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What Does a 'Good' Budget for Planetary Science Look Like?

Posted By Casey Dreier

08-02-2016 17:31 CST

Topics: Space Policy, Decadal Survey, Future Mission Concepts, FY2017 NASA Budget

One of the first things I will look for after tomorrow’s release of the 2017 budget proposal for NASA will be the budget for the Planetary Science Division. This part of NASA supports all robotic exploration of the solar system (and is the single source of research funding for planetary scientists).

Many of you know the story. Starting in 2013—and occurring every year thereafter—the White House proposed significant cuts to planetary science. The Planetary Society and our members fought these cuts year after year. Each year Congress rejected most or all of these cuts, fortunately, and we’ve seen the White House get closer to our recommended level of $1.5 billion per year for a healthy, balanced planetary program at NASA.

In that sense, a planetary budget of at least $1.5 billion in the 2017 request would be “good.” But that’s not the only metric. Even though we’ve likely passed the worst of the planetary budget crisis, the program needs to rebuild. There is the Mars 2020 mission, the Europa Multiple-flyby mission with a possible lander, and new small- and medium-class missions all planned to launch in the early 2020s. The next five years must be spent building these missions, and I’ll be looking for this to be accounted for within the five-year budget projections included in the President’s Budget Request.

But what would a good five-year projection look like? My colleague, Jason Callahan, took a stab at this and put together the following budget projection based on public data from last year’s budget request.

Planetary Science Budget Projections for a Balanced Program (pre-FY2017 budget)

Jason Callahan / The Planetary Society

Planetary Science Budget Projections for a Balanced Program (pre-FY2017 budget)
Funding projections for a balanced program of planetary science and a Europa mission in 2023.

This projection assumes:

I should strongly emphasize that we used highly idealized cost development curves and best-case development timelines and funding practices. But this does give us a rough sense of where the budget needs to go: to $2 billion by the end of the decade. It also shows us that anything less than $1.48 billion in 2017 would likely be disruptive to the program.

We will update this article once we see the President’s budget request on Tuesday.

See other posts from February 2016


Read more blog entries about: Space Policy, Decadal Survey, Future Mission Concepts, FY2017 NASA Budget


allen gustav: 02/09/2016 11:55 CST

Casey, do you think there is any chance that if a "good budget" scenario occurs and technology funding grows at least by inflation, that the ASRG program will be reinstated? It seems to me that with Mars 2020, a push to go to Europa with a lander, talk of wanting to go to Titan in the Discovery missions, and even talk of Enceladus that RPS power will be in demand for the foreseeable future. But with the current fuel supply and with DOE's efforts to reinstate production to support missions years behind schedule and 10s of millions overspent, it seems that MMRTG can't be the only choice for those missions. There's only enough fuel for (perhaps) 3 generators. The fuel has to be stretched or the mission cadence has to be very extended. Could there be a chance for the ASRG to come back to supplement RPS missions and extend the fuel supply? ASRG was, after all, 4x more efficient than MMRTG for the same power.

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