Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Budget Woes

The BBC reports that two of ESA's planetary programs are experiencing cost overruns. In the case of ExoMars, the Humboldt surface station has been eliminated. While this was expected, its loss means that many measurements that would have been prototypes of a future Mars network mission have been eliminated. The article goes on to say that NASA will take on a significant role in the mission including providing the launch vehicle. The cooperation between ESA and NASA on Mars missions is expected to continue for a series of Mars missions.

In separate news, ESA's Bepi-Colombo mission is both over budget and over weight, requiring that that mission also undergo a slimming.

One of the contributors to Unmanned Spaceflight noted that a Congressional budget report expressed concern that the President's proposed budget (and most importantly its projected budgets for the coming years) doesn't seem to support funding the Jupiter Europa flagship mission:

"The Committee is concerned that the budget profile for the Outer Planets flagship mission to Europa appears inconsistent with a 2020 launch. Therefore, NASA is directed within 60 days of enactment of this Act to provide a projected full lifetime budget outline for the Europa mission, to include anticipated contributions from foreign partners, and an alternative budget profile that would accelerate the launch to 2018."

Editorial Thoughts: Planetary missions are getting more complex and more expensive now that so many of the easy missions have been completed. Cost overruns have always been a problem, but seem to me more likely as more difficult missions are tackled. This will make formulating a coherent roadmap all the more difficult.

The Congressional report seems to support my reading of the budget that there will not be enough funds to both support a large (~50% of NASA's planetary budget) Mars program, the Discovery and New Frontiers programs, and a large outer planets Flagship mission. The upcoming Decadal Survey process is going to be interesting, indeed.

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