NASA: pinin' for the fjords

NASA 2011 budget is out, and with it the new 5 year plan.
It is drastic, bit more so than I expected.

Short version: Constellation is dead, Dead, DEAD!
Ares I, Ares V and Orion are shut down. ~ $10 billion thrown away, again, with nothing to show for it, again.

More money,

I'll backfill the details and provide links later:

basically NASA will fund a serious launcher technology development program for future heavy launch, but for now they are taking the Space Cadets up on their offer - human and cargo LEO launch services will be bid out, with first bids already out - so if the technology is really mature to the point where Cheap Off The Shelf tech can build launchers who can get people to Low Earth Orbitm well the someone will make a billion or few in the next decade doing it.
Or NASA will pay Russia more for some spam-in-a-can delivery services using '60s tech.
Couple of $billion just to pay off Constellation contracts and ramp down, fast.

International Space Station will be kept going at steady ~ $ 3 billion per year for this decade.

Aerospace gets a modest boost - fuel efficient and quiet engines and planes as emphasis is what it sounds like.

Earth Science gets a hefty boots, Solar Physics holds steady, Planetary Science grows.
Astrophysics, not so much. 10% cut up front (JWST ramp down) and then no ramp up, budget in '15 projected lower than in '10.
So nothing new, just limping along hoping nothing breaks and shaving costs everywhere to cope with inflation adjustments and surprises.

Big talk about Education and EPO, but no new money.
Don't get me started on the "Summer of Innovation" - actually I will get started on that, but not here and now.

Ok, with the Shuttle shutting down something had to be done.
Constellation was a disaster, and there never was, and still isn't, enough money to both keep things running and fix things at the same time.

So, stand down it is - throw $8 billion to the Libertarian Entrepreneurs in Spaaace faction, because it is cheaper than Constellation, and might actually work, which would be good.

But, it is risky. It will likely mean no manned presence in space for several years, except for hitchiking with the Russians. (NB sustaining manned presence in space is a mandate of NASA).
It could mean permanent (ie our lifetime) end of human US spaceflight, or a brief hitch before a glorious renaissance in spaceflight.
Or something completely different.

Science is disappointing: Astrophysics is really being hammered, and I do not get a good sense for why, beyond the "well you got JWST and now you must suffer for a decade, as Planetary Science did in the '70s".
Better find life on Mars, or Europa, or somewhere after all this.

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Well that makes for a depressing Monday morning...

Actually this makes me want to jump up and down! I love it. Not business as usual and put up or shut up to the space entrepreneurs. This is really good one way or another we are going to get change in the US space program. Speaking as a loyal NSS member for decades, I was thinking we would never get anywhere in my lifetime and now for the first time since Star Wars funding for things like DCX and such dried up. (one of the few things I liked about that program).

"It will likely mean no manned presence in space for several years..."

I don't see how we (the US) will ever have a manned presence again, other than the Russian option. I posted the same opinion on Phil Plait's blog.

With nowhere to go other than the ISS there's simply no incentive for any private venture to build a manned space vehicle. It would be at least five years before any vehicle could be tested, certified and launched. That's fully half the remaining lifetime of the ISS.

How many more crew-members would be left to ferry up? 25? Of those passengers how many would our private company be carrying? 15?

Let's say it's the whole 25. The Russians charge us $35million per seat. The point is to be cheaper than that so at most the launching company gets $875 million. They're somehow supposed to develop, and launch, a fully certified human launch vehicle for less than $1 billion?

NoAstronomer I don't get your reasoning. If the U.S. is never going to do any new manned space missions after the remaining lifetime of the ISS then why were we going to spend 10's of billions for the Ares and company? On the other hand if we somehow do get a small man rated vehicle and launch system that doesn't cost a third of a billion or more per launch, what new programs could be done?

The choice to not do any more manned missions for the next 20 years or so has already been set in stone is what you seem to be saying with your remark.

I have been hearing since the mid 80's that commercial launch would be more efficient and effective than the shuttle or other equivalents. Time to see, eh?

With a $1.4 trillion dollar deficit, we have to make a really good case for any additional funding. JWST went way over its funding envelope; I'm curious whether we don't get a larger astrophysics non-JWST science budget than before.

I'm glad the Constellation program was cut; going to Mars was not a realistic goal. I note that the Constellation program was headquartered in Huntsville, AL. The Huntsville congressman will be quite upset about this. But, Parker Griffith had the bright idea to switch to the Republicans a couple months ago. When you do that, pork to your district goes away. Funny, that.

By Craig Heinke (not verified) on 01 Feb 2010 #permalink

Any sign of interest in the space elevator?

By Katkinkate (not verified) on 02 Feb 2010 #permalink

@Markk #4

I'm didn't mean to say that there were no plans to do manned spaceflight after the ISS. Indeed the ultimate goal of Constellation (ie Ares I, Ares V, Orion and Altair) was a return to the moon and possibly a trip to a NEO, or Mars/Phobos.

What I was trying to say was that if we fund a launch system with the express goal of putting astronauts into low earth orbit as cheaply as possible then that's exactly what we'll get. However even if we do get it (which personally I doubt) that vehicle would have little to no utility for any other function.

Once the ISS is retired what would we use our new launch system for? What function would astronauts perform up there?

Is the choice to have no manned spaceflight program after the ISS set in stone? No, that choice has not even been made yet, directly. But with no other goal for manned spaceflight even on the drawing board I see the termination of US manned spaceflight as an inevitable consequence of Monday's announcement.

As you say, it's time to see.


My Position
Firmly on the fence. I don't really know whether the proposed budget is the right move. I'm certainly not arguing that Constellation should be re-instated. I just think that we should face the likely consequences of this budget.