ALU

Mobile Launcher

NASA seeking proposals for second mobile launch platform

The second mobile launch platform for the SLS will be similar to the first, but sized to accommodate the taller Block 1B, and later Block 2, versions of the Space Launch System. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

WASHINGTON — NASA has issued a call for proposals to construct a second mobile launch platform that will be used by an upgraded version of the Space Launch System rocket starting in the early 2020s.

NASA issued a solicitation June 29 for Mobile Launcher 2 (ML2), its name for the second platform. The procurement will go in a two-step process, starting with a request for qualifications due at the end of July. NASA plans to invite up to five companies from that initial phase to submit full-fledged proposals, due in November.

In procurement documents, NASA said that Mobile Launcher 2 “is similar in nature to and concept of operations” to the existing mobile launch platform, originally built for the Constellation program and since modified to support the Block 1 version of the SLS. The new mobile launcher, though, will be built for the taller SLS Block 1B rocket, which uses the larger Exploration Upper Stage in place of the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) for the Block 1 version.

The new platform is also intended to support future versions of the SLS. “NASA’s intent is to incorporate flexibility and expandability (modularity) into the ML2 design, necessary to accommodate future modifications for the ‘Block 2’ (B2B) vehicle crewed and uncrewed payload configurations,” the documents state. The specific design of the Block 2 version of the SLS, intended to launch up to 130 metric tons into low Earth orbit, has not been set, nor a date for first launch.

Mobile Launcher 2 will be used, like the first mobile launcher, as the platform for assembling and testing the SLS in the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center, transporting the rocket to Launch Complex 39B, and supporting the vehicle’s launch. The platform includes various interfaces for fueling the rocket, providing power and data, and a crew access arm.

NASA expects to award a contract for Mobile Launcher 2 in February 2019, with a period of performance not to exceed 44 months. That schedule would have the platform completed by late 2022. A first launch of the Block 1B version of the SLS would thus not take place until after that, likely 2023.

NASA’s original plans called for modifying the existing mobile launcher after the first SLS Block 1 launch, currently scheduled for late 2019 but widely expected to slip into 2020, so that it could be used for Block 1B launches on the second and subsequent SLS missions. That raised concerns about a long gap between SLS missions, estimated at 33 months, primarily because of the work needed to modify the launch platform.

Despite a recommendation from NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel that the agency build a second platform, NASA did not include funding for it in its fiscal year 2019 budget proposal released in February. “We’ve got a funding level, and it’s got to be shared among the various priorities,” Bill Hill, NASA deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development, said at a conference shortly after the budget’s release.

However, the final omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2018 passed by Congress in March included $350 million to start work on a second platform. “The funds also will allow flexibility for future NASA and other Federal agency missions that will require heavy-lift capabilities beyond those of current launch vehicles as well as enable a sustainable Space Launch System (SLS) launch cadence,” the report accompanying the bill stated.

Building Mobile Launcher 2, rather than modifying the first platform, will allow that first platform to be used for additional flights of the SLS Block 1. NASA now expects to carry out at least one more launch of the Block 1 version, either carrying a crewed Orion spacecraft or another payload, such as the Europa Clipper mission. A crewed mission would require human-rating the ICPS, which was not originally planned when the Block 1 was to fly a single uncrewed mission.

NASA has not provided a formal cost estimate for Mobile Launcher 2. The Senate’s version of a fiscal year 2019 appropriations bill would give NASA an additional $255 million the bill states is needed to complete the platform.

“By providing the funds to complete a second mobile launch platform, NASA will have greater mission flexibility to launch using SLS launch vehicle variants that utilize both the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage and Exploration Upper Stage engines,” the report accompanying the Senate bill states. “This flexibility will allow for SLS to have a more regular launch cadence, enable earlier crewed launches for future lunar missions, and provide further opportunities for scientific missions, such as the Europa Clipper.”

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NASA may extend space station missions to address potential commercial crew delays

ISS

WASHINGTON — NASA is in discussions with its Russian counterparts about extending some upcoming space station missions as a way to buy more time for development of commercial crew vehicles.

During an April 12 hearing by the commerce, justice and science subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on the agency’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposal, NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot said longer “increments” of crews on the ISS could be one way to provide more schedule margin in the event of additional delays by Boeing and SpaceX in the development of their crewed spacecraft.

“Right now we don’t show a gap” in U.S. access to the International Space Station, Lightfoot said in response to a question posed by subcommittee chairman Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas). “But we’re looking at options at what can we do to not have a gap.”

“We’re working with our partners, our Russian partners, on if we can have longer increments for crew members that go up,” he said.

He revisited that later in the hearing. “One thing we have is a great relationship with our Russians partners, and we’re looking at other alternatives about potentially extending mission duration for the current missions that are there so that we don’t gap the ability to get there,” he said.

NASA’s current agreement with flying astronauts on Soyuz vehicles expires next year, after the agency purchased three seats on Soyuz flights launching in the spring of 2019 and returning in the fall. It’s not clear what would be involved in extending ISS mission durations, such as any technical issues regarding how long a Soyuz spacecraft can remain docked to the ISS.

NASA announced April 5 it had updated its existing commercial crew contract with Boeing to study modifications to the crewed test flight for the company’s CST-100 Starliner. Those modifications would include adding a third astronaut and extending the spacecraft’s stay at the ISS from two weeks to as long as six months. Those changes, Lightfoot noted at the hearing, were another way to mitigate the effects of additional development delays.

At the hearing, Lightfoot said there was still schedule margin for the development of Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon to be ready by the fall of 2019. Schedules last updated in January call for both companies to make uncrewed test flights of their vehicles in August. Boeing would then make a crewed test flight in November, followed by SpaceX in December.

Lightfoot, though, hinted that those schedules would be delayed again. “We still expect to see the first test flights at the end of this year,” he said, later elaborating that these were the uncrewed test flights for both companies.

Culberson asked when the crewed test flights would take place, and Lightfoot said he would take that for the record. “I’m focused on the uncrewed one right now,” he said.

Juggling the SLS launch schedule

Lightfoot also said at the hearing that NASA was revisiting the schedule for Space Launch System missions based on the unexpected windfall it received in the final 2018 omnibus appropriations bill.

That bill, signed into law March 23, provided $350 million for NASA to build a second mobile launch platform for the SLS. NASA officials said last year a second platform could help shorten the gap between the first and second SLS launches, but did not include funding for it in its 2019 budget proposal, citing competing priorities.

That second launch platform, which would be designed for the Block 1B version of the SLS with the larger Exploration Upper Stage, would reduce the 33-month “iron bar” in the schedule between the first two SLS missions created by the time needed to modify the current platform. That platform has been built to support the Block 1 version of SLS, which uses the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS).

Lightfoot said that having a second launch platform opens the door to launching a second SLS mission with the ICPS. That could be used, he said, to launch the Europa Clipper mission, which could be ready for launch as soon as 2022. NASA’s 2019 budget proposal, though, plans a 2025 launch of Europa Clipper using a commercially-procured launch vehicle rather than SLS.

Another option would be to fly the first crewed Orion mission, known as Exploration Mission (EM) 2, on that second SLS Block 1. “If EM-2 flies that way, we would have to change the mission profile because we can’t do what we would do if we had the Exploration Upper Stage,” he said. “But that still gets humans in orbit and still allows us to check out all the systems that we wouldn’t check out on EM-1.”

He indicated that the funding for the second mobile launch platform took the agency by surprise. “You’re going to have to give us a little time, because that was just a couple weeks ago that we found out that we were getting that,” he said.

Defending budget cuts

The two-hour hearing by the subcommittee was largely cordial, with members thanking Lightfoot for his record-setting service as acting administrator. Lightfoot announced last month he will retire from the agency at the end of April.

He was called on by some members, though, to defend cuts in the 2019 proposal. That included NASA’s education office as well as four Earth science missions, all of which the administration sought to cut in 2018 but which Congress ultimately funded.

Lightfoot said it was continuing to work on those programs funded in 2018 despite the administration’s new effort to cancel them. “We are ready to execute as we were asked to do in 2018,” he said.

He added that NASA has looked at ways to make its education office more effective. That office, he said, will soon be renamed the “Next-Gen STEM Office” to focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics education activities for the next generation. But, should the administration’s proposal to defund the office be approved, he said the agency would focus its education activities through its missions. “That’s going to be how were going to try to inspire the next generation as we go forward,” he said.

“Admittedly, that’s going to be a concern whether that can actually fill the void or not,” he said later in the hearing. “As long as we’re getting appropriated the money, we will have an education office that executes what you guys have asked us to do.”

Committee members also questioned plans to cancel the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) in the 2019 budget proposal, citing its inclusion as the top-priority large mission in the 2010 astrophysics decadal. Lightfoot said that, should WFIRST be cancelled, NASA would look at ways instrument technology developed for it could be applied to future missions.

Culberson said his subcommittee planned to hold a hearing on issues with both WFIRST and the James Webb Space Telescope, whose launch NASA said last month would be delayed by about a year to May 2020. That hearing is tentatively scheduled for May 9, although Lightfoot said that ongoing reviews of JWST, including one by an independent review board established by NASA after the latest delay, will not be ready in time to support that hearing.

Culberson also offered advice to members concerned about cuts to education or science programs in the administration’s proposal. “The budget, again, is just a recommendation,” he said. “We don’t get too worked up over the budget.”

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NASA may extend space station missions to address potential commercial crew delays

ISS

WASHINGTON — NASA is in discussions with its Russian counterparts about extending some upcoming space station missions as a way to buy more time for development of commercial crew vehicles.

During an April 12 hearing by the commerce, justice and science subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on the agency’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposal, NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot said longer “increments” of crews on the ISS could be one way to provide more schedule margin in the event of additional delays by Boeing and SpaceX in the development of their crewed spacecraft.

“Right now we don’t show a gap” in U.S. access to the International Space Station, Lightfoot said in response to a question posed by subcommittee chairman Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas). “But we’re looking at options at what can we do to not have a gap.”

“We’re working with our partners, our Russian partners, on if we can have longer increments for crew members that go up,” he said.

He revisited that later in the hearing. “One thing we have is a great relationship with our Russians partners, and we’re looking at other alternatives about potentially extending mission duration for the current missions that are there so that we don’t gap the ability to get there,” he said.

NASA’s current agreement with flying astronauts on Soyuz vehicles expires next year, after the agency purchased three seats on Soyuz flights launching in the spring of 2019 and returning in the fall. It’s not clear what would be involved in extending ISS mission durations, such as any technical issues regarding how long a Soyuz spacecraft can remain docked to the ISS.

NASA announced April 5 it had updated its existing commercial crew contract with Boeing to study modifications to the crewed test flight for the company’s CST-100 Starliner. Those modifications would include adding a third astronaut and extending the spacecraft’s stay at the ISS from two weeks to as long as six months. Those changes, Lightfoot noted at the hearing, were another way to mitigate the effects of additional development delays.

At the hearing, Lightfoot said there was still schedule margin for the development of Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon to be ready by the fall of 2019. Schedules last updated in January call for both companies to make uncrewed test flights of their vehicles in August. Boeing would then make a crewed test flight in November, followed by SpaceX in December.

Lightfoot, though, hinted that those schedules would be delayed again. “We still expect to see the first test flights at the end of this year,” he said, later elaborating that these were the uncrewed test flights for both companies.

Culberson asked when the crewed test flights would take place, and Lightfoot said he would take that for the record. “I’m focused on the uncrewed one right now,” he said.

Juggling the SLS launch schedule

Lightfoot also said at the hearing that NASA was revisiting the schedule for Space Launch System missions based on the unexpected windfall it received in the final 2018 omnibus appropriations bill.

That bill, signed into law March 23, provided $350 million for NASA to build a second mobile launch platform for the SLS. NASA officials said last year a second platform could help shorten the gap between the first and second SLS launches, but did not include funding for it in its 2019 budget proposal, citing competing priorities.

That second launch platform, which would be designed for the Block 1B version of the SLS with the larger Exploration Upper Stage, would reduce the 33-month “iron bar” in the schedule between the first two SLS missions created by the time needed to modify the current platform. That platform has been built to support the Block 1 version of SLS, which uses the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS).

Lightfoot said that having a second launch platform opens the door to launching a second SLS mission with the ICPS. That could be used, he said, to launch the Europa Clipper mission, which could be ready for launch as soon as 2022. NASA’s 2019 budget proposal, though, plans a 2025 launch of Europa Clipper using a commercially-procured launch vehicle rather than SLS.

Another option would be to fly the first crewed Orion mission, known as Exploration Mission (EM) 2, on that second SLS Block 1. “If EM-2 flies that way, we would have to change the mission profile because we can’t do what we would do if we had the Exploration Upper Stage,” he said. “But that still gets humans in orbit and still allows us to check out all the systems that we wouldn’t check out on EM-1.”

He indicated that the funding for the second mobile launch platform took the agency by surprise. “You’re going to have to give us a little time, because that was just a couple weeks ago that we found out that we were getting that,” he said.

Defending budget cuts

The two-hour hearing by the subcommittee was largely cordial, with members thanking Lightfoot for his record-setting service as acting administrator. Lightfoot announced last month he will retire from the agency at the end of April.

He was called on by some members, though, to defend cuts in the 2019 proposal. That included NASA’s education office as well as four Earth science missions, all of which the administration sought to cut in 2018 but which Congress ultimately funded.

Lightfoot said it was continuing to work on those programs funded in 2018 despite the administration’s new effort to cancel them. “We are ready to execute as we were asked to do in 2018,” he said.

He added that NASA has looked at ways to make its education office more effective. That office, he said, will soon be renamed the “Next-Gen STEM Office” to focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics education activities for the next generation. But, should the administration’s proposal to defund the office be approved, he said the agency would focus its education activities through its missions. “That’s going to be how were going to try to inspire the next generation as we go forward,” he said.

“Admittedly, that’s going to be a concern whether that can actually fill the void or not,” he said later in the hearing. “As long as we’re getting appropriated the money, we will have an education office that executes what you guys have asked us to do.”

Committee members also questioned plans to cancel the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) in the 2019 budget proposal, citing its inclusion as the top-priority large mission in the 2010 astrophysics decadal. Lightfoot said that, should WFIRST be cancelled, NASA would look at ways instrument technology developed for it could be applied to future missions.

Culberson said his subcommittee planned to hold a hearing on issues with both WFIRST and the James Webb Space Telescope, whose launch NASA said last month would be delayed by about a year to May 2020. That hearing is tentatively scheduled for May 9, although Lightfoot said that ongoing reviews of JWST, including one by an independent review board established by NASA after the latest delay, will not be ready in time to support that hearing.

Culberson also offered advice to members concerned about cuts to education or science programs in the administration’s proposal. “The budget, again, is just a recommendation,” he said. “We don’t get too worked up over the budget.”

SpaceNews.com

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Safety panel warns of “bottleneck” of reviews for exploration and commercial crew vehicles

NASA’s SLS/Orion and commercial crew programs could face slowdowns from a “bottleneck” of simultaneous reviews, a safety panel warned last week. Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON — Members of a NASA safety panel said they see good progress on the development of both exploration systems and commercial crew vehicles, but warn future progress could be hindered by a “bottleneck” of reviews they face.

The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), meeting March 1 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, didn’t note any new major safety-related problems involving the two commercial crew vehicles under development, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, or NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion programs.

However, members raised concerns about the fact that the simultaneous development of the vehicles could strain NASA’s ability to perform qualification and other safety reviews. That had the potential to create additional schedule pressure on those programs.

“There’s going to be a wall of verification and qualification processes which a finite number of people at NASA are going to have to wade through,” said former astronaut Sandra Magnus. She said companies, and NASA, had to be aware of how to deal with that impending wave of reviews. “This is a potential bottleneck that’s coming up.”

Neither Magnus nor other panel members offered specific solutions to the problem, beyond trying to spread out the work where possible. “Anything that the community can do now to sort of meter that work” would help, she said. “But I think that’s really the next thing we’ll have to keep an eye on as a safety panel.”

Other panel members said that they saw no evidence of schedule pressures in general creating safety issues for the vehicles under development. “The commercial crew program has shown us on the panel that, in spite of a very challenging set of circumstances they’re facing right now, they’re doing an excellent job of making decisions,” said George Nield, associate administrator for commercial space transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration.

He acknowledged, though, that the schedules published by the program, which call for both uncrewed and crewed test flights of both companies’ vehicles by the end of this year, may not be realistic. “It’s very challenging to be able to make the dates that are now being worked to,” he said. “But, encouraging to us is that we don’t see any sign of schedule pressure negatively impacting the decisions that are being made.”

Several factors are affecting the schedule for SLS and Orion, including development of the core stage of the SLS, the service module for Orion and software. Donald McErlean, a former engineering fellow at L-3 Communications, noted that NASA’s plans call for the delivery of the core stage of the first SLS to the Stennis Space Center “very late this year” for engine tests. “While that is certainly a schedule challenge,” he said, “it is within the realm of possibility.”

ASAP endorsed a proposal last year to build a second mobile launch platform for SLS, which would shorten the gap between the first and second SLS missions. That gap, of at least 33 months, is driven by the time needed to modify the existing platform to accommodate the larger version of SLS that will be used on the second and subsequent missions. However, NASA did not request funding for a second mobile launcher in the budget proposal.

“We continue to urge that NASA look for prudent and safe ways to shorten the timeframe between flight operations to mitigate the erosion of launch operations experience,” said Patricia Sanders, chair of the panel.

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NASA no longer seeking to develop second mobile launcher for SLS

Workers install a crew access arm on the mobile launch platform tower Feb. 26 at the Kennedy Space Center. NASA is no longer considering building a second mobile launch platform that could have shortened the gap between the first and second SLS launches. Credit: NASA/Bill White

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA is not planning to develop a second mobile launch platform that could shorten the gap between the first two Space Launch System missions as it makes few changes in general to its exploration programs despite a renewed focus on the moon.

The mobile launch platform, originally built for the Constellation Program and currently being modified to support the SLS, will be used for one launch of the initial Block 1 version of the SLS, designated Exploration Mission (EM) 1. That platform will then have to be modified to accommodate the taller Block 1B version that will be used on second and subsequent SLS missions.

Agency officials said late last year they were considering starting work on a second mobile launch platform designed from the beginning to accommodate the Block 1B version of the SLS. They argued that doing so could shorten the gap of at least 33 months between the first and second SLS missions caused in part by the modification work to the existing platform. The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel endorsed the development of a second mobile launcher at an October 2017 meeting as a way to minimize “safety difficulties” a long break between SLS missions could create.

However, NASA’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposal released Feb. 12 made no mention of developing a second platform. “We did not include it in the president’s budget request,” said Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development, during a panel discussion Feb. 28 at the 45th Space Congress here. “Right now we’re on our baseline path to modify the mobile launcher after EM-1.”

Hill confirmed after the panel discussion that a second mobile launcher was no longer under consideration, citing a need to fund other exploration programs within the overall budget. “We’ve got a funding level, and it’s got to be shared among the various priorities,” he said.

He said that while there’s not much they can do to shorten that gap between EM-1 and EM-2, they’re confident they understand what it will take to modify the platform after EM-1. “We’ve got a good handle on it, a good understanding of what it’s going to take,” he said of the modifications, which involve extending the tower by more than 13 meters and redoing elevators, wiring, plumbing and other systems.

Hill and Mike Bolger, manager of NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems program, also addressed reports that the tower on the platform was leaning. Those reports cited a “deflection” in the tower from the vertical, but one that NASA said did not require corrective action.

“It is very, very close to perfectly plumb,” Bolger said. Any variations from the vertical, he said, are well within tolerances for the structure. If not, he said, NASA would not have gone ahead with the installation of a crew access arm on the tower just earlier this week. “It’s just not an issue.”

“It’s a lot about nothing,” Hill said.

Other aspects of NASA’s overall exploration program have also seen few changes despite a shift in policy, such as the directive signed by President Trump in December calling for a human return to the moon as an interim step towards Mars.

“We took a little turn from the Mars campaign. It’s not a big turn,” Hill said, adding that human Mars exploration remained the “horizon goal” for the overall program. “We’ve worked really well with the new administration and the National Space Council in getting to where we are today.”

That turn, he said, will include missions to the surface of the moon, although how NASA will do so, and with what partners, is still being analyzed. “For us, we’re going to do some lunar surface activities, working with international and commercial partners, see if we can develop a lunar base economy,” he said. “We’ll see where we go from there.”

That effort includes retaining, but renaming, a human-tended facility in cislunar space that the agency introduced last year as the Deep Space Gateway, prior to the formal shift in policy to return humans to the moon. “That really hasn’t changed,” Hill said. “Our approach to that remains the same even under the new administration.”

The facility is now called the Lunar Orbital Platform – Gateway. “The administration wanted to change it slightly, thinking that maybe the Gateway was part of the last administration,” he said, adding the concept was introduced in the early months of the current administration. “Our compromise with them was to call it the Lunar Orbital Platform – Gateway.”

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NASA weighs new mobile launcher for SLS

The mobile launcher, originally built for the Constellation program, undergoing upgrades for the first SLS launch. NASA is considering whether to modify it again for later SLS missions or build a new one. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

WASHINGTON — Building a new mobile launch platform for later Space Launch System missions could cost NASA $300 million but allow for more frequent launches, agency officials said.

Bill Hill, NASA deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development, discussed the tradeoffs regarding building a new mobile launcher during a Nov. 29 meeting of the human exploration and operations committee of the NASA Advisory Council at the Kennedy Space Center.

The current mobile launcher, originally built during the Constellation program for the since-cancelled Ares 1, is finishing modifications to support the first SLS launch, which will use the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS). Future SLS missions, though, will involve the Block 1B version of the rocket with the larger Exploration Upper Stage, which will require further modifications to the launcher.

“The Exploration Upper Stage is 44 feet [13.4 meters] taller,” Hill said, which will require changes to the launcher structure and all its elements. “All the plumbing, elevators, cryos, everything you have to go back and redo. All the cabling that goes from the base to the top you basically have to pull out and reinstall it for the extra 44 feet. There’s just a lot to do.”

Those modifications mean there is what Hill called an “iron bar” in the schedule between Exploration Missions (EM) 1 and 2. Those modifications to the launcher can’t begin until after the EM-1 launch, which means EM-2 can’t take place until at least 33 months after EM-1, he said.

Building a new mobile launcher, with construction starting in the near future, could shorten that gap to some degree. It would also allow for additional SLS launches between EM-1 and EM-2, provided they use the ICPS, since the first mobile launcher would remain available. “That’s in my mind, the biggest benefit,” Hill said. “We’re not stuck on the ground until we get finished with the modifications. That’s one of the things we’re taking a look at.”

NASA has considered using the SLS for the Europa Clipper mission to Jupiter, with some notional schedules for future SLS launches placing that launch between EM-1 and EM-2, depending on the schedule for that mission and the availability of the SLS.

A faster cadence of SLS launches was a key reason why NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel endorsed the development of a new mobile launcher at an October meeting. The current gap between EM-1 and EM-2 “represents a pause in the Program that the Panel thinks could involve safety difficulties,” the minutes of that meeting state. “It would be much more efficient for the continuation of the Program if it were possible to construct a second ML [mobile launcher] — starting that construction now — so the appropriate ML would be ready for the transition from EM-1 to EM-2.”

Bob Cabana, director of the Kennedy Space Center, also supports building a new mobile launcher rather than modifying the existing one. He said earlier at the NASA Advisory Council committee meeting that he took Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, on a tour of the current launcher “so he could appreciate the complexity of this thing and why I believe we need a second mobile launcher rather than modifying this one.”

Cabana offered an analogy for the work needed to modify the mobile launcher for the SLS Block 1B. “I’m going to cut off my head and add six inches to my body,” he said. “That’s essentially what you’re doing. You’re taking a very complex system — all the wire systems and everything else that is on that thing — and raising it up to extend it for the larger vehicle.”

Building a second mobile launcher, Hill said, would involve a net cost to NASA of about $300 million. That includes the cost of the launcher, less the savings from not modifying the current launcher to accommodate the SLS Block 1B.

Hill didn’t say if NASA has formally requested a new mobile launcher in its next budget request. “I think that was a rumor,” he said when asked by the committee about it. However, he suggested that a decision on whether or not to build a new launcher would come in the near future.

Hill said a more detailed discussion about the tradeoffs of modifying the existing launcher versus building a new one could take place at the committee’s next meeting, which would be around March 2018 based on the schedules of previous meetings. “By then,” he said, “we should know whether we’re going with modifying this mobile launcher or having the authority to go get a new one.”

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