Space News reports that the Mars Science Laboratory requires an additional $82M beyond currently budgeted funds to meet its November to December launch window. The article reports that NASA considers meeting this launch window is crucial and that funds will be found elsewhere within the Mars program, and if necessary the rest of the planetary program.
The article also briefly discusses potential impacts to the planetary program if NASA's budgets are cut back to FY08 levels, as one political party is seeking to do for most federal discretionary programs. The head of the programs says that he believes that the program could probably adjust without canceling any programs. However, if necessary, the upcoming Lunar Atmosphere Dust Environment Explorer or the New Frontiers or Discovery missions in selection could be put on the cutting table.
Editorial Thoughts: I looked at potential impacts of budget cuts in a previous blog. If the budget is reduced to FY08 levels, then NASA's looses ~$1.5B over a decade compared to the FY10 budget level, or a bit more than the burdened cost of a New Frontiers mission. If NASA's budget for future missions was frozen for a decade, NASA would lose about the equivalent funding of a New Frontiers program whether the initial level is at FY08 or FY10 budget levels. If the starting budget was the FY08 level and then frozen, then the result would be the loss of funding equivalent to approximately two New Frontiers missions compared to the FY10 budget level increased for inflation.
If NASA's budget is frozen or cut, however, the impact on the planetary program might not be proportional. Funding for the manned spaceflight program does not appear sufficient for its mandate, and Congress might direct larger cuts at the science program to preserve funding for the manned program. As the FY11 and FY12 budgets are debated and hopefully approved over the next year, the size of the program for the next decade should become clearer. It will be interesting to see if the Decadal Survey's recommendations will have designed in flexibility to respond to a dynamic budget environment.
I will post an analysis of the President's FY12 budget proposal when it is released next month.