NASA spends $1 billion for mobile launcher structure: Report

NASA has sent out few media invites to visit the Michoud Assembly Facility situated in New Orleans on Thursday. NASA wants to show them its recently completed test hardware for the Space Launch System, the new deep-space rocket. On the other side, Vice President Mike Pence will also travel to Kennedy Space Centre, Florida on Wednesday and it is expected that he will see the new launch facilities and ground system during his visit. NASA is now spending billions of dollars on this.

As per the report, media will get to see a test version of the SLS intertank. The SLS will be shipped to the Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama and there NASA’s scientists will conduct some critical testing. NASA also wants to demonstrate the mobile launcher structure which will support the big and heavy SLS rocket. The new ground support vehicle is designed in such a way that it can be used in transporting heavy rockets and components. It will also provide a platform to launch the SLS. The SLS intertank will help to connect the solid rocket boosters to the core stage and it is equipped with many electronic components, and facility ground support system which helps the rocket in flight.

Well, as per the latest report from NASA, the 355-foot-tall towers is now leaning and bending and the lean is not enough to take necessary action. After these kinds of issues, NASA has faced numerous question regarding its longevity. These issues also increased the chances of additional funding of NASA to build a second mobile launcher. It is said that after the flight of the SLS rocket in 2020, this will be not used which means NASA may face major waste of its resources.

It may be noted that the mobile launcher structure first came to limelight nine years ago when NASA was developing this for the launch of the Ares I spacecraft. NASA had spent around $234 million to build this, but factors like delay in the mission and excess cost had led to canceling the government’s Ares I mission, stated NASA’s inspector general, Paul Martin. After that in 2011, NASA started to work on a large rocket, the SLS after being directed by Congress. Then NASA started to find the best way to launch the heavy rocket. The agency got three options, modification of the existing mobile launcher which will cost around $54 million, alteration of the Space Shuttle Mobile Launcher Platforms by spending around $93 million and the last option was to construct a brand new mobile launch platform spending $122 million. NASA went with the first option but things didn’t go as expected and NASA spent around $281.8 million instead of $54 million to modify the mobile launcher. However, the work is still going on and the white house budget of 2019 shows that the agency is expected that the work will cost more $396.2 million. It seems that NASA will spend around $921 million on that mobile launcher which in future will be used for just once. The interesting fact is while NASA can build a launch tower in two years, for modifying the mobile launcher it is taking eight years.

Apart from these issues, NASA is now facing another problem. NASA wants to upgrade SLS’s Exploration Upper Stage which will carry a larger payload and for this NASA needs more 33 months, that means around three-year delay between the first and second flights of SLS.  Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel of NASA has recommended building a second mobile launcher which will cost around $300 million, but the White House’s budget for 2019 has informed that the government may no longer fund NASA for building a second mobile launcher. If it happens then NASA will be in a big trouble in future.


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