March 1, 2006

Nasa cuts down science programmes budget

With 3 billion dollars less allocated to science over the next 3 years, Nasa’s budget request for 2007-2010 implies that several missions will be delayed or stalled.
1st March 2006

Budget trimming

Nasa’s 2007 budget request published a few weeks ago allocated $5.3 billion to science, a slight decrease in real terms.
In all, Nasa has trimmed about $1 billion from its space science programmes and $1.5 billion from space exploration.

Consequently, several missions have been pushed back:

the Solar Dynamic Observatory, initially scheduled for May 2009, will now depart 3 months later; GPM* has been delayed 2 years; and the SIM** observatory will launch in 9 years’ time at the earliest.

Some programmes are even seriously in jeopardy:
  • Terrestrial Planet Finder has been delayed indefinitely;

  • Sofia, a stratospheric infrared astronomy observatory, could go the same way, as no funding has been allocated to it for 2007;

  • The NuSTAR telescope and Hydros satellite (to study the water cycle) are looking extremely uncertain.
The Chair of the House Science Committee has expressed concern at the budget cuts, emphasizing that space and Earth sciences should not be “pawned” to demonstrate that they are “the crown jewels of Nasa."

Priority to ISS and Constellation

While these budget decisions have caused dismay in many circles, they reflect Nasa’s stated priorities: to complete the International Space Station and support the Constellation programme in preparation for a large-scale Moon expedition around 2018.
Although the 2007 budget marks an increase of 1%, this is less than Nasa and some members of Congress had hoped for. Out of an overall budget of $16.8 billion:

  • $6.2 billion will be allocated to ISS assembly, for which 16 space shuttle flights are planned. The shuttle flight manifest has nevertheless been scaled back, and Nasa aims to sideline Atlantis in 2008, using it as a “parts donor” for the remaining 2 shuttles that will remain in service until 2010.

  • $3.9 billion will be allocated to the Constellation programme. The main beneficiary will be the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) set to take over from the shuttle, with a first operational flight planned no later than 2014. The CEV is also expected to serve for Earth-orbit missions and as a lunar or even Martian launch vehicle.

*GPM: Global Precipitation Measurements
**SIM: Space Interferometry Mission

Related links

For a summary of the Nasa budget request, see:
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