NASANational Aeronautics and Space AdministrationOffice of Inspector GeneralOffice of AuditsNASA’S PLANETARYSCIENCE PORTFOLIOSeptember 16, 2020Report No. IG-20-023
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RESULTS IN BRIEFNASA’s Planetary Science PortfolioNASA Office of Inspector GeneralOffice of AuditsSeptember 16, 2020IG-20-023 (A-19-013-00)WHY WE PERFORMED THIS AUDITNASA’s Planetary Science Division (PSD) is responsible for a portfolio of spacecraft, including orbiters, landers, rovers,and probes, that seek to advance our understanding of the solar system by exploring the Earth’s Moon, other planetsand their moons, asteroids and comets, and the icy bodies beyond Pluto. Currently, the planetary science portfolioconsists of 30 space flight missions in various stages of operation. PSD missions fall under three categories: Discovery(small-class missions with development costs capped at 500 million); New Frontiers (medium-class missions withestimated development costs under 1 billion); and Flagship (large-class missions costing several billion dollars). With aproposed budget averaging 2.8 billion annually for the next 5 years, PSD is forecasted to maintain the largest budget ofthe six divisions within NASA’s Science Mission Directorate while supporting a wide range of exploration and researchactivities recommended by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (National Academies) ormandated by Congress. Over the coming decade, NASA is planning to launch missions to return planetary samples fromMars, send spacecraft to Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Titan, and work with commercial vendors to sendmultiple landers to Earth’s Moon.In this audit, we assessed NASA’s management of its planetary science portfolio and examined whether PSD is meetingestablished goals and priorities. Specifically, we evaluated whether the planetary science portfolio is (1) addressing theNational Academies’ recommendations; (2) maintaining and enhancing its infrastructure, including workforce, supportfacilities, and technology; (3) achieving technical objectives; and (4) satisfying congressional requirements. To completethis work, we interviewed PSD and other NASA officials, reviewed the status of PSD missions, and reviewed relevantfederal and NASA policies and procedures.WHAT WE FOUNDPSD has taken positive steps in response to recommendations and goals outlined by the National Academies, includingactions to (1) implement recommended missions; (2) meet spending goals in the areas of research and analysis, andtechnology development; (3) address Mars Exploration Program challenges; and (4) further develop radioisotope power.However, as NASA’s planetary science missions become more complex, the life-cycle costs within each of PSD’s threemission classes are increasing due to project management challenges and mission complexity. For example, Dragonfly,the next New Frontiers mission, has an estimated 2 billion life-cycle cost. Comparatively, prior New Frontiers missionssuch as Juno and the Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) hadlife-cycle costs of roughly 1 billion each. These increasing costs, if not addressed, may result in a reduced cadence offuture missions given budget limitations that will mean fewer opportunities to demonstrate new technologies.While PSD and the Centers are focused on meeting current mission needs, they are at risk of neglecting investmentsthat would help ensure long-term maintenance of NASA’s unique planetary science infrastructure. These include(1) sustaining technical capabilities to support future mission needs; (2) a workforce facing increasing risk from animpending wave of retirements that is exacerbated by the lack of sufficient workforce data for management to makeinformed decisions, challenges associated with transfer of knowledge, and limited awareness of hiring authority bestpractices; (3) a lack of adequate funding to repair, maintain, and modernize the Deep Space Network, which provides
tracking, telemetry, and command services for deep space missions; and (4) funding mid-level technology development.Moreover, the lack of a cohesive “One NASA” approach by stakeholders, including Center management, MissionDirectorate management, and NASA’s technical workforce, is hindering the Agency’s ability to identify, prioritize, andaddress longer-term risks to planetary science infrastructure.In examining discrete planetary science missions, the Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program (LDEP) is acceptinghigher risk than necessary in the Commercial Launch Provider Services (CLPS) project, which provides contracts toU.S. commercial entities to develop landers to deliver NASA science instruments and other payloads to the Moon’ssurface. Specifically, LDEP has not established a common interface to integrate lunar payloads with the landers fromselected CLPS contractors, as advised by the National Academies. Additionally, contracting personnel did not evaluatepast performance and financial history risks during their evaluation of prospective CLPS contractors and instead reliedon contractors self-certifying future funding availability despite poor business, financial histories, and prior performance.Finally, NASA did not develop safety and mission assurance plans for relevant CLPS task order awards, as required byNASA policy and FAR guidelines. If not adequately addressed, these risks could result in mission failure and the loss ofNASA payloads and significant taxpayer investment.Finally, the Near-Earth Object Observations (NEOO) Program resources remain insufficient to meet the program’scongressional mandate of cataloging near-Earth objects (NEO). Scientists classify comets and asteroids that pass within28 million miles of Earth’s orbit as NEOs. In 2005, Congress mandated that NASA detect, track, catalogue, andcharacterize 90 percent of the NEOs equal to or greater than 140 meters in diameter. However, the Agency hasconsistently underfunded the NEOO Program. Without substantially increased funding to build a space-based infraredtelescope, NASA will likely not meet the mandate until 2040—20 years after the original 2020 goal. Additionally, weidentified specific instances of inappropriate use of grants for the construction of telescopes and operation andmaintenance of an observatory where a contract would be more appropriate and would provide NASA greater oversightand the ability to minimize risks of improper spending.WHAT WE RECOMMENDEDTo improve NASA’s management of its planetary science portfolio, we made 11 recommendations to the AssociateAdministrator for Science Mission Directorate and Chief Human Capital Officer, including to: (1) communicate to theNational Academies realistic costs of planetary science missions and consider resetting the cost caps; (2) identifysolutions to adequately fund and sustain critical discipline capabilities; (3) complete an assessment of the Deep SpaceNetwork’s infrastructure in order to develop and implement a maintenance and upgrade plan to support PSD missions;(4) establish a common interface between instrument and spacecraft for CLPS contractors; (5) evaluate and monitorCLPS contractors’ performance and financial capabilities risk; and (6) reassess NEOO Program’s priority in meeting thegoal of cataloging 90 percent of the NEOs larger than 140 meters.We provided a draft of this report to NASA management, who concurred with all of our recommendations. We considermanagement’s comments responsive; therefore, the recommendations are resolved and will be closed upon verificationand completion of the proposed corrective actions.For more information on the NASAOffice of Inspector General and toview this and other reports visithttp://oig.nasa.gov/.
TABLE OF CONTENTSIntroduction . 1Background . 2Planetary Science Division Is Generally Meeting Science Goals and Objectives, But GrowingMission Costs May Affect Future Mission Cadence . 10Planetary Science Division Is Generally Meeting National Academies Goals . 10Rising Mission Costs May Affect Future Mission Cadence . 14Deteriorating Infrastructure Places Planetary Science Technical Capabilities and FutureMissions at Risk . 17Planetary Science Division Needs More Focused Efforts to Sustain Technical Capabilities andSupport Future Missions . 17Planetary Science Division Not Adequately Assessing and Mitigating Workforce Risks . 19NASA Risks Future Planetary Science Division Missions by Not Adequately Funding Deep SpaceNetwork Repair and Maintenance . 25Mid-Level Technology Development Could Be Better Supported for Future Missions. 28Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program Is Accepting Undue Risk in Commercial LunarPayload Services . 30Commercial Lunar Payload Services Project . 30NASA Lacks Common Interfaces between Instruments and Landers . 31NASA Did Not Perform Due Diligence in Selecting Commercial Lunar Payload ServicesContractors . 32NASA Lacks Safety and Mission Assurance Plans for Two Commercial Lunar PayloadServices Awards . 34Insufficient Resources Prevent Near-Earth Object Observation Program From Meeting Goals . 36Planetary Defense Program . 36NASA Will Not Meet the Congressional Mandate by 2020 . 37NASA Has Consistently Underfunded the NEOO Program . 38Insufficient Oversight of Grantees . 39Conclusion . 42Recommendations, Management’s Response, and Our Evaluation . 43Appendix A: Scope and Methodology . 45Appendix B: Missions in the Planetary Science Portfolio . 50Appendix C: Management’s Comments . 64Appendix D: Report Distribution . 70NASA Office of Inspector GeneralIG-20-023 i
IS-RExPDCOPQASPPSDRPSSTEMTRLWBSAsteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert SystemBeam WaveguideCode of Federal RegulationsCommercial Lunar Payload ServicesCapability Leadership TeamDouble Asteroid Redirection TestDepartment of EnergyDeep Space NetworkFederal Acquisition Regulationfiscal yearGovernment Accountability Officehigh efficiencyInterior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat TransportJet Propulsion LaboratoryLunar Discovery and Exploration Programnear-Earth objectNear-Earth Object ObservationsNear-Earth Object Surveillance MissionNASA ExceptedNASA Policy DirectiveNASA Procedural RequirementsOffice of the Chief Human Capital OfficerOrbit Beyond Inc.Office of Inspector GeneralOrigins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification and Security-Regolith ExplorerPlanetary Defense Coordination OfficeProject Quality Assurance Surveillance PlanPlanetary Science DivisionRadioisotope Power Systemsscience, technology, engineering, and mathematicsTechnology Readiness Levelwork breakdown structureNASA Office of Inspector GeneralIG-20-023 ii
INTRODUCTIONNASA’s Planetary Science Division (PSD) is responsible for a portfolio of spacecraft, including orbiters,landers, rovers, and probes, that seek to advance our understanding of the solar system by exploring theEarth’s Moon, other planets and their moons, asteroids and comets, and the icy bodies beyond Pluto.Since it was formed in 1958, NASA has sent spacecraft to every planet and many small planetary bodiesacross the solar system. External stakeholders heavily influence PSD’s portfolio, with the Divisionsupporting a wide range of exploration and research activities recommended by the National Academiesof Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (National Academies) or mandated by Congress.The planetary science portfolio budget has grown from 1.4 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2015 to 2.7 billionin FY 2020 (see Figure 1). With proposed budgets averaging 2.8 billion annually for the next 5 years,PSD is forecasted to maintain the largest budget of the six divisions within NASA’s Science MissionDirectorate.1 Over the coming decade, NASA is planning to launch missions to bring home planetarysamples from Mars, send spacecraft to Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Titan, and send aseries of landers to Earth’s Moon using commercial vendors, among other endeavors.Figure 1: PSD Budget, FYs 2015 through 2025Source: NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) presentation of PSD budget data extracted from annual budget requests.1The Science Mission Directorate also includes the Astrophysics Division, Biological and Physical Sciences Division, EarthScience Division, Heliophysics Division, and the Joint Agency Satellite Division. In FY 2018, PSD surpassed the Earth ScienceDivision as the division with the largest budget.NASA Office of Inspector GeneralIG-20-023 1
In this audit, we assessed NASA’s management of its planetary science portfolio and examined whetherPSD is meeting established goals and priorities. Specifically, we evaluated whether the planetary scienceportfolio is (1) addressing the National Academies’ recommendations, (2) maintaining and enhancing itsinfrastructure (i.e., workforce, support facilities, and technology), (3) achieving technical objectives, and(4) satisfying congressional requirements. See Appendix A for details on our scope and methodology.BackgroundSince its inception, NASA’s planetary science program has sought to understand the solar system whileadvancing the capabilities of spacecraft and robotic engineering. Planetary scientists are studying theatmospheres and surfaces of planets, determining their origins, and identifying characteristics ofasteroids that may present a hazard to Earth. For the first time, NASA plans to conduct missions thatwill return samples from Mars and an asteroid. Planetary science work will potentially enable futurerobotic or human exploration throughout the solar system.Planetary Science Division Strategic Objective and ScienceGoalsPSD’s strategic objective is to understand our solar system’s planets and smaller bodies. In support ofthis objective, PSD aims to achieve five overarching science goals:1. Advance the understanding of how the chemical and physical processes in our solar systemoperate, interact, and evolve.2. Explore and observe the objects in the solar system to understand how they formed andevolved.3. Explore and find locations where life could have existed or could exist today.4. Improve our understanding of the origin and evolution of life on Earth to guide our search forlife elsewhere.5. Identify and characterize objects in the solar system that pose threats to Earth or offerresources for human exploration.Planetary Science Portfolio Programs and MissionsThe planetary science portfolio is composed of eight programs—Discovery, New Frontiers, MarsExploration, Lunar Discovery and Exploration, Outer Planets and Ocean Worlds, Planetary ScienceResearch, Planetary Defense, and Radioisotope Power Systems—consisting of 30 space flight missions invarious stages of operation.2 Specifically, eight missions are in implementation, five in primaryoperations, eight in extended operations, and nine are future missions (see Figure 2).2The Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program is not organizationally located under PSD but is instead managed by theDeputy Associate Administrator for Exploration within the Science Mission Directorate. However, the work of this office ispart of NASA’s planetary science portfolio and its funding is provided within PSD’s annual budget allocation. For simplicity,we address Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program projects and tasks as part of the planetary science portfolio throughoutthis report.NASA Office of Inspector GeneralIG-20-023 2
Figure 2: Selected Current and Upcoming Missions within the Planetary Science PortfolioSource: NASA.Note: The following four prospective missions are not reflected above: LunaH-Map (Implementation), Europa Lander (Pre-Formulation), MarsSample Return (Pre-Formulation), Janus (Formulation), Lunar Trailblazer (Formulation), and Near-Earth Object Surveillance Mission (Formulation).PSD’s missions are categorized as small, medium, or large class. Small- and medium-class missions fallunder the Discovery or New Frontiers programs, respectively. Large-class missions, also known asFlagship missions, are scattered across several programs based on the mission’s objectives and sciencegoals. Flagship missions are directed by NASA or Congress, rather than selected by PSD from proposalssubmitted by NASA centers or partners and can cost several billion dollars. These missions are strategicin nature and designed to address a wide range of important science objectives at high-priority targetsand typically carry a large and sophisticated payload of instruments. Current Flagship missions are beingmanaged under the Mars Exploration Program and the Outer Planets and Ocean Worlds Program.NASA Office of Inspector GeneralIG-20-023 3
Discovery ProgramThe Discovery Program supports small-class missions—those missions that have development costscapped at 500 million—that explore planetary bodies as well as comets and asteroids.3 These missionsare the smallest in scope and have a regular,predictable, and rapid launch cadence (the goal being24 months or less). Discovery missions are competed,meaning that NASA solicits proposals and selectsfrom concepts developed by principal investigators.4The Agency is currently managing three Discoverymissions: the Interior Exploration using SeismicInvestigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight)lander is currently in operation on Mars, while theLucy and Psyche missions are still in development.5PSD is also reviewing proposals from its 2019solicitation for Discovery missions.6New Frontiers ProgramThe New Frontiers Program is composed ofmedium-class missions with estimated developmentcosts under 1 billion.7 New Frontiers missions areexpected to follow a regular, predictable launchcadence of one new mission every 5 years. Similar toDiscovery missions, New Frontiers missions arecompeted, and PSD currently has three missions inoperation: New Horizons, Juno, and the OriginsSpectral Interpretation Resource IdentificationSecurity Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx).8 The NewFrontiers Program is also developing the Dragonflymission, which will explore the surface of Saturn’smoon Titan and demonstrate rotorcraft capabilities.93The Discovery cost cap includes the development costs of the mission but does not include the launch vehicle or operationscosts.4A principal investigator is a researcher who has overall responsibility for all aspects of a funded and/or sponsored researchproject.5For more information on the InSight, Lucy, and Psyche missions, see Appendix B.6PSD is considering four missions—a Venus atmosphere descent sphere and orbiter, an observer to explore Jupiter’s moon Io,an observer to explore Neptune’s moon Triton, and a Venus surface-mapping orbiter—of which the Division may select oneor two as the next Discovery missions.7Similar to Discovery missions, the New Frontiers cost cap does not include the cost of the launch vehicle or operations costs.8See Appendix B for mission descriptions.9For more information on the Dragonfly mission, see Appendix B.NASA Office of Inspector GeneralIG-20-023 4
Mars Exploration ProgramThe Mars Exploration Program oversees threeoperating orbiters, the Mars Science Laboratorymission’s Curiosity rover, and a series of upcomingmissions to return Mars samples to Earth.10 PSD hasfour overarching goals for Mars exploration:(1) determine if life ever existed on the planet,(2) characterize the climate, (3) characterize thegeology, and (4) prepare for human exploration. InJuly 2020, NASA launched its next Mars ExplorationProgram Flagship mission, the Mars 2020Perseverance rover. Perseverance will seek signs ofpast life, collect and store a set of samples for returnto Earth on a future mission, and test new technologyto benefit future robotic or human exploration of Mars.Lunar Discovery and Exploration ProgramThe Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program (LDEP) is a key component of NASA’s lunar explorationstrategy, including supporting the Artemis program.11 LDEP manages a series of contracts withU.S. commercial entities under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) project to deliver scienceinstruments and other payloads to the lunar surface. In addition to CLPS, LDEP is also developinginstruments, small spacecraft (SmallSats), and rovers for the continuation of lunar science.12 Finally,LDEP is managing operations of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is mapping the Moon’s surface.Outer Planets and Ocean Worlds ProgramThe Outer Planets and Ocean Worlds Program enables science investigations spanning the diversity ofworlds suspected of having large liquid bodies underneath thick layers of ice in the outer solar system.The Europa Clipper is the largest Flagship mission within the Program and plans to fly by Jupiter’s moonEuropa 44 times over a 4-year period to investigate whether conditions on the moon are potentiallysuitable for life and it may also identify sites for a future lander mission.13 In addition, the Program isdeveloping technology to explore the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn; support European Space Agencyefforts to explore the Jupiter system, including the moon Ganymede; and conduct outer planets research.10The Mars Exploration Program operates three orbiters—Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the MarsAtmosphere and Volatile Evolution orbiters—that conduct science and provide communication and data relay services to andfrom missions operating on the Martian surface. See Appendix B for more information about these orbiters and other Marssurface missions.11The Artemis program is managed by NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate and represents thelargest development of space flight capabilities NASA has attempted since the first Space Shuttle was launched more than38 years ago. Artemis missions to the Moon will expand the Agency’s capabilities to transport crew and large amounts ofcargo beyond low Earth orbit.12SmallSats are small satellites roughly the size of a large kitchen refrigerator and generally less than 180 kilograms in mass. Inaddition, PSD’s next planned rover mission is the NASA-built Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, which isintended to provide key information on the distribution of volatiles (e.g., water, methane, and hydrogen) on the lunarsurface in the Moon’s South Pole region.13We previously reported on NASA’s management of its Europa missions. See NASA OIG, Management of NASA’s EuropaMission (IG-19-019, May 29, 2019).NASA Office of Inspector GeneralIG-20-023 5
Planetary Science Research ProgramThe primary purpose of the Planetary Science Research Program is to address the five scientific goals ofPSD through analysis of data from NASA missions. The Program also supports PSD activities bycollecting, archiving, and making accessible digital data produced by NASA’s planetary missions,research programs, and data analysis. Through analysis of this data, the Program develops new theoriesand instrumentation concepts that enable the next generation of space flight missions. For example, itidentified that Jupiter’s magnetic field had changed over time after reviewing data from the Juno mission.The Program also funds staff working on emerging flight projects and instruments. The PlanetaryScience Research Program also (1) develops and assesses multi-mission software tools for spacecraftnavigation, command, and control; (2) assists in mission planning; (3) curates astromaterials (e.g.,planetary, lunar, and asteroid samples); and (4) conducts informal education outreach by collaboratingwith university faculty, graduate students, and the science community through research grants.Planetary Defense ProgramThe Planetary Defense Program is responsible for managing NASA’s efforts to mitigate the effects of anear-Earth object (NEO) event.14 NEOs are comets and asteroids that pass within 28 million miles ofEarth’s orbit. The Program’s Planetary DefenseCoordination Office administers the Near-EarthObject Observations (NEOO) Program, which fundsand coordinates efforts to detect, observe, andcharacterize NEOs that can potentially impact Earth.NEOO’s efforts are coordinated with communityscientists using ground- and space-based telescopessupported by NASA, the National Science Foundation,and the U.S. Air Force.The Planetary Defense Program also manages theDouble Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) project,which will demonstrate techniques to change thetrajectory of an asteroid in space that couldpotentially endanger Earth.Radioisotope Power Systems ProgramPSD is supporting efforts to advance radioisotope power technology through investments in newgenerators and production of plutonium-238 (Pu-238). PSD missions rely on radioisotope power whensolar power is not feasible or sufficient to power the spacecraft.15 The Radioisotope Power SystemsProgram, managed by Glenn Research Center, is currently developing a next-generation generator aswell as expanding capabilities to produce Pu-238 to power those generators. The Department of Energy(DOE) currently maintains about 35 kilograms of Pu-238 isotope designated for NASA missions, about14NASA is responsible for providing expert input to other federal government agencies such as the Federal EmergencyManagement Agency in the case of a potential NEO impact.15Solar power is used to generate electricity for most Earth-orbiting spacecraft, as well as for certain missions to the Moon andplaces beyond that offer sufficient sunlight and natural heat. However, PSD missions that visit some of the harshest, darkest,and coldest locations in the solar system would be impossible or extremely limited without the use of nuclear power.NASA Office of Inspector GeneralIG-20-023 6
half of which meets power specifications for space flight. However, in September 2017, theGovernment Accountability Office (GAO) reported that this supply could be exhausted within the nextdecade based on NASA’s solar system exploration plans.16 DOE has reestablished the ability to producePu-238 for NASA and has plans to increase production to 1.5 kilograms annually by 2026, which NASAforecasts to be sufficient to meet near-term needs.Planetary Science Division BudgetFor FY 2020, PSD’s budget was about 2.7 billion, and is anticipated to grow to 2.8 billion over the next5 fiscal years (see Table 1).Table 1: Planetary Science Division Budget by Program Area, FYs 2020 through 2025Fiscal Year (dollars in ested) (estimated)202320242025(estimated) (estimated) (estimated) 506.3 484.3 424.4 434.8 570.1 505.8New Frontiers142.8179.0314.3332.8326.9285.0Mars Exploration565.7528.5588.4671.2798.7855.3Lunar Discovery and Exploration300.0451.5517.3491.3458.3458.3Outer Planets and Ocean Worlds628.5414.1370.7239.4192.3171.7Planetary Science Research281.7305.4288.6285.1295.2286.7Planetary Defense150.0150.0147.297.698.098.0Radioisotope Power Systems138.5146.3150.1162.8165.4169.8 2,713.4 2,659.6 2,800.9 2,714.9 2,904.8 2,830.7TotalSource: NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) presentation of PSD budget data.Note: Numbers may not add up
RESULTS IN BRIEF NASA’s Planetary Science Portfolio September 16, 2020Office of Audits NASA Office of Inspector General IG-20-023 (A-19-013-00) NASA’s Planetary Science Division (PSD) is responsible for a portfolio