NASA weighs new mobile launcher for SLS

SpaceNews.com | 12/2/2017 | Jeff Foust
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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.

Mobile - Launcher - Constellation - Program - Ares

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.”

Modifications - Hill - Iron - Bar - Schedule

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...
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