Sunday, September 6, 2009

Scary Messages

I finally found the time to listen to Ed Weiler's talk in early July on the state of NASA's planetary budget (although the messages are similar for other parts of NASA's science budget except Earth monitoring). The key takeaways:

  • NASA's planetary budget has shrunk to approximately half of what it was at the end of the last Decadal Survey (~2003) that set mission priorities
  • NASA can now fund about 60% of its Mars program -- hence the joint program in definition with the European Space Agency
  • NASA cannot afford an outer planets flagship mission without cannibalizing some or all of the Mars program, the New Frontiers program, and/or the Discovery program
  • The loss of the low cost, small Delta 2 launcher will raise the cost of small missions by tens of millions of dollars and potentially a $100M
As a result of these pressures (and if anything, I see the planetary budgt shrinking in the future to fund the manned spaceflight program or to hold down deficits), the program that comes out of the current Decadal Survey may be quite different than the current program.

Resources: Ed Weiler's presentation and Q&A before the Decadal Survey committee


  1. Scary indeed. Has there been any scuttlebutt about SpaceX's Falcon series or any of the other new boosters as cost-effective replacements for the current EELVs for planetary missions? Understand that it's a big assumption that they would in fact live up to the hype (and be reliable enough), but would be interested to see if the funding profiles could become better.

  2. The new launchers were discussed in this meeting. To paraphrase Weiler, there is great hope for their success. However, all the efforts are in the early stages; like babies, the plans look great, but we must remember that we also have to go through the teenage years (that is, expect development problems and some failures).