DPS Comments on the proposed FY2003 budget for NASA


The Administration released its proposed FY2003 budget for NASA today. This is the first budget developed by the Bush Administration and the new NASA Administrator, Mr. Sean O'Keefe. The Division of Planetary Science (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society commends the support this budget provides for planetary exploration, which includes a new initiative for nuclear power and propulsion, and a second new initiative for a "New Frontier" line of competitively procured planetary space flight missions. Funding has been increased in real dollars for Research and Analysis programs, which provide a fundamental knowledge base allowing for the design of focused, efficient missions.

The Administration gave high ratings to the Discovery program of low-cost planetary missions and as a result has introduced a new line of moderately priced missions modeled on the Discovery program. The "New Frontier" missions would be about twice the cost of Discovery missions. The budget proposal would provide for about one Frontier mission every three years, bringing a new level of flight opportunity to the sciencIƒCĒD community with competitively procured missions of higher capability.

The DPS is concerned about the cancellation of the outer planets program, which included the New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Europa Orbiter. The cost-capped New Horizons mission was recently selected after an open competition in which scientists and their industry partners spent millions of dollars and months of time in good faith response to a NASA call for proposals. This precedent discourages community participation in NASA's efforts to produce cost-effective missions through competition. Whether New Horizons may be resurrected in the New Frontier program will depend on its ultimate prioritization in the Planetary Decadal Survey.

The surprise in this budget is the proposal to revive development of nuclear technology for in-space propulsion and power. Development of this technology was terminated in the 1970s and planetary exploration has been limited ever since to long, complex flight missions using conventional propulsion and to spacecraft barely capable of powering a single light bulb. Nuclear propulsion will increase accessibility of Solar System objects and decrease the flight time for some missions. On-board nuclear power will provide a power-rich environment for science investigations at the planets and increase the lifetime of these systems to years instead of a few weeks or months.

The planetary Research and Analysis program was given a 3% increase above inflation, and a new program was funded at $10M to develop planetary instruments for biological investigations on other planets. Mars exploration will continue as planned through this decade, but the large rover planned for 2007 is delayed until 2009 in order to substitute nuclear for solar power and increase its lifetime from months to years. A fully competed Discovery-class Mars Scout mission will be flown in 2007.

The DPS calls upon Congress to support the President's proposed FY03 NASA budget. It builds on the strengths and successes of our planetary program. New nuclear technology for both power and propulsion will extend our reach and capabilities to the outermost regions of our Solar System while increasing our capabilities in the inner Solar System. The "New Frontier" program offers exciting opportunities, including restoration of missions to the outer solar system.

The DPS is the world's largest professional organization dedicated to the exploration of the Solar System.

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