U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) today encouraged NASA Administrator Charles Bolden to continue providing Congress information that will help ensure the upgrade of the Stennis Space Center's B-2 test stand remains on schedule.
Cochran addressed the NASA budget at a Senate Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Thursday where Bolden provided testimony on the President's FY2014 budget requests for the U.S. space agency.
"Mississippians take great pride in the work done at the Stennis Space Center for NASA and space exploration in general. The decision last year to upgrade the B-2 test stand sent a clear signal that Stennis would remain an important facility for these missions," Cochran said. "I want to make sure that funding levels in the budget are sufficient to maintain the integrity of the test stand, which will have the critical responsibility of testing rocket engines before they are committed to a launch."
Cochran, as a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, continues to draw attention to infrastructure needs at Stennis. He authored a FY2012 appropriations provision that required NASA to examine and report on the condition and necessity of the B-2 test stand. That reporting requirement produced a NASA decision to allocate $12 million in FY2012 funding to initiate the rehabilitation and reuse of the existing B-2 test stand to support the Space Launch System (SLS) program. The NASA report eventually identified a need for immediate upgrades to the facility and led to the Mississippi Senator successfully providing $168 million in FY2013 funding to keep the B-2 test stand upgrade on schedule.
At today's hearing, Bolden assured Cochran that NASA currently has sufficient funding to continue agency activities at Stennis, where NASA will use the B-2 facility to test the next-generation SLS propulsion system that is critical to launching human crews for deep space exploration missions.
"We are progressing well on the upgrades to the B-2 test stand which, as I mentioned before, will be critical for main propulsion tests for SLS. Their [Stennis Space Center's] record for performance in meeting test schedules, not only for the J-2X but for even our commercial partners' rockets, is phenomenal. We have days that we run two or three engine tests. It's unprecedented. I think we are doing well," Bolden testified.
Cochran responded, "Your advice and your observations about the needs for funding are considered very important because we know you're familiar with Stennis and the test stand and how it is producing some additional resources for NASA. We want to make sure Congress does its part to maintain the integrity of that facility."
The B-2 test stand upgrade project resulted from an SLS program evaluation of the costs and benefits of options for testing of the SLS Core Stage prior to its eventual first test flight. As part of that evaluation process, Cochran and NASA officials toured the B-2 facility in August 2011.
Overall, the President's FY2014 budget recommends $17.7 billion for NASA, including $1.34 billion to continued SLS development.