Saturday, March 19, 2011

More on Partnership Challenges

It turns out that I wrote my previous post about the process to plan for possible planetary partnerships between NASA and ESA a few hours too early.  Since I wrote that, two articles have appeared that give additional information, especially from the European perspective.

Amy Svitak (whose stories I have come to look forward to) at Space News writes a good summary of the issues focusing on joint Mars and Jupiter system missions.  She reports that industry bids for building ESA's ExoMars rover have come back higher than expected, giving ESA a possible additional incentive to continue a partnership with NASA to share costs.  (ESA originally sought a partnership because its previous cost estimates for the entire mission exceeded its budget.)

On the journal Science's website is a story that focuses on a new redefinition of ESA's three candidate missions for its next large science mission, one of which is the Jupiter Ganymede Orbiter (JGO).  All three candidate proposals depended on a partnership with NASA (and one on a partnership with Japan).  However, none of these missions were top-ranked candidates in the U.S. astronomy or planetary Decadal Surveys.  Given budget issues in both these programs at NASA, ESA has concluded that NASA partnerships are unlikely as previously envisioned.  (For JGO, the previous plan had been for NASA to fly its own complimentary Jupiter Europa Orbiter and contribute instruments to JGO.  NASA can no longer do the former, but still plans to offer to do the latter if JGO is eventually selected as ESA's next large mission.)  ESA has asked the three proposing teams to reexamine their proposals and rescope them as ESA-only missions.  The new mission proposals are due in a year.

1 comment:

  1. Part of Planetary Science's woes comes from NASA's flat-line budget into the foreseeable future. However, much of the pain is a result of the Obama Administration's change in priorities for Space Science as a whole. Earth Science, Astrophysics and Heliophysics will ALL get a boost in funding in this decade. Planetary is the ONLY category that is being decreased. You may read into that decision what you may politically. However, the long and short of it is that the President's team has decided that other areas of Space Science are more important that Planetary exploration.
    If one uses FY2010 as a basis, which is what the Congress will probably do, then we see that in FY2016, we see that Planetary loses $150 Million. In that same year-to-year comparison, Earth Science will get a boost of $500 Million! Perhaps we see where the Obama Administration's priorities are. So Half a Billion Dollars PER YEAR will go to Earth Science, while Planetary looses $150 Million. This all assumes that Congress agrees to raise the overall Space Science budget by $500 Million annually, from $4.5 Billion to $5 Billion.
    To note, Astrophysics get an annual boost of $150 Million in FY2016, while Heliophysics gets a small bump of $50 Million.
    Officials have said, I think, that the run-out budget numbers beyond this fiscal year are notional. However, first, I don't truly believe that. Second, NASA is bound by statute to plan for ONLY what the Administration projects for those out-years. Also, since I think that NASA can only use the last fiscal year in the budget for projections, the extremely low numbers in the FY2016 projection severally limit what it can plan for up to about FY2021. And, of course, Congress may come to the rescue and cut back the Administration's plans for a big boost in spending for Earth Science.