NASA is running low on cash to launch a $12 billion rocket system by the end of 2017 as planned, according to federal auditors. The report from the Government Accountability Office (GOA) noted in its report on Wednesday that NASA’s Space Launch System is at high risk of missing its planned December 2017 initial test flight.

NASA

NASA short $400 million

Earlier this summer, the space agency signed a long-term agreement with The Boeing Company (NYSE:BA) to continue work on the project. The post-space shuttle rocket is the biggest rocket ever, even larger than the Saturn V rockets, which can carry people to the moon or send astronauts to asteroids and Mars.

“They can’t meet the date with the money they have,” report author Cristina Chaplain said.

She also said that the delay was not because of any technical problems but because NASA does not have enough money to carry out the massive undertaking. The report from the GAO said that NASA is $400 million short but that the agency was still “making solid progress” on the rocket program design. Officials at NASA said that there is a 90% possibility that the rocket will not be launched at the scheduled time.

NASA left with two choices

Former NASA associate administrator Scott Pace said that NASA will have to postpone the launch date or scale down its ambitions.

“Welcome to aerospace,” said Pace, who believes that large space projects often go around 50% over-budget. He said that “is why you shouldn’t believe initial cost estimates.”

NASA Associate Administrator William Gerstenmaier wrote in the agency’s response that postponing or diverting the money from other programs will not be good for the taxpayers. The space agency has been hesitant to reveal the exact price for the space launch system.  The GAO noted in its report that it would cost $12 billion for the first test launch and more than that eventually to develop increasingly capable vehicles that could be used for launches to asteroids and Mars.

As per the GAO, NASA has two simple choices to overcome the situation. It could either go for the delay or find ways to procure additional funds.