As part of rocket development, aerospace engineers extensively test booster components before they are assembled into a larger launch vehicle. To that end, NASA has built two big test stands at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama to test its large liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen fuel tanks. These tanks are part of the core stage of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.
However, a new report from NASA's inspector general, Paul Martin, raises serious questions about the cost of these test stands and the decision to build them in Alabama rather than in Mississippi, where NASA has an existing facility that already tests rocket engines. Additionally, the Mississippi-based Stennis Space Center is also much closer to the Louisiana factory where the SLS hydrogen and oxygen tanks are being assembled.
As part of the SLS program, NASA determined that it needed two test stands: one is for the larger hydrogen tank, which is about half the length of a football field, and the second is for the oxygen tank. The agency budgeted $40.5 million for the project but ended up spending $76 million, which is an increase of 88 percent. The stands were completed in November 2016.