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NASA’s second SLS mobile launch tower now behind schedule

Par for the course: According to one member of NASA’s safety panel, the contractor building NASA’s second SLS launch tower, is having performance problems and is already behind schedule.

On Thursday, during a meeting of NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, one of its members provided an update on Mobile Launcher-2. George Nield, an engineer and scientist who previously led commercial space transportation for the Federal Aviation Administration, said the 90-percent design, review, and fabrication drawings for the large structure are behind schedule. These are the engineering drawings that should closely represent the final design and inform a construction schedule and logistics plan.

“Mobile Launcher-2 has encountered some challenges,” Nield said. “The selected contractor, Bechtel, has experienced some performance issues associated with underestimating the complexity of the project and some supplier related issues, as well as COVID.”

Note that NASA spent about $1 billion on the first tower, to be used only three times, at most. Its contract with Bechtel says the second tower will cost $383 million, but no one expects that number to be met.

Assuming Bechtel does not go over budget (hah!), NASA will have spent $1.4 billion on SLS’s launch towers, one of which will be used two or three times and then abandoned. That’s three times the cost of what SpaceX spent developing Falcon Heavy, and about a third the total development cost of Starship/Superheavy, including its planned launchpads in both Boca Chica and Florida.

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18 comments

  • BtB’s Original Mark

    One could say that NASA is forced to ‘plan on’ using SLS to send Orion to Lunar Orbit because SLS/Orion represents jobs for Congressional constituents and large contracts for campaign contributors.

    As an incentive to shelve SLS, why can’t Musk and Bezos and others replace the existing SLS backing donors? Do congressmen really care that much where the funds come from for their re-election campaigns?

    With Senator Shelby retiring at the end of 2022, what other Washington political heavy hitters will continue to back SLS?
    In 2023, if Mitch McConnell chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, would he continue to support SLS? Which congressmen are still beholden to SLS?

  • Alton

    From a Quick look via Stakexchange.com:

    ________________
    “””” SLS major work locations:

    Alabama- Testing & upper stage, engineering design

    Mississippi- Testing

    Utah- Solid rocket motor

    Florida- Launch pad updates

    Louisiana- Core booster, Orion

    California- Main engines

    Colorado- Engineering for upper stage, Orion

    So far as I can tell, it seems like these are where the major contracts are, although I don’t doubt that most states have a large piece. Not a crazy amount of states, but still a pretty good collection.””””

  • pawn

    NASA does what Congress tells them. Congress has a lot of money. The contractors know this. NASA is the middle man.

    SpaceX has no middlemen, just customers and not a lot of subcontractors.

    SpaceX stands to make a few people rich. Congress wants people to vote for them.

    One guy want us to live on Mars.

    Some differences. Not meaning to be glib, sorry if this comes off as such.

  • JhonB

    I find this news surprising. Not at all in form with the progress of the SLS.

  • Col Beausabre

    “Congress has a lot of money.”

    Congress has ZERO money – what they have is OUR money and the responsibility to spend it wisely (Hah!)

    “I find this news surprising. Not at all in form with the progress of the SLS.”

    Man, have you read anything besides NASA propaganda about SLS? Bob, could you educate this guy?

  • I think JhonB was being sarcastic. At least, I hope so.

  • Jeff Wright

    SLS never got Apollo level funding. We’re I king of the world I’d have a Constitutional amendment with NASA getting 50 billion a year and NASA Chief Administrators given lifetime appointments and no ability of DC interfering.

  • Col Beausabre

    “SLS never got Apollo level funding.”

    It was NEVER supposed to get Apollo level funding. It was sold as the CHEAP and EASY way to do things using “proven” technology” and “items we have on hand”

  • pawn

    Col B,

    “Sold” is the operative word here. And the money men bought it.

    SpaceX had to fight their way into the mix. If it wasn’t for Obama wanting to put his thumb in the eye of the old guard, things would be very different now. That guy was poison to the American ideal and thankfully he made the “mistake” of giving Musk a chance. It was a decision that was ripe for the making as the incumbents were sucking the space budget dry. I don’t think he had enough going on upstairs to have understood the very broad consequences (he was not alone) but he was a part of the things that happened in a narrow window of time that proved to be effective. IMO the jury is still out on Star Ship but the Falcon program is/was an historical gamechanger.

  • pawm

    And as a person who has designed stuff for NASA before I can tell you that they are the WORST to deal with. NASA is also known as Never A STRAIGHT ANSWER. I’m 95% sure that the majority of the cost overruns are due to NASA design churn and delegation of authority. The contractors know this and don’t do too much to force their hand because they are getting paid to jump through what ever hoop of the week NASA sets up for them.

  • JhonB

    @Col Beausabre

    As Bob thought, I was a sarcastic remark directed at NASA. They like to throw money into woodchippers.

  • pzatchok

    Think of it this way.

    One subcontractor hears that the SLS project is dropping behind schedule but everyone associated keeps getting paid. In fact paid even more.

    So why shouldn’t his little part of the project drop behind its own schedule. As long as he doesn’t get fired why not?

  • Ray Van Dune

    So what’s the scoop on the cruise ship that interfered with the latest SpaceX launch? Did he ignore the exclusion zone, or did he not know the zone had shifted to the south, instead of the East?

  • BtB’s Original Mark

    Bob,
    Thanks for your clarification that JhonB was being sarcastic. You may have missed the first comment which was mine and that ended with these questions-
    “With Senator Shelby retiring at the end of 2022, what other Washington political heavy hitters will continue to back SLS?
    In 2023, if Mitch McConnell chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, would he continue to support SLS? Which congressmen are still beholden to SLS?“

    What can you inform us about current Washington Politics and SLS?

  • Original Mark asked, “What can you inform us about current Washington Politics and SLS?”

    Do a search on BtB for SLS and Shelby. If you confine your search to SLS and review those posts, I think it will also help.

    Do both searches, and I think you’ll get a good idea.

  • Herman D Hurt

    If today’s reality was a 1950’s movie with the plot that a rogue planet was approaching us on a collision course (“When Worlds Collide”) and we had to rely on NASA and Roscosmos to save mankind, we’d be doomed. Yep, pretty much screwed! The FAA impeding SpaceX’s progress to launch Superheavy/Starship, shows that the US government is actively thwarting any legitimate progress.

  • LocalFulff

    Oh no oh no!!!
    Whoever could’ve expected such a setback?
    Will all space exploration stagnate now?

  • Star Bird

    Letting China get the Head-Start more Treason from Biden

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