The Congressional Budget Office this week released a report analyzing various budget scenarios for carrying out the Vision for Space Exploration. This report was prepared as directed by the NASA Authorization Act of 2008 (section 410), which required the CBO to update its 2004 analysis of the projected costs of implementing the VSE.
The CBO report takes as a baseline NASA’s current plans, which project an average annual MASA budget of $19.1 billion between 2010 and 2025. This baseline includes retiring the shuttle next September, putting Ares 1 and Orion into service in March 2015, ending support for the ISS in December 2015, and landing humans on the Moon in 2020. It also calls for 79 science missions to take place through 2025. The CBO report then looks at four alternative scenarios:
Schedule Slips: Using estimates of historic cost growth in NASA programs, the first scenario kept funding fixed and allowed schedules to slip as a result. The shuttle is still retired in September 2010 and ISS work terminated by 2016, but in this case Ares 1 and Orion slip to late 2016 and the human return to the Moon is delayed to 2023. The number of science missions performed in the period also goes down, to 64.
Paying to Keep on Schedule and Close the Gap: A second scenario examined what it would take to keep Ares 1/Orion and the human return to the Moon on schedule, as well as address concerns about the Shuttle-Constellation gap by keeping the shuttle flying until 2015 and maintain ISS operations through 2020. It would also maintain the full suite of planned science missions. In this case NASA’s average annual budget increases to $23.8 billion, almost a 25% increase. Moreover, much of that additional spending is in the near term: the report projects an average annual budget of $23 billion in 2010-2013, compared to $18.2 billion for the same period in the baseline.
Paying for Constellation Only: A third scenario looked at keeping Ares 1/Orion and the human return to the Moon on schedule, but maintaining plans to retire the shuttle and station and allowing science missions to slip as in the first scenario. In that case the average annual NASA budget increases to $21.1 billion in 2010-2025, a 10% increase.
Using Science to Pay for Constellation: The fourth and final option considered by the CBO is to keep Constellation on schedule, but instead of providing additional overall funding for NASA taking the money from science and aeronautics programs. In that scenario the number of science missions performed in the 2010-2025 period drops by nearly half, to 44.