Thursday, August 13, 2009

NASA Budget No-Go For Flights Beyond LEO

Presidential advisers will tell the White House this week that the U.S. cannot fly astronauts beyond Earth orbit before 2020 within an Obama Administration budget projection that represents a deep cut for NASA.

NASA would need an additional $50 billion to execute the current plan to develop Ares rockets, Orion space capsules and Altair lunar landers for a return to the moon around 2020, panel members said Wednesday.

In a meeting Friday with White House science advisers and budget officials, panel members will say NASA has neither the money nor the technical know-how to fly American astronauts on missions to Mars first.

"I really want to emphasize that we are not giving up on Mars at all," said Norman Augustine, chairman of a presidential panel reviewing NASA human space flight plans.

"We're just saying that we think to go direct to Mars with today's technology and money is riskier than we would want to be associated with," he said, adding, "it would likely not succeed."

Options the panel will present include:

++ Extending the life of the International Space Station until at least 2020. Several members said decommissioning the outpost in 2016 -- the current plan -- does not make sense.

The nation's international partners -- Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan -- all are opposed to the idea.

NASA just delivered the European Columbus laboratory to the station in 2008; the Japanese Kibo science laboratory was just completed last month.

International agreements signed in 1998 called for a decade of operations after station assembly is finished. Construction completion is set for 2010.

NASA would invest in development of commercial crew transportation services. Its Ares I rocket would be killed in this case.

++Deep space exploration: sending astronauts on missions to orbit -- but not land upon -- the moon, near-Earth asteroids and Mars.

An option to "dash" out of low Earth orbit is being dropped because it can't be done within the projected NASA budget: $81.5 billion through 2020. That represents a $26.5 billion cut from previous projections.

The committee in fact found no viable mission beyond Earth orbit that could be done under the administration's spending plan.

But the panel will pitch a deep space program that could be done with an extra $3 billion a year.

"We like very much the deep space option," said Augustine, former chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin. "It's a doable, viable option. I think that technically and economically, and in terms of the rewards it produces, it's a reasonable step on the way to Mars."

Three heavy-lift launch options will be offered up for interplanetary flyby missions: a smaller version of NASA's planned Ares V; a system derived more directly from shuttle components; and a super-heavy version of Atlas V or Delta IV rockets.

Two other options still are on the table:

++Extending shuttle fleet operations through 2015 -- a scenario that would close an anticipated five-year gap in U.S. human spaceflight.

U.S. commercial or international crew transportation systems would be used to launch astronauts to and from the station -- and on the initial legs of exploration missions -- after 2015.

A shuttle-derived heavy-lift launcher would be developed to loft cargo for seven- to 14-day human sorties to the moon -- missions that ultimately would lead to the build-up of a lunar outpost.

Cost estimates for this option still are in the works, but it would be considerably more than the Obama budget projection.

++A version of NASA's current Project Constellation that would be stretched out to fit within the projected Obama budget. The scaled-back Project Constellation would yield a heavy-lift launcher by 2028 but NASA at that point still would have no lunar lander for a return to the moon.

NASA's current plan for Project Constellation also will be presented to the White House as a "reference" mission -- one that could return U.S. astronauts to the moon by October 2021 with a $50 billion budget increase.

All other options push back human expeditions to the moon into the 2020s or in some cases the 2030s.

A final report is to be delivered to a printer on Aug. 31.


Conor said...

"interplanteray flyby missions"
A giant leap for plantkind?

Anonymous said...

Per Sally Ride...

"Current budget guidance extremely limiting. So far, no scenarios that include exploration that are viable"


Anonymous said...

Constellation is based on 40-year-old technology. One manned moon landing would cost $5 billion. Everything NASA spends is paid for by the taxpayers. We've been told for years that taxation is theft, that our money belongs to us. Who do you know that will pay even a penny more in taxes for space, let alone billions?

Graham said...

Whats the point then, the russians and the chinese will land there,and the US will be left with it's proverbial bits swinging in the wind !!. Gene Krantz said to stop in space is to surrender. And he's right .

The cost is high yes,but the cost of not doing it is MASSIVELY HIGHER. Get on with it,and make the world proud of your country once again . From a UK space fan.