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Winners and losers of NASA’s 2020 budget

– News of March 12, 2019 –

NASA’s budget proposal for 2020 is interesting. The budget is $ 21.02 billion, which is a very slight decline from what was achieved in 2019. However, it still exceeds all the budgets that NASA has received since the mid-1990s, adjusted for inflation. NASA is on a good budget momentum. But in this budget proposal, there are winners and losers.

On the losing side, there is WFIRST. The budget proposal for 2020 does not include any budget line for the future large telescope. We already known that the Trump administration is not in favor of allocating a budget for this project. WFIRST is nevertheless considered a scientific priority for the vast majority of astronomers. We imagine that they will fight to keep it in the final budget.

The other big loser is the SLS. The utility of NASA’s future heavy launcher is drastically reduced.

Two other Earth observation missions have also been canceled.

On the winning side, NASA reaffirms its support for James Webb. No cancellations are planned for the space telescope.

$ 363 million is allocated for the development of a high-capacity lunar lander. We know that NASA has asked its industrial partners to work on such a project in recent weeks. He now has his own budget line.

NASA has finally decided to limit the use of the SLS. The budget dedicated to the launcher is down sharply. That’s what makes it possible to finance research and development on the LOP-G or the lunar lander. Falcon Heavy, New Glenn and Vulkan will now have to share the missions abandoned by the SLS.

This is only a budget proposal that will be debated. We imagine for example that WFIRST will not flow without fighting. Hopefully, NASA may have the surprise of a larger budget than requested, as in 2019.

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NASA’s 2019 budgets prepare transition of ISS to the private sector

– News of February 14, 2018 –

The 2019 budget proposal for NASA envisages a disengagement of ISS funding in 2025. After that, the idea is to let private companies take over, so that NASA can focus on the Moon. It is not only the ISS that suffers from the new lunar ambitions of NASA. NASA’s next big space telescope, WFIRST, should be abandoned along with five Earth observation missions.

NASA will certainly have a budget slightly higher than requested for 2019, that is to say $ 19.9 billion. Beginning next year, this budget provides $ 150 million to prepare for the transition of the ISS to the private sector. Over the next five years, $ 900 million will be allocated to this transition. We imagine that the main companies that will benefit are Bigelow, Axiom Space, SpaceX, Boeing and Sierra Nevada.

Boeing, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada and Orbital ATK will have to seriously think about the after ISS, because after spending more than a decade to develop private access to the ISS, the US space administration will withdraw their reason to be, while they are just entering the market. Let’s hope that the transition to private space stations will actually happen, otherwise the US “New Space” industry may decline.

Trump administration designates the Moon as NASA’s top priority

– News of October 10, 2017 –

Last week, US President Donald Trump’s cabinet finally revealed what US space policy will be under its governance. In 2004, the Bush administration set a goal for NASA to revive the program of manned flights to the Moon in 2010. The Obama administration has set a goal for the US space agency to launch manned flights to asteroids, then to the planet Mars. On Oct. 5, Mike Pence, Donald Trump’s Vice President, announced that his administration will change plans again. NASA must target the Moon again. We have the feeling that the Republicans want to go to the Moon and the Democrats want to go to Mars. But neither side manages to be in the White House long enough to complete its space plans.

The Trump administration has therefore requested changes to NASA. The first is the organization of the American Space Agency, with the rehabilitation of the National Space Council, an administrative corps responsible for setting NASA’s guidelines. It was created in 1989 by George Bush and dismantled in 1993 by Bill Clinton. Fortunately, these new guidelines for NASA should not disrupt the current developments too much. The SLS, the Orion capsule and the LOP-G are adapted to these new lunar ambitions, especially that in the longer term Mike Pence specified that the Mars planet remains a goal. But he did not set a date or a specific program. On the other hand, the manned mission to an asteroid, which until last Thursday was the next big step, disappears completely from the NASA program. The Trump administration plans to send several missions to the lunar surface, at a high frequency. In a second step, NASA will have to set up a permanent base on the Moon.

This changes almost nothing for NASA’s short-term plans because the LOP-G was meant to be a starting point for lunar and martian missions. The US Space Agency can therefore continue to implement its plans without major changes to current programs. This is, of course, excellent news because space programs need very long-term visibility in order to have ambitious goals. NASA’s dependence on the US administration will certainly continue to generate program changes. This is one of the big advantages of private companies compared to national space agencies.

NASA can not afford to send the first men to Mars

– News from August 1, 2017 –

Bill Gerstenmaier announced in early July that NASA is not able to give a date for an inhabited flight to Mars. The US space agency simply does not have the financial means for the project. For an outside observer, this statement is not surprising because NASA has no plans for a Martian trip. But after years of declarations of intention and promises, the leaders of the American administration are facing the reality. What is more disturbing is that the whole NASA manned flight program seems to move slowly, because once we remove the Martian objective, it appears that the US program has not objective at all.

NASA has invested tens of billions to develop its new SLS heavy launcher and the Orion capsule designed for missions beyond low orbit. NASA would like to go beyond the low orbit but for the moment it has not communicated other objectives. Yet other market players are moving fast. The Chinese manned space program, for example, has a precise and dated schedule : first a space station in orbit, then manned missions to the Moon and a lunar base. For the Mars target, private companies like SpaceX have visions that span decades. NASA has long clung to the Martian dream but it seems to be lost in half-projects and hesitations that does not fit the reputation of the US space agency. Fortunately, NASA performs well in other areas, such as robotic exploration. But 10 years ago we were sure that the first man on Mars would wear NASA’s spacesuit, which is far less obvious today.

NASA funds 22 innovation projects

– News of April 18, 2017 –

NASA has provided funding for 22 advanced innovation projects to address future issues in space exploration. These are feasibility studies, concepts, analyzes.

These projects are unlikely to see the light of day, but it is nevertheless very interesting to see how the engineers manage to solve, even theoretically, the main problems of space exploration.

In these 22 projects, there are interstellar propulsion systems using nuclear fusion or the Mach effect, technologies for the terra-transformation of Mars or telescope concepts. A propulsion system using the Woodward effect will be able to do without propellant, allowing much lighter vessels to be sent into space.

The NASA study will therefore be divided into three phases: the creation of laboratory models capable of providing steady and constant thrust, the design of a power supply capable of controlling this motor, and finally prediction models for determine the maximum performance of such a means of propulsion.

NASA believes that such a means of propulsion, if it is demonstrated and developed, could open the doors of stellar systems between 5 and 9 light years from our sun.

Logo by National Aeronautics and Space Administration [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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