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Dear Colleague Letter from NASA HQ regarding Pluto-Kuiper Express (PKE) mission

Press Release From: NASA HQ
Posted: Friday, August 4, 2000

From cpilcher@hq.nasa.gov
Date: Fri, 4 Aug 2000 16:14:58 -0400
To: [Long list]
Dear Colleague:

Although rumors that the Pluto-Kuiper Express (PKE) mission have been cancelled are not correct, the mission is in serious jeopardy. The reasons are multiple, including general budget pressure and a sense that much of the Space Science budget "cannot be touched" to deal with these pressures. But central to the current weakness of PKE is our lack of a viable plan for carrying out the Outer Planets Program as currently envisaged.

We are in this situation largely because spacecraft, launch vehicles, and power sources all cost much more than were originally budgeted in 1996. For technical reasons, we were forced to delay the Europa Orbiter (EO) mission from a 2003 launch to January 2006. But the resulting launch sequence, PKE in 2004, EO in 2006, and Solar Probe (SP) in 2007 was still unaffordable. Recently, I and others said that in principle we could afford a launch sequence which delayed EO and SP each by one additional year, i.e., PKE in 2004, EO in 2007, and SP in 2008. That turns out to be incorrect. The original budget, which is the funding still included in NASA's current five-year plan, does not support this. EO and/or SP would therefore have to be delayed even further. Beyond that, in my judgement, even if the statement about in-principle affordability had been correct, there would still have been substantial danger that we could not meet the 04/07/08 launch dates because of further cost growth and schedule delays.

To support the Outer Planets Program we must develop a scientifically compelling, technically and fiscally achievable program plan for outer solar system exploration as a whole. This plan must include EO and PKE, as well as the other challenging missions the community and NASA have identified as high priority. I believe the linchpins for such a plan include launching EO as soon as we are technically capable and having a robust technology development program to enable the future missions. Jay Bergstralh is leading a group of NASA, JPL, and community scientists who are developing the scientific foundation for this plan. NASA and JPL will work with the community to complete this plan by the end of this calendar year. I believe this is essential to get the Outer Planets Program back onto sound footing.

Sincerely,

Carl

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