NASA's $273 million launch system is grounded

NASA's $273 million launch system is grounded

NASA yesterday scuttled a new launch control system for the space shuttle because it had run over budget and fallen behind schedule.

A recent assessment of the Checkout and Launch Control System, which the space agency originally estimated would cost $206 million to field, showed costs swelling to between $488 million and $533 million, NASA officials said.

The agency has spent $273 million on the program since it began in 1997, said Bruce Buckingham, news chief at the Kennedy Space Center.

CLCS was a replacement for the 25-year-old Launch Processing System, now used to control shuttle launches and reassume control of spacecraft after landing. NASA spokesman Duane Brown said the agency had carried out upgrades to LPS that would let the agency continue using it to control launches.

The original target date to complete CLCS was December 2000, Buckingham said. According to the recently concluded program review, CLCS wouldn't be ready until July 2005.

NASA began the launch system upgrade to reduce staff and operating costs by half. 'Because of the cost overrun, we were not going to be saving the money,' Buckingham said. 'In addition, LPS has gone through upgrades. It has been determined that it will support launch operation.'

About 100 civil servants working on the CLCS project will be reassigned to other agency work. The program relies on two main contractors, Lockheed Martin Corp. and United Space Alliance, which between them have about 400 workers assigned to the project. Alliance spokeswoman Kari Fluegal said it is too soon to tell if any of the contract employees will be discharged.

NASA estimated it will spend $10 million to close down the CLCS project over the next 60 days.

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