NASA budget released

The fiscal 2013 budget was released today and the news for NASA is about what was posted here over the weekend:

(AP) — The president proposed cutting $309 million for studying planets this year, with more cuts in future years. After an already mostly built Mars mission in 2013, future journeys to the red planet are eliminated, put on hold or restructured. While the study of planets would be sliced 21 percent, spending for the overall budget and long delayed James Webb Space Telescope would increase 21 percent.

On a positive note, the President again proposed serious money to jump start America’s nascent Newspace capabilities. The hope is companies like SpaceX will be able to provide launch services for US astronauts much sooner than the proposed SLS and for tens of millions less than a ride on a Russian rocket. Regular readers know I’m a big supporter of Newspace. But in the past Congress, driven by lawmakers representing traditional aerospace, along with Huntsville, Alabama, Houston, Texas, and Florida’s spacecoast, has pared that portion down considerably.


  1. The Lorax says

    If commercial spaceflight is cheaper without sacrificing quality, then go for it. There’s no reason not to. But NASA will still need money to do that sexy, sexy science! Yes, it’s a problem that they keep going over-budget… but they’re doing some of the most important research in the history of the world. They have inspired generations. Taking such a huge cut is nothing short of shameful.

  2. says

    It almost certianly will be cheaper. On the science side, what happens at NASA too often is misisons go way over budget. Inf act, for a while, there was scuttlebutt that that was the way to get your mission approved and then gain power within the agency; low ball it for the consideration phase then let it balloon during the development and operational phases using the “We have too much invested to quit now” speil.

    In fairness, part of the reason these things went over budget is because these were totally new spacecraft and avionics that had to operate with huge confidence in enviroments swinging hundreds of degrees in temperature and in some cases many times in pressure. Those kinds of components and sytems are expensive to design and test.

    More recent mission missions like Dawn and New Horizon didn’t do that over budget deal, they actually came in close to the original estimate showing it can be done. But ambitious misisons, like JWST or a Uranus orbiter would still be subject to some of that over run process. How much of it is legit over runs, and how much stems from an initial low ball estimate, is hard to say for sure.

  3. The Lorax says

    You’re right. I remember from the “From the Earth to the Moon” mini-series (of which the DVD collection is one of my most prized possessions), specifically the episode “Spider” which portrayed the design, construction, development, and first flight of the Lunar Excursion Module, one of the characters was bemoaning the cost overruns, but rationalized this by saying that budgets are based off of previous experience on similar machines. Every time NASA sends a probe up, it’s new technology doing new things. Hell, I’ve never even heard of a laser combined with a spectrometer, and yet there’s one on the way to Mars right now, on a rover the size of a small car that will land using a crane.

    There is precious little experience with lots of new technology, and in many cases, absolutely no way to fix it once you send it up. This is the struggle NASA faces with every groundbreaking launch. I hate to see them lowball their cost estimates, either intentionally or accidentally, and it’s painful to watch a mission like Phobos-Grunt fail or Galileo get its dish stuck… but when a broken wheel can dig up water on the surface of another world, doesn’t that make all the struggle worthwhile? Yes, NASA isn’t perfect… I don’t think anyone would argue that they are… but they do amazing things, and quite often at that.

    Anyway, rant over.

  4. Johnny Vector says

    According to NASA via Wikipedia, Dawn was Initially projected to cost US$373,000,000, after cost overruns, the final cost of the mission was US$446,000,000 in 2007. That’s a 25% overrun.

    New Horizons is harder to find data on, but it’s something like $650 million, and is a follow-on to the original Pluto Kuiper Express which was canceled for exceeding its $500M cost cap.

    So it’s not really correct to say they had no overruns.

    And yes, there is definitely pressure to lowball estimates, at every level up to congress. Consider JWST: The orignal accepted cost was $1.6B. At the moment that was accepted, HST had been flying for years, at a construction cost of $2.5B. So whoever accepted the idea of building a new telescope 10 times bigger and more complex for 2/3 the cost was deliberately fooling themselves. In fact, the current JWST budget of $8.7B is, in terms of bang for the buck, still a bargain compared to Hubble.

    I have no idea how to fix the problem, though.

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