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NASA Budget Cuts May Drive Away International Partners

By | April 17, 2006


      Proposed cuts to the U.S. space budget may cause excess collateral damage between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and foreign partners interested in supporting the new Vision for Space Exploration (VSE), according to the Center of Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based think tank.

      "NASA faces very difficult choices, many of them not obvious, when it comes to funding its exploration and science programs," CSIS said in a press release last week.

      In January 2004, President George W. Bush unveiled a new vision for space exploration. In this vision NASA would finish the International Space Station, retire and replace the Space Shuttle, and return to the moon with manned missions. One month later, NASA released its fiscal year (FY) 2005 budget, which was in line with the president’s vision.

      On Feb. 6, 2006, NASA announced its FY 2007 budget. This budget, when combined with data from the FY 2006 budget, shows a $2.7 billion shortfall for FY 20062009 inclusive, when compared to original FY 2005 projections.

      "In other words, NASA is now counting on receiving less money than it had anticipated under the original VSE budget plan," CSIS said.

      The overall shortfall for these four years is quite pronounced for science and amounts to a total of $5.4 billion; a decrease, as compared with the original FY 2005 projection. This decrease arises from a $3.3 billion decrease in earth and space sciences funding and a $2.1 billion drop in funding for physical and biological sciences.

      This dramatic decrease in funding will cause problems in international cooperation on earth and space science, an area in which NASA has had a good record, CSIS says.

      The Stratospheric Observation for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) project, which has been a joint program with the German space agency, German Aerospace Center (DLR), may be cancelled. SOFIA is a Boeing 747 aircraft extensively modified to carry a 50,000-pound (22,680 kilogram), 2.5-meter (8.2-foot) infrared telescope provided by DLR. SOFIA will fly at altitudes up to 45,000 feet above 99 percent of the Earth’s water vapor to "capture infrared images not possible by even the largest ground-based telescopes,"according to the SOFIA Web site.

      In February, SOFIA contractors Universities Space Research Association and L-3 Communications Integrated Systems announced they have completed all major physical modifications required for initial flight-testing of SOFIA. Initial flight tests are scheduled for the latter part of this year, "depending on funding," according to news reports posted on the SOFIA Web site.

      Germany has been substantially involved in the SOFIA program for over 20 years. The DLR funded and oversaw design and development of the SOFIA telescope by a team of German companies. The German-built telescope was delivered in 2002 and installed in the aircraft in 2003.

      In return for Germany’s considerable investment in SOFIA, 20 percent of SOFIA’s observing time will be for German astronomers.

      Similarly, the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), a project between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), may also experience an early end to NASA participation, and the replacement for NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope (HST), the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), is likely to be delayed.

      As the first dedicated space-based gravitational wave observatory, LISA will detect waves generated by binaries within our galaxy, the Milky Way, and by massive black holes in distant galaxies.

      LISA is jointly sponsored by the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA’s Astronomy and Astrophysics Division. In this cooperative venture, ESA is providing the three spacecraft and their propulsion modules, the gravitational reference sensors, some interferometry components, and the laser subsystems. NASA is providing the launch vehicle, some interferometry components, and the spacecraft’s telecommunications systems. NASA will also perform payload integration and testing. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is managing the project. The mission will be operated from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

      The James Webb telescope is a large, infrared-optimized space telescope scheduled for launch no earlier than June 2013. JWST is designed to study the earliest galaxies and some of the first stars formed after the Big Bang. JWST will have a large mirror, 6.5 meters (20 feet) in diameter and a sunshield the size of a tennis court. Both the mirror and sunshade won’t fit onto the rocket fully open, so both will unfold once JWST is in space. The mission is an international collaboration between NASA, ESA, and the Canadian Space Agency.

      "This is a very long list," said Congressman Allan Mollohan (D-W.V.) during a House subcommittee hearing last month, "cancelled, cancelled, delayed, cancelled" science programs that would have "a very big impact." Mollohan is the ranking minority member on the House Science, State, Justice, and Commerce subcommittee.

      During the hearing, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin explained that NASA’s plans will require sacrifices "throughout the space community" over the next five years. "Regrettably," Griffin said, the rate of growth in NASA science programs will be curtailed, and force the delay or deferral of several missions.

      "On one hand, in order to ultimately achieve success in implementing the VSE, NASA must maintain strong international partnerships," CSIS said. "But as science has been an area in which NASA has experienced significant success in international partnerships, cuts to science programs may potentially drive away the very same partners NASA will seek out in space exploration. On the other hand, if drastic cuts aren’t made somewhere in NASA’s budget, it will become almost impossible to find sufficient funding for the growing costs associated with the current architecture for implementing the vision."

      "More problematically, if only a few cuts are made in science, NASA will still be reliant on foreign partners to implement the VSE, the very same partners they will drive away if successful international science programs are cut," according to CSIS.

      "NASA Administrator Michael Griffin must be judicious in cuts to science programs to fund the VSE," CSIS said. "While cuts must be made, he must ensure that the cuts don’t incur excess collateral damage to NASA’s international relationships, otherwise those potential partners will be driven further away from NASA and, ultimately, from human space exploration with NASA in its entirety."

      AF Plans Follow-Up Meeting On Space-Based Surveillance

      The Air Force intends to hold an Industry Day meeting on April 25-26 for the Space-Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) Objective System.

      The goal of the meeting is to follow-up on the Jan. 25-26 SBSS Objective System Industry Day and to provide prospective contractors with further information related to the acquisition strategy direction for the program.

      The meeting will be held at Aerospace Corp. offices in El Segundo, Calif.

      The agenda will include a government program office briefing on April 25 to provide the latest acquisition strategy direction. Primary topics to be covered are the government intended contracting strategy for Phase A studies and the government’s intention to separate the Phase B development into distinct ground system and sensor/spacecraft system acquisitions. The remaining time in the afternoon of April 25 and all day on April 26 will be set aside for one-on-one discussions with interested contractors.

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