The Cost of SLS and Orion

From its inception in 2011 through the year of its first flight, the Space Launch System rocket program has cost $23.8 billion. The Orion deep space capsule has cost $20.4 billion since the program began in 2006. Related ground infrastructure upgrades cost an additional $5.7 billion since 2012. In total, NASA spent $49.9 billion on these programs between 2006 and their first test launch in 2022.

Annual dollar obligations for NASA's SLS, Orion, and related Exploration Ground Systems, since their conception. Values not adjusted for inflation. Orion predates the start of the SLS as it was originally conceived for the Constellation program, which was canceled in 2010. Source: Human Spaceflight Program Budgets Dataset.


All values are in millions of dollars. Not adjusted for inflation. Source: NASA Congressional Budget Justifications/Human Spaceflight Program Budget Dataset.

NASA reports the official cost of the SLS as $11.8 billion over that same period ($2.7 billion in formulation/design and $9.1 billion for development and implementation). The discrepancy is explained by noting that the $11.8 billion value only includes expenses related to the first launch of the SLS, and does not capture pre-formulation work nor costs associated with the production and development of future rockets and upgraded equipment already underway. As of 2022, NASA states that the development of the Artemis I SLS cost 42.5% more than originally projected.

There is a similar explanation behind the multiple amounts quoted for the Orion capsule, which NASA estimates will cost $13.8 billion to develop through its first crewed launch in 2024. The project began in 2006 as part of NASA’s now-defunct Constellation program. Congress saved it from cancelation in 2010, repurposing it as a deep space crew vehicle exclusively for launch on the SLS. NASA’s accounting for the current program officially began in 2012, and it is from this date that the $13.8 billion amount applies. This amount is 37.4% higher than originally planned to get Orion crew-ready for Artemis II.

Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) provides for the launch services and hardware necessary to launch SLS and Orion into space. It includes such projects at the mobile launcher platforms, crawler-transporters, software development, and upgrades to the Vehicle Assembly Building to accommodate the SLS. Due to “poorly defined requirements, poor contractor performance, and increased material cost” NASA states that the EGS program has cost 40% more than originally expected.

Why we have the SLS

The SLS rests on a secure foundation of political support, a consequence of the U.S. framework of representative democracy and discretionary funding.

Artemis, NASA's Moon landing program

Artemis is NASA's effort to send astronauts back to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo program.