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.