In terminating the Gravity and Extreme Magnetism Small Explorer (GEMS) project, an X-ray telescope mission that was launched to study black holes and various space-time theories, NASA has left taxpayers with a bill worth $43.5 million. The program’s overall price tag was initially marked at $119 million (not including the rocket that was to be launched into orbit), but the space agency has already doled out tens of millions of dollars, and the project was 20 to 30 percent over budget, according to briefing charts received by SpaceNews.com.
GEMS had been blueprinted, but not yet constructed, and it would have designed X-ray telescopes that are sensitive to polarized light, intended to provide astronomers with a tool to examine magnetic fields surrounding neutron stars, black holes, and other high-energy objects.
According to SpaceNews.com, axing the X-ray telescope mission will also cost the agency millions of dollars in fees, inflating the total liability cost to as much as $56 million. “The GEMS project was initiated under a very well designed cost cap … it was clear they would not be able be completed within their cost cap,” NASA astrophysics director Paul Hertz noted.
NASA made the decision to shutter the GEMS project last month after an independent cost estimate revealed that it would likely surpass a revised $135-million cost cap that was instituted on spacecraft development early this year. Adding to the $43.5 million that was spent by May, termination liability costs could total about $13 million, with aerospace contractor Orbital Sciences Corporation owing nearly half of that amount.
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