Congress has given NASA $350 million [theverge.com] for a second mobile launcher for the Space Launch System:
The problem stems from the fact that NASA's current mobile launch platform wasn't actually built for the SLS. NASA has been modifying a platform that was originally built for a rocket that never saw the light of day — the Ares 1, a vehicle that was meant to send humans back to the Moon as part of the now-canceled Constellation program. When the Constellation program was replaced with the SLS program in 2011, NASA decided to simply upgrade the mobile launch platform the agency had already built for Ares 1 to support the Space Launch System. The SLS is a much bigger and heavier vehicle than the Ares 1 was going to be, so NASA has had to reinforce the base of the platform, as well as expand it to accommodate the larger size of the rocket and its engines.
[...] Now, Congress is telling NASA to build a second platform, likely due to safety concerns. Building the new platform could potentially move the second flight of SLS up to 2022 instead of 2023. Otherwise, having such a huge gap between the first and second flight of the rocket could cause engineers to forget the valuable experience they gained from flying the rocket the first time. "When that happens, you have all the people — in your ground systems and in mission control — you have them sitting around for months at a time with nothing to do," Casey Dreier, director of space policy at the Planetary Society, tells The Verge. "And in the absence of real rocket launches, you might lose good people."
But another unofficial motivation could be optics. Further delays would be a bad look for the perennially delayed SLS program. The first flight of the SLS has been consistently pushed back — from 2018, to 2019, and then to 2020 [theverge.com]. And even when the first two flights of the vehicle are done, the rocket will probably only launch once a year.
Lawmakers provided $150 million for the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, or WFIRST, which the Trump administration proposed canceling last month. Set for launch in the mid-2020s, WFIRST would be next in NASA's line of big observatories in space after Hubble and the James Webb Space Telescope. It was the top priority for NASA's astrophysics program in a National Academy of Sciences decadal survey released in 2010. The agency's policy is to follow cues from the science community encapsulated in the decadal survey reports.
Agency managers last year were wary that WFIRST could exceed its $3.2 billion cost cap, and Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA's science directorate, in October ordered a team at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland — home of the WFIRST project office — to study how the mission could be modified to fit under the budget limit.
Officials drafting NASA's budget request for fiscal 2019 decided WFIRST was too expensive, but the mission has enjoyed strong support from Congress. In an apparent reference to WFIRST's proposed termination, lawmakers wrote that they "reject the cancellation of scientific priorities recommended by the National Academy of Sciences decadal survey process."
Previously: Trump Administration Budget Proposal Would Cancel WFIRST [soylentnews.org]
Leaning Tower of NASA [soylentnews.org]