NASA Cancels Mission to Study Effects of Black Holes, Neutron Stars

Just a poster. The GEMS mission is being axed because of cost overruns.


NASA has cancelled a mission that was scheduled to be launched in 2014 to study the warping of space around black holes and map the structure of magnetic fields around neutron stars.

The Gravity and Extreme Magnetism Small Explorer (GEMS), under development at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, was supposed to cost no more than $119 million. But independent external reviews of the project found that the final costs were likely to exceed that cap by 20% to 30%.

As a result, NASA decided to pull the plug on the project. The agency has already spent around $37 million on the design of instruments for the mission. NASA anticipates paying contractors another $13 million to close out the project.

“One of the major contributors of the increased cost was that the technology development was more difficult and took longer than they (the mission planners) had originally estimated,” Paul Hertz, head of NASA’s astrophysics division, said, announcing the project’s cancellation this afternoon.

Proponents of the mission presented the agency’s management with additional information in recent weeks in a bid to get NASA to reverse the decision, Hertz says. But officials did not relent, in part because “GEMS had been initiated under a cost-cap competition,” Hertz says. “As such, the cost cap is a very important aspect of the project.”