Operational Changes and Spending at NASA due to COVID-19

Published: May 07, 2020

Federal Market AnalysisCoronavirus (COVID-19) PandemicNASA

CARES Act funding, status of high-priority missions and COVID-19 contract spending provide some insight into NASA’s operational response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Key Takeaways:

  • The agency received $60M from the CARES Act for operational adjustments in mission delays related to facility closures, NASA outlines which of those missions remain on track and which are taking a back seat.  
  • Thus far, NASA reported nearly $14M in COVID-19 related spending, primarily for professional services to clean the agency’s various centers and labs.
  • Though NASA reports 96 separate COVID related contract actions, only 18% of those actions have dollar values associated with them.

In addition to the contributions NASA has made in the COVID-19 response, the agency is also funneling through its own operational changes brought on by the current pandemic. Thought of as a “hands on” agency, NASA primarily works on missions with on-site processes related to spaceflight and scientific systems development and testing. However, in a matter of weeks, even days, NASA centers across the U.S. have needed to adjust to a remote workforce. As such, NASA must make large-scale decisions to navigate priority missions with current working conditions.  The following will examine NASA’s response to COVID-19 from an operational standpoint, looking at CARES Act funding, contract obligations spending and potential program changes to some of NASA’s missions.  

Operational Changes

It takes a lot to shut down NASA’s centers, understandably so with an agency that pursues so many on-site mission critical functions. In fact, NASA follows its own closure framework due when it comes to situations like inclement weather, and even in public health emergencies. Over the course of the current pandemic, NASA centers moved through the various stages of its framework, even now keeping some centers partially open.  

Operational changes are keenly important at NASA, so much so that the CARES Act allotted $60M to the agency to help in operational adjustments due to mission delays related to center closures. Schedule and cost of NASA missions have continually faced oversight; the GAO typically provides an annual report on the status of many of NASA’s missions. So which missions are facing delays and which are staying the course because of the novel coronavirus? The following is the most recent publicly available information on the status of high-priority NASA missions as of March 20:

Program Name



1. Mars 2020: Perseverance Rover and Mars Helicopter

Preparations for mission launch will continue with limited, critical personnel on site at JPL. The rover must meet its launch deadline or wait an additional 26 months due to planetary alignment constraints.  

2. NASA’s first large-scale, piloted X-plane

Oversight and inspections done almost exclusively virtually.

3. Human Landing System for Lunar Launch in 2024

Minimal impact to the project due to cross agency collaboration and already functioning as a virtual team. However, on-site activity beyond securing hardware is suspended.

4. Ames: Supercomputing resources and NASA’s IT Security Operations Center (SOC)

At Ames, supercomputing kept online to aide COVID research as well as NASA’s SOC and in-flight spacecraft operations.

5. International Space Station (ISS) operations

Flight controllers continue working in the Mission Control Center at Johnson Space Center.

6. Astronaut training

Training before launch typically done in quarantine settings anyways to stabilize astronaut health.

7. Commercial Crew program

Commercial resupply and maintaining ISS safe operations will go on as scheduled.

8. Mission-essential operations for all spacecraft

Includes work associated with the Hubble Space Telescope, the space communications network, and satellite missions that support NOAA and DOD.

On Hold

  1. James Webb Space Telescope

Integration and testing operations suspended.

  1. Artemis program

Work continues with limited production of hardware and software for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Manufacturing and testing of SLS and Orion are on hold. Assembly work continues on the Artemis II Orion spacecraft.


NASA reports 98 separate COVID-19 related contract actions in FPDS, yet 81 of those actions are marked as $0 in contract obligations. The rhyme or reason for the no cost actions is not apparent by contract description, which range from cleaning services to logistics and protective services to compliance with section 3610 of the CARES Act. Below is an analysis of the remaining actions totaling nearly $14M:

Key observations:

  • A task order under the Technology, Engineering, and Aerospace Mission Support (TEAMS) 3 contract at Langley Research Center represents the largest COVID-19 spending order by NASA at $6M. TEAMS 3 is an R&D contract to meet evolving mission research objectives
  • NASA awarded a $5M task order under the Synergy-Achieving Consolidated Operations and Maintenance (SACOM) contract for facility operations and maintenance services for institutional and technical facilities at Stennis Space Center  
  • Spending under Information Technology includes $1.7M for engineering and technician support at Marshall Space Flight Center, $26K for an Office 365 upgrade at NASA’s Shared Services Center, and $20K for the purchase of additional servers at Johnson Space Center
  • 32% of the contract actions reported under Professional Services represent additional cleaning and custodial services at the Stennis, Kennedy and Marshall centers, totaling nearly $338K