NASA Budget Details: Constellation Cancelled, But Where To Next?

We’ve lost the Moon. But have we gained the solar system while boosting commercial space ventures? “The President’s Budget cancels Constellation and replaces it with a bold new approach that invests in the building blocks of a more capable approach to space exploration,” states the Office of Management and Budget’s Fact Sheet on NASA’s 2011 budget. NASA will get additional $6 billion over the next five years tacked on to the current budget of just under $18 billion. The budget information released so far does not provide for a specific destination for humans in space. So, while some see this new direction as a course correction; others see it as an endgame. With an extension to the International Space Station to 2020, humans may well be stuck in low Earth orbit for at least another decade.

In this budget, the Ares rocket is history, and while no decision has been made on a heavy lift vehicle – necessary to launch humans beyond low-Earth orbit – NASA has been directed to continue research on such a vehicle that will “increase the capability of future exploration architectures with significantly lower operations costs than current systems – potentially taking us farther and faster into space.”

But in this proposed budget, which must be approved by Congress, NASA will provide funds for commercial space companies to build vehicles to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS. With the space shuttle program ending this year, NASA had agreed to pay Russia $50 million a seat. Commercial space companies could likely provide the seats for less money, but their vehicles are not yet human rated or tested.

It is true that the Constellation program was “over budget, behind schedule, and lacking in innovation due to a failure to invest in critical new technologies.” But $9 billion has already been spent on developing the Ares rockets and the Orion crew capsule, and $2.5 billion is in the budget proposal to close out Constellation.

Proponents of Obama’s budget proposal say moving towards using private commercial space companies will create more jobs per dollar because the government’s investment would be leveraged by millions of dollars in private investments.

“NASA investment in the commercial spaceflight industry is a win-win decision,” said Bret Alexander, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, in a statement released last week. “Commercial crew will create thousands of high-tech jobs in the United States, especially in Florida, while reducing the spaceflight gap and preventing us from sending billions to Russia.’

NASA already has contracts with SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. to bring cargo to the station, and . SpaceX is also developing vehicles to bring astronauts to orbit and back.

Already, some say they will fight this budget. “I, for one, intend to stand up and fight for NASA, and for the thousands of people who stand to lose their jobs,” said Senator Bill Nelson last week, as rumors were flying and details about the budget were leaking out.

With the US facing a federal deficit of $1.26 trillion in 2011, Obama federal budget proposal puts a three-year freeze on most non-defense discretionary spending after 2011, which the president believes will save $250 billion over the next 10 years. So, giving NASA the $6 billion over the next five year is a way to circumvent that freeze for NASA.

The budget proposal also includes:

$183 million to extend operations of the ISS past its previously planned retirement date of 2016. NASA will deploy new research facilities to conduct scientific research and test technologies in space. New capabilities could include a centrifuge to support research into human physiology, inflatable space habitats, and a program to continuously upgrade Space Station capabilities.

$600 million to complete the final five shuttle missions, allowing for a safe and orderly retirement of the Space Shuttle program even if its schedule slips into Fiscal Year 2011.

$1.2 billion for transformative research in exploration technology that will involve NASA, private industry, and academia, sparking spin-off technologies and potentially entire new industries.

$150 million to accelerate the development of new satellites for Earth Science priorities.

$170 million to develop and fly a replacement of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, a mission to identify global carbon sources and sinks that was lost when its launch vehicle failed in 2009.

$500 million to contract with industry to provide astronaut transportation to the ISS, reducing the sole reliance on foreign crew transports and catalyzing new businesses and significant new jobs.
Increases Scientific Understanding of the Solar System and Universe

$3.2 billion for science research grants and dozens of missions and telescopes studying the planets and stars – including new missions such as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, missions to study the Moon, and two Mars exploration missions.

$14 million ($420 million over five years) for a mission to the Sun, flying through its outer atmosphere to better understand how it is heated and how it ejects the stream of charged particles known as the solar wind.

Increase funding to detect asteroids that could potentially pose a hazard to the Earth.

Increase annually the percentage of NASA higher education program student participants employed by NASA, aerospace contractors, universities, and other educational institutions.

For more details see this pdf from the OMB, or this OMB fact sheet.

19 Replies to “NASA Budget Details: Constellation Cancelled, But Where To Next?”

  1. The real science has only just begun aboard the ISS. As MOST of the effort so far, has been centered on construction and maintenance! AND there’s always the possibility of serendipitous discovery~

    Biggest problem? Drinking a congratulatory beer on orbit?

  2. In my guts I never felt the constellation programme was going anywhere, so the decision to ditch the Moon is no surprise. Neither am I a big fan of the ISS, so to me extending it is a waste. I don’t think a few guys orbiting in LEO is particularly exciting ot inspirational or has much science left in it.

    I do like the sound of the £3.2 billion for science and telescope missions and the Mars missions…. all unmanned I presume… far safer, at a fraction of the cost…. and we’ll learn far more.

    The truth is for science, we don’t need astronauts anymore, and I’m quite comfortable with the next person on the Moon being Chinese.

  3. Apparently we will be getting an unparalleled view of previous and forthcoming human-caused environmental degradation. Who needs exploration and adventure when you have that to look forward to?

  4. We need to send millions of e-mails to all Members of Congress and the brainless president protesting this.

  5. Just like the start of the space shuttle, this is the biggest foolish mistake in history.

    Many other countries want humans on the Moon the US will never be able to catch them up once they have started.

  6. This is great news!

    First, it seems to adopt Flexible Path, which means synergy in looking for NEO hazards and exploration. The space community got their wishes granted, as I understand the Augustin Commission work. In any case it’s a slam dunk for the Planetary Society, which previous work set the scene for this affordable and achievable strategy.

    Second, a timely switch over to commercial launchers _and_ habitats (apparently), on a cost basis. I don’t know how long ISS can be extended, but it is definitely better ROI on using it as the research platform it was constructed as than to shut it down a year after finishing it.

    Third, it increases the tempo on exploration and research both, by fully funding the basic programs.

    Fourth, it maintains vital climate and resource research.

    The only bummer I can see is that it shelves a big launcher, and by putting it on NASA’s proven “development-without-a-fully-funded-program-is-a-total-loss” program. (Witness Constellation.) Now I hope it isn’t a total waste of money as the leap-frog technology of VASIMR drive may be supported by more than the ISS tryout.

  7. Nu huh:

    NASA, working with industry, will build, fly, and test in orbit key technologies [My bold.]

    It’s not the usual NASA total-loss path, then.

  8. I have to agree with Torbjorn but I was hoping for moon based telescopes. Does that last post mean Ares I but no Ares V or IV?

  9. No agencies budget, including NASA will ever be increased or safe until this country reduces the amount it spends on defense. This newly proposed budget saves $250 billion over 10 years (big deal, that’s $25 billion per year out of a 1.4+ trillion dollar deficit). We spend ~$700 billion on defense (not including other defense related expenses like CIA/homeland security, etc. which bring it to about $1 trillion per year. $700 billion is about $5,340 per U.S. tax payer. There are about 132 million taxpayers in this country. Defense is about 1/3rd of our budget (taking all sources) or about 22% taking just defense alone (about the same as medicare and Social Security).

    Why do we need to spend this kind of dough on defense? F-22’s and carrier battlegroups don’t defeat terrorists or win localized wars. Nuclear weapons deter any escalation beyond that. We have some irrational fear that we will no longer be a superpower. Our decline will be because we didn’t invest this money in performing assets like roads, new energy, or simply letting the taxpayers keep more money. This much spending on defense doesn’t make us stronger, but only weaker. China spends $50 billion (at most $150 billion on its military. The U.S. Navy has 13 times the battle tonnage of the next 13 largest navies in the world, and most of them are our allies anyway.

    I’m all for a strong defense and believe that keeping the technology and infrastructure intact for building advanced weapons systems is a good idea. However, to build several hundred F-22’s for example, just in case they are needed is stupid, antiquated Cold War thinking. The department of defense and its contractors have a incredibly powerful lobby so I expect the best that the administration could hope to do with its budget and included spending freezes is to save $25 billion per year and not touch defense.

    So to help NASA and science in general, need to cut defense.

  10. dansolo111,

    Unfortunately, knocking on defense spending is political suicide for any member of Congress.

    I can hear it now:

    “You want America to lose to the terrorists?”

    “You want China to have the most powerful military?”

    “We need to be able to protect this country! Are you suggesting we stop that?”

    “That is blatantly unpatriotic, taking the needed body armor and equipment from our troops on the frontline!”

    22% is disgusting, but it will never go the other way. We are much more a military society than you realize.

    BTW, for all the hate, I love the F-22….I’d rather build them than the F-35 (POS, for sure).

  11. “NASA investment in the commercial spaceflight industry is a win-win decision,”

    This is what I call management bullshit.
    It sounds logical but does not mean anything.

    Commercial spaceflight is only good for safe low earth orbit because that is where they can get money. They will only go to the moon if they can get profit, and you know what profit means to a private company? Look at Avatar. It will pollute the Moon and the rest of the solar system. They don’t care about the science.

  12. @ Olaf

    That’s sadly true, but trends and ethic can change.
    Pollution is only a byproduct of our existence.
    Work must be done (constantly) to make sure it doesn’t pose too much of a hazard to the environment, both functionally and visually.
    We have a long way to go before we become a clean species though.
    In any case, I don’t believe that should be a showstopper. The solution isn’t to sit here on Earth worrying about trashing the solar system. I believe its to fundamentally correct our paradigm and trudge forward as a society.

  13. I have read the comments and I’m dismayed.
    Mr. Frazer has covered most of my sentiment.
    However, most comments reflected an incredible lack of reality. I would expect a more intelectual comments from our readers? These are people that would like to live on a celestial body with no habitat that
    support human live? But you bring your paycheck’s to the same banks that also recieved your tax contributions? Who are you?
    or What are you? The paycheck you will receive, if any, will have to pay for your dream
    If the dream and is a unrealistic dream is that
    important to you, please send all your life’s earnings and future earnings to NASA and if
    every American Citizen does the same, you will have your dream! Sell this to the CEO of the Bank of America. He maybe will support your dream? The money that every US citizen makes over the next 80 years will barely pay for the debt your in! If this does not compute
    than the US of A will be a lost civilization!
    The only conselation you have, is that your not alone you draged the whole world with you under, which are equally stupid!

  14. I’m not surprised that the Constellation program has been cancelled. With today’s focus on safety and procedures it was always going to be a hard ask for a reprise of the Apollo program on steroids for a reasonable budget.

    However, I am a bit surprised that the future plans are so vague. There does not appear to have been a plan B in anyone’s locker.

    As far as the manned space program, there seems to be a lack of clear vision and drive in determining just what NASA should be aiming for in. Maybe the next step is just too difficult or expensive but the lessons of a rather long history of cancelled projects does not appear to have been learnt well.

    I hope that someone can provide the clarity of vision required to shape a meaningful exciting program that can inspire and excite NASA, the US Government and the public.

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