The NASA Launchpad To Nowhere

Congress ordered the space agency to complete a $350 million structure that may never be used

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Congress ordered NASA to complete a $350 million rocket-testing structure that may never be used, Bloomberg News reports.

The 300-foot tower at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi was designed to test how the Ares I and Ares V engines would work at high altitudes, for rockets under development that would send people into space and up to the moon. But the project was scrapped after the Constellation program spearheaded by former President George W. Bush was cancelled in 2010.

And yet, under orders from Congress, NASA is still building the A-3 tower at a cost of $57 million to complete and $840,000 annually to maintain. The stand could conceivably be used to test engines for future rockets, most likely developed by private sector firms, but NASA is not developing any rockets that would need engines tested under the high-altitude conditions.

The A-3 tower is another example of rampant “pork barrel” spending by lawmakers looking to channel funds to their own districts despite spending cuts. Sen. Roger Wicker (R—Miss.) ensured the tower construction would outlive the Constellation program by crafting a provision in 2010 ensuring its completion.

Wicker told Bloomberg News that the provision will ensure “the Stennis facility is prepared for ever-changing technologies and demands.”

A NASA spokesperson declined to comment on the mandate to finish the stand.

[Bloomberg News]

4 comments
donaldeckhardt
donaldeckhardt

About 25 years ago, the Air Force built an immense shuttle launching facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to allow the southward launch of space shuttles into polar orbits without overflying Cuba. It won an architectural award for its complexity, contractors were rewarded extra for its on-time completion, and military overseers won medals; but it was never used because of the high probability that its gigantic building on tracks would not survive shuttle launch vibrations. It was completed even after its likely ultimate doom, if used as planned, was revealed.

tom.litton
tom.litton

Wouldn't it be better for everyone involved to use that money to build bridges and roads in Mississippi instead?  The Senator gets his pork, the state gets it's jobs, and the construction workers get to build something useful.

BrianThorn
BrianThorn

@donaldeckhardt First, it should be noted that A-3 is an engine test stand not a launch pad as the headline implies. The Vandenberg launch pad (SLC-6) was planned to host its first Shuttle launch in September 1986. When Challenger was destroyed on January 28, 1986, all Shuttle launches were put on hold, including those from Vandenberg. Shuttle redesigns and operational changes after Challenger radically reduced its intended flight rate, and the Air Force decided to back out of its part of the Shuttle program, preferring the unmanned Titan IV rocket instead. That left NASA as the only user of the Vandenberg pad, and there were not enough launches to support the expense, so NASA reverted to using Delta and Atlas rockets from Vandenberg and SLC-6 was finally mothballed around 1990. The Air Force then announced plans to convert SLC-6 to be used by Titan IV, but Titan IV also proved to be a very expensive, troublesome launch vehicle (with an even worse success rate and lower flight rate than Shuttle) and those plans were also canceled. After hosting a few launches of Lockheed's small Athena rocket, SLC-6 was finally overhauled to be used by the new Delta IV rocket. Its most recent launch was a Delta IV-Heavy in August.

TimRobinsonAus
TimRobinsonAus

As shown in the I95 collapse infrastructure maintainence isn't high profile enough, no matter how logical