The article reports that the Survey's three recommended Flagship missions in order of priority would be:
- The Mars MAX-C/ExoMars dual rover mission with a price estimate of $3.5B [Editorial note: This would be over $1B higher than other estimates that I've seen]. The report purportedly recommends that the mission be approved only if it can be flown for $2.5B.
- The Jupiter Europa Orbiter is estimated at $4.7B [Editorial note: This would be approximately $1.5B more than previous estimates that I've seen]. The report apparently will recommend it be flown only if the cost can be reduced and NASA's planetary budget increased.
- A Uranus orbiter and atmospheric probe at $2.7B, which is recommended for approval in the coming decade at this cost
The article states that the Survey based its recommendations on the FY11 budget forecasts. The new FY12 budget forecasts would substantially reduced that funding outlook. The article has two quotes that suggest that the FY12 forecasts will be the ones that NASA uses.
Reportedly, the Survey will recommend selecting two New Frontiers-class missions from the following list: A Venus in-situ explorer, lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin sample return, lunar geophysical network, comet sample return, an Io mission, a Jovian Trojan asteroid mission, and a Saturn atmospheric probe. It's not clear from the article whether or not these two missions would include the New Frontiers mission selection currently underway or would be two additional missions.
The Decadal Survey will also recommend continuing with new Discovery missions.
Editorial Thoughts: This article leaves me in sticker shock. If the Flagship mission cost estimates are correct, they are substantially higher than previously reported. And if the FY12 budget forecasts are the ones that NASA will use to respond to the Survey's recommendations, then I don't see how either the Mars or Jupiter-Europa missions as defined can be fit into a reduced budget that includes Discovery and New Frontiers missions. Funding the Uranus orbiter and probe mission may be difficult.
If the sticker shock is as bad as the article suggests, I would expect that attempts may be made to redefine the two big flagship missions to fit within a budget NASA could afford. If that fails, the Uranus mission plus the New Frontiers and Discovery missions may be the program for the coming decade. Another alternative might be for the Survey to reconvene to reconsider its recommendations in light of a tighter budget. The mission concept studies included several smaller flagship missions that were less expensive than the Uranus orbiter and probe concept. (However, the cost for the Uranus mission quoted in the article is approximately $800M higher than the one quoted in the mission concept study; other smaller Flagship missions may also suffer cost increases with greater examination.)
The article does not discuss the status of the joint ESA-NASA 2016 Mars Trace Gas Orbiter mission. It also does not discuss whether the 2018 ESA ExoMars rover mission could be afforded by ESA without NASA participation. ESA had decided to enter a joint program because it needed the additional funding from NASA's participation.
I'm personally disappointed that no mission to Titan or Enceladus reportedly are included. I'll be interested to see if the report gives reasons why neither moon was a priority. If there is no Mars mission in the coming decade, that will be another disappointment for me. I had also hoped for a new mission to Neptune's moon Triton in my lifetime, but that now seems unlikely.