After weeks of hinting at what was in store, NASA finally released details of its FY 2005 budget. More importantly they provided insight into how the President's recently announced space policy will be implemented. [see NASA budget documents and OMB NASA FY 2005 budget documents]
NASA will hold a series of detailed press briefings on Tuesday, 3 February 2004. Today, Monday, is set aside for memorial activities at Arlington National Cemetery - and elsewhere - for the crew of Columbia.
NASA Comptroller Steve Isakowitz briefed reporters last week under embargo on the FY 2005 budget in advance of today's budget release by OMB.
Prior to the development of NASA's new space vision, NASA, like all other activities lumped in under "discretionary spending" (non-Defense) was looking at a 5 year projected budget that would have resulted in flat and eventually negative growth - with a decrease in buying power of approximately $11 billion between FY 2005 and FY 2009.Click on image to enlarge
The Bush space policy resulted in two things. First, that projected budget profile was reversed and $11 billion was added back to the projections for NASA between FY 2005 and FY 2009. In essence, this was bad news that was not going to happen after all.
Secondly, NASA would receive an extra $1 billion on top of that $11 billion for a net increase of $12 billion over this 5 year period of time - when compared with that had been in the cards. This amounts to a budget increase of 5.6% for FY 2005, 4.7% for FY 2006, 4.8% for FY 2007, 1.0% for FY 2008, and 0.2% for FY 2009. As such, if the Bush Administration gets a second term and they adhere to this budget projection, NASA's budget will grow from $15.4 billion in FY 2004 to $18 billion in FY 2009.
Variances From FY 2004 (i.e. where the ~$11 Billion comes from)
|Eliminate ISS research
not related to new vision
|Human spaceflight reductions||-0.9||-1.4||-1.5||-1.7||-3.0||-8.6|
|Defer start of new missions
and level spend rates
|Reduce space technology
and defer institutional activities
According to Isakowitz, in crafting this new budget - one designed to refocus the agency on an exploration footing, great pains were taken to avoid creating a situation where a "balloon payment" would appear in the out years. Instead, this budget was designed to be incremental and somewhat "pay as you go".
More than just boosting NASA's budget is required in order to pay for its new exploration plans. While the budget has been boosted from a predicted decline, money has to be reprogrammed out of existing programs into new ones. Contrary to arm waving prior to the release of the budget NASA's Space Science programs are not being hit. Indeed, Space Science actually benefits from the new exploration focus and the new synergy that will now be promoted for human and robotic programs.
EARMARKS WON'T JUST GO AWAY
One thing that NASA has not adequately addressed is the issue of earmarks - specific modifications made to NASA's budget during the appropriations process where by NASA dollars are used to fund projects selected by members of Congress. While many projects have merit, they are almost always things that NASA had not proposed as part of its budget. Therefore, every dollar earmarked for such "pork" projects (as critics love to call them) is a dollar NASA does not have to spend on the things it proposed to do - and its final budget has to be adjusted accordingly.
In materials presented to the news media NASA's FY 2004 budget is shown as having some $380 million (detail) as being diverted to earmarks. It does not figure in earmarks to the process whereby it will reprogram the $11.6 billion to cover the new exploration initiative. Even if one assumes that the $388 million in earmarks remains unaltered in the FY 2005-FY 2009 time frame (earmarks to NASA's budget have increased several hundred percent over recent years), this represents some $1.94 billion in potential earmarks that would have to be carved out of the $11.6 billion being reprogrammed for exploration.
When asked if the earmark threat actually represents a $1.9 billion lien against anticipated reprogramming resources - possibly more Isakowitz would only repeat that this is "an ongoing challenge".
The Space Shuttle program will be restructured such that the orbiter fleet is upgraded and then operated in accordance with CAIB and Return to Flight Task force recommendations - plus any that would emanate from the newly formed Aldridge Commission. NASA's planning estimates are for 5 shuttle missions a year until assembly of ISS is completed. AT that point the Shuttle would no longer fly with humans.
NASA has left open the possibility that it evolving exploration program's launch requirements might (probably will) call for heavy lift capability that that some sort of Shuttle-derived capability might be developed. Any funds required for that advanced use of Shuttle technology would be funded by the Office of Exploration Systems (Code T) according to Isakowitz.
With the retirement of the Shuttle fleet, one would expect that the various operations contracts currently in place would be in jeopardy. While Isakowitz would not speculate on changes to the SFOC (Space Flight Operations Contract), he did agree, in a broader sense, that there would be a rethinking of operations contracts down the road as the new exploration infrastructure moved into place.
The Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) will be developed under Project Constellation. More than just a super-sized version of the Orbital Space Plane (OSP), the CEV is envisioned as a collection of modular systems that will allow human missions to low Earth orbit, the Moon and beyond. While resembling some of the mission architecture embodied by the Apollo program this vehicle will truly be a 21st century spacecraft - not a recreation of something from a half a century earlier.
Initial flights of the CEV will probably be unmanned, with human rating coming later. Isakowitz said that plans call for the first test flights by the end of this decade with lunar landings in the 2015-2020 time frame. The CEV might reach a level of reliability while the U.S. is still using the ISS that they could be used as a crew transport and/or crew rescue capability.
When asked if the CEV was going to be a capsule, Isakowitz replied that earlier OSP work had narrowed options down a bit and, like the illustrations shown to reporters in Isakowitz's briefing charts, the current thinking is along the lines of a capsule-based system.
Given the physical and energetic constraints of launching lunar missions from the ISS (in an 51.6 degree orbit) Isakowitz tended to agree with the notion that the ISS would not be in the direct path of lunar exploration. However, since rendezvous and docking capabilities will be required for CEV's use in going to the Moon and elsewhere, Isakowitz said that the ISS would be a logical place to carry out these tests.
With the U.S. looking at a possible dramatic decrease in ISS utilization in 2016, and operational CEV capable of reaching the ISS in 2014, Isakowitz was asked if it was possible, given that things tend to slip, that the CEV might never even visit the ISS. Isakowitz agreed that this was a possibility.
During the time that the shuttle fleet is retired and a new American human spaceflight capability is developed, the U.S. will rely upon Russian Soyuz vehicles. Until now the U.S. has been bared from direct purchase of Soyuz (or Progress) missions due to one aspect or another of the Iran Non Proliferation Act (INPA).
Given the fact that NASA is now looking at a gap of 3 or 4 years during which access to the ISS would rely upon Soyuz vehicles - and the fact that the ISS may never see an operational CEV visit, the need to find a permanent, non-shuttle mode of delivering U.S. astronauts to the ISS becomes obvious.
When asked if the U.S. was going to depend on Russia or an international partner nation to pay for these Soyuz flights (as they are now). Isakowitz agreed that it might require payment by the U.S. and that regulatory modifications to law might therefore be required. This is a marked departure from previous NASA and Bush Administration stance wherein the notion of altering the INPA or paying Russia directly has been summarily ruled out.
In addition to Soyuz transport of humans, a variety of alternatives for transporting cargo will be considered. Under existing plans, Russia's Progress system will soon be augmented by Europe's ATV and Japan's HTV - both of which are automate d cargo carriers. When asked if the Alternate Access program, which sought to develop alternatives to Shuttle cargo transportation would be continued, Isakowitz said that it would not, He did say that the ISS program would be looking at its cargo needs and that there was a possibility that some commercial solutions might be sought if the aforementioned systems cannot provide adequate coverage. To cover this there will be some funds to purchase ISS resupply in the Office of Space Flight's budget. Isakowitz made it clear that he did not expect NASA to be funding the development of any new systems as was the case with SLI's Alt Access program.
The President's new policy calls for a focus of the ISS on human physiology and that this research program is aimed at completion in 2016. According to Isakowitz, that may be flexible with work continuing several years after that. Exactly when U.S. utilization of the ISS comes to an end will depend on the progress achieved and by input from the Office of Biological and Physical Research (OBPR). When asked if the U.S. was simply going to walk away from the ISS program (noting the end of life requirements for deorbiting of hardware) Isakowitz agreed that this was unlikely.
When asked if the decision to focus the ISS on human physiology research might lead to the cancellation of research programs and a halt in the development of some space station hardware - such as that associated with materials science and metallurgical research - Isakowitz said that this was a distinct possibility - but that OBPR would need to do an extensive analysis first before any details will be known.
In order to preserve its options, NASA recently put the procurement process for the International Space Station Research Institute (ISSRI) on hold stating "NASA will delay the procurement of the ISSRI for at least one year while the agency reconsiders establishing a new institute and potentially updating its plan. The agency may also choose to terminate the ISSRI procurement efforts."
BACK TO THE MOON
Lunar exploration will resume as early as 2008 with a lunar orbiter followed by a series of orbiters and landers. When asked of science or human exploration would be the driver, Isakowitz said that the focus would be more on blazing a path for eventual human visits - but that there was a lot of intrinsic science that would be aboard these missions as well.
"Unlike Mars where robotic exploration is science driven, this is exploration driven from the get-go" Isakowitz said. He also emphasized that sending humans to the moon was not an end unto itself but rather that the moon would be a test bed for going to Mars "because we do not know how to go to Mars right now."
ON TO MARS
With regards to the current Mars exploration program using robotics, Isakowitz showed a chart which contained all of the expected future Mars missions such as the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Phoenix, Mars Science Laboratory. As the new exploration program kicks in the number of missions essentially doubles according to the charts - with several missions at each launch opportunity. Among the suggested missions are sample return missions and very sophisticated robotic rovers.
While NASA's charts show a possible human landing on Mars in the 2020 window Isakowitz did not back away from the notion that it could happen as soon as 2018. He did emphasize that the exact course of the program is going to be based on results and that things will remain fluid for some time with regard to exact dates.
Space Science: $1.2 billion for solar system exploration; $691 million for Mars exploration (16% increase over FY 2004 - will double by FY 2009); $70 million to lunar exploration (will amount to $420 million by FY 2009 with the first robotic mission in 2008); $1.1 billion for Origins (19% more than in FY 2004); 378 Million for the structure and evolution of the universe; and $746 million for Sun-Earth connections. The JIMO (Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter) spacecraft and its nuclear propulsion systems (developed under Project Prometheus) will be covered in the Office of Exploration Systems budget. The scientific instrumentation specific to that mission will remain under development in the Office of Space Science budget.
Earth Science: $54 million for climate change; $141 million for NPOESS; $42 Million for Landsat continuity; $560 million for research; and $240 million for new missions
Biological and Physical Research: $343 million for bioastronautics and $149 million for fundamental biology.
Aeronautics: In addition to a newly named and refocused organization at NASA, aeronautics gets $7 million for development of planetary aircraft; $188 million for aviation safety; $72 million for noise reduction; and $209 for emissions research.
Education: for the most part, this program has not been touched and will continue along the lines previously planned.
Exploration Systems: In addition to the establishment of a new office, this effort gets $428 million for Project Constellation ($ 6.6 billion over the next 5 years); 438 million for Project Prometheus; $115 million for technology maturation; and $20 million for an interesting new approach for funding ideas that will use up to $20 million in prizes along the lines that the X Prize and DARPA have been using.
Office of Space Flight: $1.9 billion for ISS - a 24% increase; $4.3 billion for Shuttle a 9% increase (includes Return to Flight Investments, and $10 million to demonstrate emerging launch system concepts. Over the next 5 years NASA will add $750 million for Return to Flight and other improvements to the remaining three Shuttles. In FY 2009 a fall off will begin in funding as the Shuttle program moves towards shut down. SLEP - the Service Life Extension Program will not continue - but there will be some items similar to what SLEP covered that will be continued as part of the things done to fly the shuttle fleet until retirement.
This budget cuts things close and is somewhat success-driven. It assumes that one thing can be phased out while another is phased in. It assumes that some long term planning can be achieved and that the schedule is flexible enough to adapt to progress along the way. It also assumes, somewhat naively, that Congressional earmarks will more or less go away - otherwise $2 billion or more of the $12 billion needed to make this all work between FY 2005 and FY 2009 will not be available.
All of this will, of course, need to run the gauntlet at Congress - who are seemingly unwilling and/or incapable of restraining themselves from adding earmarks to NASA's budget.
If nothing else, unlike the Clinton/Goldin years where budget cuts were cheered on by NASA's Administrator and humans were confined to low Earth orbit by decree from an indifferent White House, this new space vision and its attendant budget seeks to make amends albeit within a constrained budgetary environment, and move humans outwards from Earth - this time with the full backing of NASA's Administrator and the White House.
Whether vision triumphs over politics remains to be seen.
As always, stay tuned.