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Report criticizes development of SLS test stands

Report criticizes development of SLS test stands

Todd May, director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, speaks at a December 2015 event to mark progress on the construction of Test Stand 4693 that will be used for the Space Launch System. Credit: NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given WASHINGTON — A rush to complete two test stands needed for development of the Space Launch System caused their cost to nearly double, even as the overall program suffered delays, according to a new report.

The May 17 report by NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that the cost of the two test stands built at the Marshall Space Flight Center for testing SLS propellant tanks increased by more than 87 percent, to $76 million, as the agency overlooked potential long-term cost savings in a effort to expedite their construction.

NASA entered into an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in August 2013 to construct Test Stands 4693 and 4697 at Marshall, on the grounds of the Army’s Redstone Arsenal. The Corps of Engineers then awarded a contract to an Alabama construction company, Brasfield & Gorrie, to build the stands. The stands are large steel structures designed to perform load testing on the rocket’s liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen tanks to simulate the conditions the tanks will experience during launch.

At the time of the contract award, NASA sought to have Test Stand 4693, for liquid hydrogen tank testing, done by May 2015 and Test Stand 4697, for liquid oxygen tank testing, by September 2015. NASA paid a $7.6 million premium for a compressed construction schedule in order to meet a planned December 2017 deadline for the first SLS launch.

The development schedule for SLS slipped, though, pushing back the first launch to November 2018 and, more recently, to some time in 2019 . NASA was unable to recoup that premium because of […]