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Van Kane

Finally, an FY13 NASA Planetary Budget, Just 11 Months Late

Posted by Van Kane

30-08-2013 17:32 CDT

Topics: FY2014 NASA Budget

Just a month before the end of Fiscal Year 2013 (September 30), Space Policy Online has released the final resolution of NASA’s FY13 budget. The final budget figures were not released by the government but were supplied following a request by Space Policy Online. The final figures for the Planetary Science program still reflect a substantial cut from the previous year but are much better than the proposed budget for FY13.

The FY13 budget approval was especially messy this year because Congress failed to pass a final budget until last spring (around six months late). The budget was then automatically cut through a process known as the Sequester. The Administration then reportedly proposed larger cuts to the planetary program to spare other parts of the NASA budget the effects of the Sequester. Congress reportedly rejected that division of cuts, resulting in negotiations and the final budget supplied to Space Policy Online.

News reports have also discussed other impacts – some potentially serious – that may eventually result from the continuing cuts to NASA’s Planetary Science budget. I summarize these following the table of numbers. 

Planetary Science Budgets 

$1501.4M – FY12 approved 

$1,192.3M – FY13 Administration proposed budget 

$1,415.0M – FY13 Congressionally approved budget, pre Sequester 

$1196.0M – FY13 reported proposed Administration budget following Sequester 

$1271.5M – FY13 final budget per Space Policy Online post Sequester 

In a nutshell, the final budget represents a substantial cut compared to the previous year (FY12) and compared to what was approved by Congress. The final budget approximately splits the difference between the Administration's proposed budget and Congress’ approved budgets. 

The disagreement over the level of the Planetary Science budget looks to continue for the next year, too. The Administration requested $1,217.5M for FY14, while the House and Senate have approved $1,315.0M and $1,317.6M, respectively for next year. 

Space Policy Online does not provide any detail on spending within the Planetary Science program. Important details would be the level of funding for the Discovery and New Frontiers programs, which would indicate when the selection of the next missions in the programs could begin. We also don't know at what level studies of a future Europa mission are funded. 

In the meantime, Space News has provided a steady trickle of the effects of the declining Planetary Science budget over the last couple of months: 

  • The declining budgets may not support continued funding for both the Cassini and Curiosity rover missions. Science News July 18  (I was afraid of this possibility when the FY14 budget proposal showed a dramatic decline in outer planet funding following the completion of the current phase of the Cassini mission. If the Cassini mission were terminated early, we would lose the close in orbits – just outside and then inside the rings – that essentially constitutes an entirely new mission similar to the Juno mission at Jupiter. The key as to whether or not this trade off must be made may lie with whether the future on-going budgets are closer to the Administration's ~$1,200M mark or Congress' ~$1,300M mark.) 
  • The start dates for the competitions to select the next Discovery and New Frontiers missions are uncertain and won’t be known until the Administration releases its FY15 budget around February 2014. Space News July 16  (NASA cannot begin the competitions until it knows whether or not it can plan on adequate funding to implement the selected missions. It has to base those projections on the projected budgets supplied with the Administration's annual budgets. If the Administration continues to propose low budget numbers, the start of the competitions may continue to be pushed out even if Congress increases the final budget numbers for the current year.) 
  • While the Administration’s budget proposals state that there is no plan or funding for a future mission to Europa, Congressionally approved funds in the FY13 budget allow early design and technology development efforts to continue. Space News July 22. 
  • The grass roots lobbying by the Planetary Society is one of the reasons that Congress continues to provide more money to the Planetary Science program than is requested by the Administration. Space News August 26  (See this post by Casey Drier on the inside story about how the lobbying is done.) 
See other posts from August 2013


Or read more blog entries about: FY2014 NASA Budget


Paul McCarthy: 08/31/2013 02:35 CDT

The Administration's and NASA's continued diversions from Europa and similar missions are a national tragedy and a tragedy for all mankind. Europa and Enceladus have all of the known requirements for alien life, and have possessed those requirements for billions of years. Not only would discovery of any life there instantly guarantee an absolutely fecund, buzzing universe, the absence of any life in such enduringly hospitable environments (by all measures that we know) would have almost equally dramatic implications! It would reduce by a huge factor (hundreds?) our sense that life might be present elsewhere in the cosmos. So knowledge of what's on or in Europa and/or Enceladus would radically transform our view of the universe, at a stroke, by a factor that currently seems unmatchable by ANY other mission (short of some completely bizarre, totally unexpected physics-transforming discovery). Furthermore, since in both bodies we are talking about life in a globally equilibrated broth, we basically need just ONE (well located) sample, in each case, to deliver these humankind-changing revelations! Compare this to Mars, where, despite a good chance that there will be signs of past or present life, we have VERY little idea where to look. Picture the chance of stumbling on fossils on Earth with a random walk, or even by deliberately heading for suitable sedimentary strata, and we are looking for a needle in a haystack. We have to search much of the planet, and test many, many samples. So it is incredible to me that the entire scientific community is not frantically baying for the earliest possible missions to at least those two bodies, as the highest of all scientific priorities. I think their stupendous significance and promise has just not really sunk in yet, and if, somehow, we had known the basic facts of them 100 years ago, and 1950's science fiction was replete with frequent speculations on their lifeforms, they would have been the No1 destination all along.

Paul McCarthy: 08/31/2013 03:09 CDT

Re: It is incredible to me that the ENTIRE scientific community is not frantically baying for the EARLIEST possible missions to at least those two bodies, as the highest of ALL scientific priorities. Whether scientists and NASA administrators awake or not, I guess the moment that the mighty US will suddenly realise that it needs the answer "tomorrow", will be the moment that ESA, Russia, China or India reveal that they're bound for Europa or Enceladus. But when will that be? We have close at hand, by great good fortune, the answer to whether life is ubiquitous in the Universe, or at best very, very rare, but will any of us over 40 get to know the answer?

Victor Dunn UK: 08/31/2013 04:48 CDT

Not-with-standing, that is seems a good idea to keep funding missions, such as Cassini and Curiosity, that continue to return great science for little extra money compared to what has already been spent to get them there… Mankind needs to move forwards with a mission to Europa, whilst we still have the experience, expertise and vision, before the key science and engineering staff needed for success have otherwise retired, been laid off, or are no longer with us. Many of us have read Arthur C Clarke's 2010 (and/or watched the film). We need to know if there is life out there.

Ralph Lorenz: 08/31/2013 08:28 CDT

Not everyone in the scientific community is baying for Europa... Titan is likely to tell us more about life in the universe (it has an internal water ocean like Europa, but it has abundant organics too, which Europa does not) and life aside, Titan has a much wider array of meteorological, oceanographic and geological processes underway that provide a richer range of phenomena to study.

Christopher Adams: 08/31/2013 09:53 CDT

It is maddening that congressional budgets fail to adequately fund exploration. I fear we will not see a Europa mission, or any new outer planets mission for that matter, for decades. The possibility that the Cassini mission could be abandoned is criminal. America can easily afford a robust program of planetary science. The situation is shameful.

Torbj??rn Larsson: 08/31/2013 01:04 CDT

There is a rationale to all these explorations, but Mars has historically come out on top. There is a broad synergy between manned exploration interests, geology, astrobiology and planetary physics, and since it is closer and especially within the solar panel range it makes for cheaper, faster turnaround. There is also the public interest, where history and popular science constrains much of it. Can all that be counterweighted by focusing on astrobiology? I seriously doubt that. [Much as I want it to, because of my astrobiology interest.] Focusing on Mars, but not forgetting low hanging fruit, seems to me a sensible R&E strategy.

Casey Dreier (Planetary Society): 08/31/2013 03:51 CDT

Regarding priorities, the scientific community produced a document that officially states the goals for planetary exploration in this decade. It's called (strangely enough) the Decadal Survey, and represents the culmination of 18 months of work by a special review panel in the National Research Council. I've written a primer about the current Decadal Survey and what it says: A Mars sample return mission is listed as the #1 priority for this decade, and you're seeing that in the requirements for the Mars 2020 rover. A Europa mission was the #2 "big" mission, after Mars sample return. Ralph is correct in that not everyone is behind Europa in the scientific community. The Decadal survey (in my mind) does a very good job balancing the various factions within the community to create something everyone can get behind.

Van: 08/31/2013 07:55 CDT

I would very much like to see a program to mature lower cost mission concepts for Titan, Enceladus, and Uranus. I suspect there's a number of solid missions that could be done on Discovery or New Frontiers budgets. Without those studies, I fear that proposals may be viewed with doubt. I have a suspicion that that happened with the TiME Titan lake probe proposal. What NASA needs is a steady budget (preferably at a higher number than the Adminstration's) that it can count on. Then it can lay out a plan to best tackle the priorities of the scientific community.

Paul McCarthy: 09/01/2013 01:58 CDT

Yes, it's a hair-split between Europa, Enceladus and Titan, and all should be prioritised. But I just don't believe that there's any wide-spread appreciation of their life-potential. Van may well be right about smaller "solid" missions. Every bit of "colouring in" of those moons' potential is likely to help to develop a head of steam and a thirst to know what's there. On the other hand, even a small mission to any of those moons may well provide a psychological excuse to schedule a larger mission another 20 years further away!

Kim Craig: 09/01/2013 11:17 CDT

A choice between ending Cassini early or delaying for a year the next Discovery mission is a no brainer (NASA administrators would automatically extend Curiosity over Cassini). Cassini is in a unique mission which likely won't be duplicated for two generations. The four years of mission funding it requires would only buy one-half of a discovery mission. The extended mission science is worth many times that amount! Finish Cassini's extended mission by all means!

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