Ice, Cloud,and land Elevation Satellite-2. Credit: Orbital Sciences

WASHINGTON — NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was briefed May 28 on the Earth Science Division’s plan to get the Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (IceSat)-2 back on track after technical problems with the spacecraft’s only instrument caused the project to bust its budget by about $200 million.

The good news, at least for the other three divisions in NASA’s $5 billion-a-year Science Mission Directorate, is that IceSat-2’s overrun will be paid for entirely by the division that incurred it, Michael Freilich, director of the Earth Science Division, said here May 28 at a meeting of the NASA Advisory Council’s Earth science subcommittee.

“It has to,” Freilich told SpaceNews after a presentation to the subcommittee, a NASA chartered body that provides nominally independent feedback about the agency’s Earth-observing missions. 

Some of the overrun — which puts the project’s final price tag about 35 percent higher than the $559 million NASA thought IceSat-2 would cost when the project baseline budget was set in 2012 — will be covered by Earth science missions that ended up costing less than expected. The U.S.-Japanese Global Precipitation Measurement satellite that launched in February is one example. 

NASA has not yet quantified the savings from that mission, but whatever the amount, it will not be $200 million, Freilich told SpaceNews, noting that there will be “some delays” to other Earth science missions. 

In April, during a presentation to the full NASA Advisory Council, Freilich’s deputy, Peg Luce, said the Earth Science Division would tap into its Other Missions and Data Analysis account, which funds ongoing Earth Science missions and scientists who study the data they produce, to pay the IceSat-2 bill. The White House seeks $520 million for this account in 2015 as part of a budget request that did not take the IceSat-2 replan into account.

It was not clear as of press time May 30 whether Bolden had signed off on the IceSat-2 replan. NASA spokesman Stephen Cole did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

IceSat-2’s photon-counting Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System instrument is being built by the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, with help from contractor Fibertek Inc. of Herndon, Virginia.

By law, NASA projects that exceed their established baseline costs by 30 percent or more must be formally replanned — a process that requires buy-in from the NASA administrator and Congress. Assuming Bolden signs off on the Earth Science Division’s IceSat-2 replan, Congress will receive a copy of the report for its perusal.

If NASA leadership does not like Earth Science’s plan, “they could tell me to go back to the showers,” Freilich said here May 28 just hours before he was due on the ninth floor of NASA headquarters here for the IceSat-2 briefing.

Freilich said IceSat-2 will launch in late 2017 or early 2018 aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta 2 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. When the mission passed its internal confirmation review in 2012, launch was penciled in for 2016.

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Dan Leone is the NASA reporter for SpaceNews, where he also covers other civilian-run U.S. government space programs and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He joined SpaceNews in 2011.Dan earned a bachelor's degree in public communications...