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posted by janrinok on Thursday May 10 2018, @02:08AM   Printer-friendly
from the here,-take-my-money dept.

House spending bill offers $21.5 billion for NASA in 2019

A House appropriations bill released May 8 offers more than $21.5 billion for NASA in fiscal year 2019, a significant increase over both what the agency received in 2018 and what the White House proposed for 2019.

While there is no mention of the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) or the possibility of raising the James Webb Space Telescope's $8 billion spending cap, there is plenty of money for a Europa mission (a favorite of Rep. John Culberson) and continued development of the Space Launch System (SLS):

The bill, though, does specify funding for some programs. It calls for spending $545 million on the Europa Clipper mission and $195 million for a follow-on lander. NASA requested only $264.7 million for Europa Clipper and nothing for the lander. NASA said in the budget proposal it was seeking to launch Europa Clipper in 2025 on a commercial vehicle, while the bill calls for the use of the Space Launch System and a launch by 2022. In its budget proposal, NASA estimated needing $565 million in 2019 to keep Europa Clipper on track for a 2022 launch but warned of "potential impacts to the rest of the Science portfolio" if funded at that level.

The bill includes $1.35 billion for Orion and $2.15 billion for SLS, the same funding those exploration programs received in 2018. NASA requested slightly less for each: $1.164 billion for Orion and $2.078 billion for SLS. The bill fully funds the administration's request for the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, at $504 million in 2019.

WFIRST was given $150 million in a 2018 omnibus spending bill, staving off its possible cancellation, but its future may still be in peril due to JWST delays:

Congress, in the 2018 omnibus spending bill, provided $150 million for WFIRST, which many interpreted as a rebuke to the administration's proposal even though Congress had yet to take up the 2019 budget. However, Congress passed the 2018 omnibus spending bill just days before NASA revealed another delay, and potential cost overrun, for JWST, complicating the future of WFIRST.

As with PACE, work on WFIRST is continuing for 2018 as the appropriations process for 2019 plays out in Congress. The mission's next major review, for Key Decision Point B, is scheduled for May 22, which will allow it go into Phase B of its development.

"We were funded fully through FY '18," said Jeff Kruk, WFIRST project scientist, at the Space Studies Board meeting May 3. "We have to be ready to proceed should Congress decide to continue funding the mission. The only way we will meet the cost cap is if we stay on schedule."

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Related Stories

Trump Administration Budget Proposal Would Cancel WFIRST 16 comments

A Trump administration budget proposal would cancel NASA's flagship-class Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) as well as several Earth science related telescopes, as it focuses on the Space Launch System, Orion, and sending astronauts to an orbital space station around the Moon:

The Trump administration has released its budget proposal for fiscal year 2019 and put dozens of federal programs on the chopping block, including a brand-new NASA space telescope that scientists say would provide the biggest picture of the universe yet, with the same sparkling clarity as the Hubble Space Telescope. The proposal, released Monday, recommends eliminating the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), citing "higher priorities" at NASA and the cost of the new telescope.

"Given competing priorities at NASA, and budget constraints, developing another large space telescope immediately after completing the $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope is not a priority for the administration," the proposal states. "The budget proposes to terminate WFIRST and redirect existing funds to other priorities of the science community, including completed astrophysics missions and research."

Although the Trump administration wants to end funding of the International Space Station (ISS) by 2025, it envisions private companies picking up the slack:

"The decision to end direct federal support for the ISS in 2025 does not imply that the platform itself will be deorbited at that time — it is possible that industry could continue to operate certain elements or capabilities of the ISS as part of a future commercial platform," according to a draft summary of NASA's ISS Transition Report required by Congress in the agency's 2017 Authorization Act.

NASA Gets Money it Didn't Ask for to Fund Second SLS Mobile Launcher; WFIRST Mission Receives Funds 17 comments

Congress has given NASA $350 million for a second mobile launcher for the Space Launch System:

The problem stems from the fact that NASA's current mobile launch platform wasn't actually built for the SLS. NASA has been modifying a platform that was originally built for a rocket that never saw the light of day — the Ares 1, a vehicle that was meant to send humans back to the Moon as part of the now-canceled Constellation program. When the Constellation program was replaced with the SLS program in 2011, NASA decided to simply upgrade the mobile launch platform the agency had already built for Ares 1 to support the Space Launch System. The SLS is a much bigger and heavier vehicle than the Ares 1 was going to be, so NASA has had to reinforce the base of the platform, as well as expand it to accommodate the larger size of the rocket and its engines.

[...] Now, Congress is telling NASA to build a second platform, likely due to safety concerns. Building the new platform could potentially move the second flight of SLS up to 2022 instead of 2023. Otherwise, having such a huge gap between the first and second flight of the rocket could cause engineers to forget the valuable experience they gained from flying the rocket the first time. "When that happens, you have all the people — in your ground systems and in mission control — you have them sitting around for months at a time with nothing to do," Casey Dreier, director of space policy at the Planetary Society, tells The Verge. "And in the absence of real rocket launches, you might lose good people."

But another unofficial motivation could be optics. Further delays would be a bad look for the perennially delayed SLS program. The first flight of the SLS has been consistently pushed back — from 2018, to 2019, and then to 2020. And even when the first two flights of the vehicle are done, the rocket will probably only launch once a year.

Contrary to a Trump administration NASA budget proposal, the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) has received additional funding:

Lawmakers provided $150 million for the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, or WFIRST, which the Trump administration proposed canceling last month. Set for launch in the mid-2020s, WFIRST would be next in NASA's line of big observatories in space after Hubble and the James Webb Space Telescope. It was the top priority for NASA's astrophysics program in a National Academy of Sciences decadal survey released in 2010. The agency's policy is to follow cues from the science community encapsulated in the decadal survey reports.

Agency managers last year were wary that WFIRST could exceed its $3.2 billion cost cap, and Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA's science directorate, in October ordered a team at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland — home of the WFIRST project office — to study how the mission could be modified to fit under the budget limit.

Officials drafting NASA's budget request for fiscal 2019 decided WFIRST was too expensive, but the mission has enjoyed strong support from Congress. In an apparent reference to WFIRST's proposed termination, lawmakers wrote that they "reject the cancellation of scientific priorities recommended by the National Academy of Sciences decadal survey process."

Previously: Trump Administration Budget Proposal Would Cancel WFIRST
Leaning Tower of NASA

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Launch of James Webb Space Telescope Delayed Again, This Time to March 2021, Cost at $9.66 Billion 17 comments

Remember the JWST? Yup:

NASA has again delayed the launch of its next-generation space observatory, known as the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the space agency announced today. The telescope now has a new launch date of March 30th, 2021. It's the second delay to the project's timeline this year, and the third in the last nine months.

"We're all disappointed that the culmination of Webb and its launch is taking longer than expected, but we're creating something new here. We're dealing with cutting edge technology to perform an unprecedented mission, and I know that our teams are working hard and will successfully overcome the challenges," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a video statement. "In space we always have to look at the long term, and sometimes the complexities of our missions don't come together as soon as we wish. But we learn, we move ahead, and ultimately we succeed."

NASA pushed the launch of JWST, which is viewed as a more powerful successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, from 2019 to 2020 in March of this year. At the same time the space agency also convened an independent review board to assess the future of the project, which is running the risk of blowing by an $8 billion cost cap set by NASA in 2011. Going beyond that cost cap would mean that Congress has to reauthorize the program.

NASA Administrator at House Hearing: WFIRST Could be Delayed to Help Pay for JWST 13 comments

At a two-part hearing discussing the future of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine proposed reducing the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope's (WFIRST) budget by about a third in fiscal years 2020 and 2021 to help fund the cost-overrun JWST:

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said July 25 that, in order to address the delays and cost overruns with the James Webb Space Telescope, the agency may seek to slow down development of another flagship astrophysics mission.

Testifying before the House Science Committee in the first half of a two-part hearing on JWST, Bridenstine suggested that slowing down work on the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) until after JWST is launched could be a way to deal with JWST's increased cost while maintaining a "balanced portfolio" of large and small astrophysics programs.

"The idea of WFIRST presumed that JWST would be on orbit and delivering science," he said. "So it is my recommendation that we move forward with WFIRST after we move forward with JWST."

"It is true we can do some development now. I'm not saying that we need to shut down WFIRST, and we shouldn't do it," he added. "What I'm saying is there's opportunity here."

The second part of the hearing will involve questioning of Northrop Grumman CEO Wes Bush on the 26th.

See also: NASA's next great space telescope is stuck on Earth after screwy errors

Previously: WFIRST Space Observatory Could be Scaled Back Due to Costs
Trump Administration Budget Proposal Would Cancel WFIRST
House Spending Bill Offers NASA More Money Than the Agency or Administration Wanted
Launch of James Webb Space Telescope Delayed Again, This Time to March 2021, Cost at $9.66 Billion

Original Submission

Damage Control: Boeing-Sponsored Newsletter Praises Space Launch System (SLS), Trashes Saturn V 29 comments

Elon Musk pegs SpaceX BFR program at $5B as NASA's rocket booster nears $5B in cost overruns

[Compared] to Boeing's first serious 2014 contract for the SLS Core Stages – $4.2B to complete Core Stages 1 and 2 and launch EM-1 in Nov. 2017 – the company will ultimately end up 215% over-budget ($4.2B to $8.9B) and ~40 months behind schedule (42 months to 80+ months from contract award to completion). Meanwhile, as OIG notes, NASA has continued to give Boeing impossibly effusive and glowing performance reviews to the tune of $323 million in "award fees", with grades that would – under the contracting book NASA itself wrote – imply that Boeing SLS Core Stage work has been reliably under budget and ahead of schedule (it's not).

[...] Boeing – recently brought to light as the likely source of a spate of egregiously counterfactual op-eds published with the intention of dirtying SpaceX's image – also took it upon itself to sponsor what could be described as responses to NASA OIG's scathing October 10th SLS audit. Hilariously, a Politico newsletter sponsored by Boeing managed to explicitly demean and belittle the Apollo-era Saturn V rocket as a "rickety metal bucket built with 1960s technology", of which Boeing was very tenuously involved thanks to its eventual acquisition of companies that actually built Saturn and sent humans to the Moon.

At the same time, that newsletter described SLS as a rocket that will be "light years ahead of thespacecraft [sic] that NASA astronauts used to get to the moon 50 years ago." At present, the only clear way SLS is or will be "light years" ahead – as much a measure of time as it is of distance – of Saturn V is by continuing the rocket's trend of endless delays. Perhaps NASA astronomers will soon be able to judge exactly how many "light years ahead" SLS is by measuring the program's redshift or blueshift with one of several ground- and space-based telescopes.

Here's a typical Boeing shill response (archive) to the NASA Inspector General report.

See also: Will the US waste $100+ billion on SLS, Orion and LOP-G by 2030?

Previously: Maiden Flight of the Space Launch System Delayed to 2019 (now delayed to June 2020, likely 2021)
First SLS Mission Will be Unmanned
After the Falcon Heavy Launch, Time to Defund the Space Launch System?
NASA's Chief of Human Spaceflight Rules Out Use of Falcon Heavy for Lunar Station
House Spending Bill Offers NASA More Money Than the Agency or Administration Wanted
NASA Administrator Ponders the Fate of SLS in Interview
There's a New Report on SLS Rocket Management, and It's Pretty Brutal

Original Submission

Politics: Impact of the Midterm Elections May be Felt at NASA 16 comments

The outcomes of several races in the 2018 midterm elections may have an impact on the Europa Clipper mission, as well as other NASA priorities:

Perhaps the most significant loss occurred in Texas's Seventh Congressional District, home to thousands of the employees at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. A political newcomer, Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, defeated the incumbent John Culberson, who has served in the House since 2001. Culberson, an attorney, doesn't have a science background. But he grew up in the 1960s building telescopes, toying with model rockets, and reading popular science magazines. For the past four years, Culberson has pushed his colleagues in the House and the Senate to steadily grow nasa's budget, for projects including its climate-science programs—which may come as a surprise, given the congressman's party line on climate change.

Culberson has fiercely supported one mission in particular: a journey to one of Jupiter's moons, the icy Europa. As chair of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science, Culberson more than doubled the amount of money the space agency requested from Congress for an orbiter around Europa, from $265 million to $545 million. He also threw in $195 million to support a lander to the moon, which nasa hadn't even planned for, but would of course accept. Scientists suspect that Europa's frozen crust covers a liquid ocean that may sustain microbial life. Culberson was intent on sending something there to find it. "This will be tremendously expensive, but worth every penny," he said last year, during a visit to nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to check its progress.

With Culberson out of the House, the funding portfolio for the Europa mission could change. "I don't see any obvious members of Congress, Republican or Democratic, who'd be taking up that mantle of leading the Europa efforts, so I imagine that those are likely to start to wane," said Casey Dreier, a senior space-policy adviser at the Planetary Society, a nonprofit space-advocacy group.

Dreier said the development of the Europa orbiter, known as Clipper, will certainly continue. Since nasa formally approved the mission in 2015, engineers and scientists have made significant progress on the design of the spacecraft. But without a steady flow of funding, its launch date could slip, he said. The lander is on shakier ground. "I don't think you're going to see money for the Europa lander to continue showing up, because that's money that nasa has not been requesting," Dreier said.

See also: Culberson's ouster could spell big problems for NASA's Orion program, experts say
NASA's Europa lander may be in jeopardy after the midterms — and some are fine with seeing it go
What the 2018 midterms mean for NASA and planetary science

Previously: House Spending Bill Offers NASA More Money Than the Agency or Administration Wanted

Original Submission

White House Budget Request Would Move Launches from SLS to Commercial Providers 49 comments

NASA budget proposal targets SLS (Space Launch System)

The White House's fiscal year 2020 budget request for NASA proposes to delay work on an upgraded version of the Space Launch System and would transfer some of that vehicle's payloads to other rockets.

The proposal, released by the Office of Management and Budget March 11, offers a total of $21 billion for the space agency, a decrease of $500 million over what Congress appropriated in the final fiscal year 2019 spending bill signed into law Feb. 15.

A major element of the proposal is to defer work on the Block 1B version of the SLS, which would increase the rocket's performance by replacing its existing Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage with the more powerful Exploration Upper Stage. The budget "instead focuses the program on the completion of the initial version of the SLS and supporting a reliable SLS and Orion annual flight cadence," the OMB budget stated. The first SLS/Orion mission, without a crew, is now planned for the "early 2020s," according to the budget, an apparent slip from the planned 2020 launch of Exploration Mission 1.

NASA had previously planned to use the Block 1B version of SLS to launch elements of its lunar Gateway, using a "co-manifesting" capability enabled by the rocket's greater performance. Instead, according to the budget document, those components will be launched on "competitively procured vehicles, complementing crew transport flights on the SLS and Orion."

[...] The budget proposal would also remove one non-exploration payload from the SLS manifest. The proposal offers $600 million for the Europa Clipper mission, enabling a launch in 2023. However, NASA would instead seek to launch the mission on a commercial launch vehicle rather than SLS, a move it claims "would save over $700 million, allowing multiple new activities to be funded across the Agency." The fiscal year 2019 budget request also proposed a commercial launch of Europa Clipper, but Congress placed into law in the final funding bill the requirement to use SLS for that mission.

Are we nearing a good timeline?

Related: After the Falcon Heavy Launch, Time to Defund the Space Launch System?
House Spending Bill Offers NASA More Money Than the Agency or Administration Wanted
NASA Administrator Ponders the Fate of SLS in Interview
SpaceX's Falcon Heavy Could Launch Japanese and European Payloads to Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway
Northrop Grumman Exec Warns of Coming "Affordability" in the Space Launch System's Future
Impact of the Midterm Elections May be Felt at NASA
When Space Science Becomes a Political Liability

Original Submission

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10 2018, @02:21AM (4 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10 2018, @02:21AM (#677712)

    Congress remains committed to transfering your tax dollars to their MIC friends by way of SLS.

    • (Score: 2) by MostCynical on Thursday May 10 2018, @03:39AM (3 children)

      by MostCynical (2589) on Thursday May 10 2018, @03:39AM (#677732) Journal

      Success measured in billions, with no launch in sight.
      Poor Europa Clipper will never get off the ground, at this rate.

      "I guess once you start doubting, there's no end to it." -Batou, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
      • (Score: 4, Informative) by takyon on Thursday May 10 2018, @04:15AM (2 children)

        by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {}> on Thursday May 10 2018, @04:15AM (#677743) Journal

        The recent cash infusion (see the March story [] about the 2018 omnibus bill) might mean that SLS is not (further) delayed. They are also planning to fly SLS Block 1 more than the single time [] previously planned.

        What we are seeing is a mad rush by the Beltway bandits and their puppets to pour money into the SLS/Orion program before it's too late. They all know that BFR is coming soon, and that it will not only make SLS look like the overpriced garbage it is, but outperform it as well. They even have to invent reasons [] for why Falcon Heavy can't be used [] (it can lift over 90% of the load SLS Block 1 can, or even more considering that they plan to fly astronauts alongside the cargo, which could be done using a separate Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch instead).

        If SLS were to be delayed by say, another 2 years, there is a chance that BFR will begin operating first (lifting real payloads, not just tests). That could spell an end to the SLS program. If they can launch the initial SLS missions first, they could build enough momentum to keep it going for a few missions, although we may never see Block 2 (tentatively scheduled [] for 2029).

        [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
        • (Score: 2) by MostCynical on Thursday May 10 2018, @04:44AM (1 child)

          by MostCynical (2589) on Thursday May 10 2018, @04:44AM (#677750) Journal

          There is also the ML-1 problem.
          Not like choosing a rocket is as simple as choosing a prime mover.
          Especially when the "joins" fail.. []



          "I guess once you start doubting, there's no end to it." -Batou, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
          • (Score: 4, Interesting) by takyon on Thursday May 10 2018, @05:43AM

            by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {}> on Thursday May 10 2018, @05:43AM (#677757) Journal

            Northrop Grumman, known for fucking up both Zuma and JWST (in slow motion). If JWST fails and Northrop Grumman gets blamed, that's a cool $10 billion blasted away.

            And as for Falcon Heavy as a lifter for Europa Clipper:

            A direct shot of a six-ton satellite to Jupiter requires a rocket with a lot of muscle. During the briefing, Culberson was told no commercial rocket can do this, even SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, which flew for the first time in February. (It is not clear whether NASA specifically asked SpaceX about the Falcon Heavy and Europa, as Goldstein said figures for all the commercial rockets were provided by a competitor to SpaceX, United Launch Alliance.) In the charts shown in the JPL conference room, engineers had modeled a Falcon Heavy with a small “kick stage,” but they had not considered alternatives, such as a Falcon Heavy with a more powerful Centaur upper stage for a direct-to-Jupiter mission.

            Falcon Heavy is almost as powerful as SLS Block 1. 63.8 tons to LEO vs 70. But that gap may be narrowing even more since the Falcon Heavy test flight used older Falcon 9 components. In about 14 hours from now, SpaceX will launch its very first Falcon 9 Block 5, which has about 7-8% more thrust than Block 4 (FH center core was a Block 3, not sure about the rest). Future Falcon Heavy rockets built with the Block 5 might be able to match the SLS Block 1. And SLS Block 1 is going to be the only version flying for years (if it does at all).

            [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10 2018, @02:48AM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10 2018, @02:48AM (#677721)

    I want a blowjob from a Roswell Grey.

  • (Score: 2) by Whoever on Thursday May 10 2018, @03:40AM (3 children)

    by Whoever (4524) on Thursday May 10 2018, @03:40AM (#677733) Journal

    Meanwhile, where is the promised infrastructure bill? I guess that spending around the country doesn't transfer to tax dollars to Trump's friends as efficiently.

    • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Sulla on Thursday May 10 2018, @04:19AM (2 children)

      by Sulla (5173) on Thursday May 10 2018, @04:19AM (#677745) Journal

      Pretty sure trumps friends would benefit more from construction than space, but I guess you know his high tech space friends better than me. The budget I would like to see is 100 million for a trump international hotel built in every world capital and a blank check for getting us the pace treaties to achieve it. Giving trump a hotel in every country in exchange for peace would be the cheapest price for peace we ever could pay. War doesnt help the tourist trade.

      Ceterum censeo Sinae esse delendam
      • (Score: 2) by Whoever on Thursday May 10 2018, @05:51AM

        by Whoever (4524) on Thursday May 10 2018, @05:51AM (#677758) Journal

        The thing about a big infrastructure bill is that the benefits are dispersed widely, it would even benefit contractors in the liberal bastions such as California. Space, on the other hand uses a much smaller number of contractors, so the benefit is much more highly targeted.

      • (Score: 2) by DeathMonkey on Thursday May 10 2018, @05:45PM

        by DeathMonkey (1380) on Thursday May 10 2018, @05:45PM (#678020) Journal

        How would putting a Trump sign on a building someone else built achieve peace?

  • (Score: 2) by Phoenix666 on Thursday May 10 2018, @10:52AM (2 children)

    by Phoenix666 (552) on Thursday May 10 2018, @10:52AM (#677788) Journal

    Can we have that mission to Europa, then? Enceladus?

    I'm a big fan of Mars and have felt very fortunate to be alive during a time of so many missions to that planet, but if "where there is water, there is life" is true then we must be sending missions to those places as well.

    Discovering life on other bodies in our solar system would have a profound effect on humanity.

    Washington DC delenda est.
    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Thursday May 10 2018, @12:57PM

      by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {}> on Thursday May 10 2018, @12:57PM (#677817) Journal

      The problem with the Europa mission is that it will have a half-assed lander at best. It will sample a very small amount of material on the surface with the hopes that evidence of life can be found there. Given that Europa is geologically (hydrologically?) active, maybe they will get lucky.

      The ideal mission would drill through the ice, deploying a small submarine that can communicate with a surface beacon. Adding some kind of compact DNA sequencer would also be a bold statement, and could help distinguish Europan microbes from the several Earth-born ones that will surely hitch a ride.

      Between Europa Clipper and ESA's Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer, at least there will be very detailed imagery of Europa, including identification of where the ice is the easiest to drill through. The Europa Clipper lander is optional [].

      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10 2018, @02:19PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10 2018, @02:19PM (#677866)

      You know very well we're not allowed to visit Europa. What part of "attempt no landing there" do you not understand?

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10 2018, @07:34PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10 2018, @07:34PM (#678074)

    Now instead of asking the military to build it, Trump will ask NASA!