Florida Senators Chime In on NASA Heavy lift Space Launch System

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

Senators Bill Nelson (D) and Marco Rubio (R) are the latest lawmakers to send a letter about NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), the heavy lift rocket project intended for beyond earth orbit exploration. Addressed to President Obama, the two urge the Administration to commit to SLS, but say it’s OK for current SLS funding to spend at Kennedy Space Center for infrastructure improvements – a stance which disagrees with an earlier letter sent by a different group of Senators.

With the latest letter dated on August 26, a total of 16 senators – 11 Republicans, 5 Democrats – have signed letters supporting SLS, while sometimes contradicting each other on the details of how to go forward.

The Nelson/Rubio letter, published by SpaceRef.com on August 28, is the second letter directed at the Administration from the Senate. The first letter, dated August 15, came from a group of southern senators urging NASA to publish a full “Section 309” report detailing the SLS reference design, complaining NASA was funding “six” separate spacecraft development efforts between the Commercial Crew program and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), and worried that the $1.8 billion allocated to design and build the SLS was being spent on general infrastructure updating and shuttle clean-up activities at Kennedy.

Nelson and Rubio wrote, “there appears to be a misunderstanding regarding allocation of funds dedicated to development of the SLS as authorized…In as much as concerns about this issue may have been brought to your attention, we are writing to clarify the intent of the law…A new launch vehicle includes much more than just a design and build phase. Ground systems for rockets are as necessary to their design, development, and operation as the propulsion engine testing conducted on the engine test stands at Stennis Space Center – both of which are funded out of the SLS appropriation. There is a distinct difference between 21st Century Ground Systems that are part of the SLS, and the general construction upgrades at KSC for the 21st Century Launch Complex.”

Needless to say, the two Florida senators assert – in a contradiction of the August 15 southern senators letter – that it’s OK for SLS money to be used for Kennedy Space Center infrastructure projects “needed to test, process, and launch the new rocket.”  Such activities include removing old Shuttle launch support structures and building SLS infrastructure using existing launch pads, along with upgrading the two crawler transporters to accommodate the heavy weight of a SLS rocket.

As of noon, August 30, NASA has yet to formally announce its SLS plans.

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Doug Mohney is a contributing editor for TMCnet and a 20-year veteran of the ICT space. To read more of his articles, please visit columnist page.

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