is becoming an issue. Gerstenmeier replied that NASA was using a new compression box for video feeds. Due to the increased efficiency of this hardware more bandwidth is being freed up for use by payloads.

One of the ISS' four CMGs failed this past week. Gerstenmeier said "CMG's store momentum and save propellant. One failed at beginning of this (STS-111) mission. 17 hours before hard fail we saw problems. They were spinning at 16,000 RPM and the bearings' temperature had increased. G forces increased and they started to wobble. The crew could hear vibration being transferred into the Node structure. We now call this a 'failed CMG'. We are OK for this flight and, in the near term, can operate fine with 3. Still, we need to understand what is going on with the CMGs."

He continued "They are supposed to last 8 1/2 years - this was 16% of the way into their design life. We are trying to understand what lead to this. We have put together a 'Root Cause' team to see what happened to this gyro and if there is anything we can do proactively. In the mean time we will not do any maneuvers with the gyros until we understand this event."

"The next team is looking at the next series of flights. The CMGs weigh 600 lbs. We are looking at January 2003 to see if we can get it on board. We'll be asking if adding more truss pieces makes things worse. This second team will look at implications of this dead gyro on the subsequent build process. A third team is looking for the right Shuttle flight to put the replacement CMG on. There may be impact on in ULF1 flight."

NASA has been having problems with laptop computers aboard the ISS. The hard drives have been experiencing failures. These drives have now been replaced with solid state memory systems which are much more resistant to radiation-triggered events. The crew has also been asking for more powerful laptops as their workload goes up. NASA has not been able to meet this demand. "We are looking for radiation-hardened laptops. The new chips are much more sensitive to radiation and single event upsets and hard fails. We're out looking for replacements." Gerstenmeier said. [See "2001 A Space Laptop" for more information on ISS laptops]

Gerstenmeier also spoke of several clever ways that NASA overcame some problems. A cross connection of ground leads was found to exist due to miswiring in the Mobile Remote Service Base System/Mobile Transporter. A replacement cable and connector were sent up on STS-110 to replace the existing cable. This was a custom made cable/connector set dreamed up by a technician in his shop at KSC. There have been some failures in RPCMs (Remote Power Control Modules) aboard ISS [see ISS On-Orbit Status 13 Feb 2002]. The issue arose as to how to get them up. The solution involved carving some holes inside of the packing foam for several manifested payloads and sticking the replacement RPCMs in.

When asked if the presence of space tourist Mark Shuttleworth was in any way disruptive to ISS operations Gerstenmeier said " No. Not a big impact."

NASA Comptroller Steve Isakowitz spoke briefly about the financial status of the ISS program ISS. "This is the most exciting time to be at NASA. There area number of things going right now. We should see some real results in the next 2 to 3 years. That is something to say in Federal government i.e. weÕll know if we have success or failure."

Isakowitz then mentioned management initiatives at NASA - all targeted in one or another with integrating budget with performance. "We are in midst of pulling information together upon which to make judgement. Before we can prioritize we need to establish a true foundation - and that we know what we are - before we start adding and subtracting."

Patrick Ciganer spoke next about upgrades being made to NASA's Integrated Financial Management Program (IFMP). He started off by listing some milestones along the path NASA is travelling in reforming its financial system.

  • CARD: Initial release on 4 April 2002
  • REMAP (Research Maximization and Prioritization Task Force): Final briefing rescheduled to 10 July 2002
  • INC (Integrated NASA Cost Plan) briefing to the ISS program on 2 August 2002. This effort is being led by JSC outside the ISS program office and is focused on an independent assessment of ISS costs
  • Booz-Allen Hamilton ISS reengineering report: due 30 August 2002. This deals with contract consolidation.
  • NASA /CAIG briefing to the NASA Administrator: due 2 September 2002. This effort involves work done by a cost analysis group at DOD. This effort normally takes 12-18 months to complete. Without cutting corners they will complete it in 6 months.
  • NASA FY 2004 budget: due to OMB on 9 September 2002
  • VA/HUD Conference on NASA's FY 2003 budget: due in September
  • International Space Station Management and Cost Evaluation (IMCE) Task Force: delayed from August until September 2002

    "The monthly spending rate in August of FY02 was $150 million per month. That is now down to $90 million per month. We will be getting people off of the program as we deliver hardware. The real challenge comes in FY 2004. That is when we see the largest drop in people. Post Core Complete, we will see what it really takes to operate the ISS. One thing we need that is absolutely critical is to develop a metric against which we can project what it will take to operate this vehicle."

    With regard to full cost accounting Ciganer said "Right now we can only talk about direct costs: contracted and R&D activities - never costs such as civil servants, travel costs, information technology. The FY 2004 budget will be first budget that shows NASA looking very different. This is more than just a budget exercise, it will give managers an idea of what it truly costs to manage their programs."

    The IMCE Task Force recommended projectivization when means full control over the civil servants in the ISS program. This is hard for NASA which is not in business of RIFing people - something which can be done in private sector."

    "The ISS program is costed at $6.6 billion in the FY 2003 budget. If seen in terms of full cost accounting with Center and G&A an additional $0.6 billion is added. Adding civil servant and travel costs means another $0.9 billion. All told this adds $1.5 billion to the listed cost of the ISS program."

    In summarizing the current state of NASA's financial reporting system, Patrick described it as being "a distributed environment. This allows for creativity." There are negative aspects as well "that information stays distributed it is hard to get both a clear and timely snapshot of where the data resides."

    Ciganer said that "the IFMP will allow complete consolidation of cost systems. It allows us to have the ability to have timely data analysis." "Currently", Patrick said "the information is very accurate but not timely. Once you get data it is already several months old." He went on to characterize IFMP as "plumbing that is put into place that will speed up the process."

    According to Ciganer "the first requirement is to develop a common database. Right now there are many databases located in separate environments. We need to have a tiered view of costs - i.e. of programs inside larger ones inside of enterprises. All centers run separate accounting systems. Their output is then consolidated at Headquarters. There is no automated system to do this consolidation - it is currently done manually. This can be frustrating at audit time."

    Ciganer went on to stress the need for a better system saying "We need tools that move from sheer accounting to financial analysis. We keep very good records on what has been spent. What is a problem is forecasting based on current data. Right now, because of the current system, 'what if' and forecasting is limited because of the time required to do these analyses."

    "IFMP started 2 years ago. It will take another 2 to 2 1/2 years to roll out. We felt we could not wait until 2005 to have something up and running. What we have done in the mean time - and response to the IMCE - is to develop semi-manual approach - a 'financial dashbord' that would focus on 4 projects. This is not agency wide - but covers specific elements that are major drives within the agency. We want to see if, between now and late 2004, we can develop a toolkit that can answer some of the most critical questions."

    "MISF [the new accounting tool] is doing this. It is a short term front end that accesses existing datatsets to allow a snap shot to be taken. What we will not have for another 2 years is the ability to get an agency-wide view. We will put the ISS, as a pilot program, on this system this fall. Over time we will begin to link budget and cost/performance information together."

    When asked if industry be brought in to use a common system Ciganer replied "NASAÕs transactions are equivalent to a mid-sized bank. In terms of overall finances they are modest in comparison to large companies. We are not going to run all of the field center accounting systems and a new one in parallel. We are testing this system center by center. Then we'll roll it out in multiple ways. At some point there will then be a hard cutover for all of the agency."

    Another member noted that this was the third attempt at NASA to make IFMP work. "What did not work before?" Ciganer said "We might not know what to do - but we know what not to do. Previous implementations used system software that was developed from scratch. This time we are using commercial underpinnings for our system. Instead of saying that we'll build the entire system and then turn everything on everywhere we are going center by center - and module by module. Developers are the people who will use it - not contractors brought in to develop it."

    Another question asked for comments on Bill Gerstenmeier's earlier presentation where he suggested that cost was not a problem in the current ISS program - and that he knew what his costs would be. Steve Isakowitz jumped in at this point to somewhat contradict what Bill Gerstenmeier seemed to be implying earlier: "We are not ready to say that cost is not a problem. We donÕt know if we have enough money for FY 2004. We will know more later this summer." When pushed on this issue by another NAC member who noted that several NASA people had said that money is available to finish the ISS to Core Complete Isakowitz replied "I would say it differently."

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