Yesterday NASA released detailed budget documents, three weeks after the release of the high-level budget documents and just before the first in a series of Congressional hearings about the budget. Some highlights of the budget after a quick skim through them:
The budget documents make it clear that, going forward, technology development will be the core of the agency’s exploration program. In FY11 exploration R&D gets $1.55 billion, or 36% of the overall exploration budget; by FY11 those figures go up to $3.98 billion and 77%. Much of that technology spending will go towards projects like “Flagship Technology Demonstrators”: programs with total costs of $400 million-$1 billion that “offer high potential to demonstrate new capability and reduce the cost of future exploration missions”, such as in-space propellant transfer and storage, inflatable modules, and autonomous rendezvous and docking. The “Heavy Lift and Propulsion Technology” line will fund development of a new LOX/kerosene engine roughly equivalent to the RD-180, as well as in-space propulsion and “foundational” propulsion research. The budget will also fund “at least two” exploration precursor missions starting in FY11, one being a lunar mission designed to demonstrate teleoperation and transmission of “near-live video” (something that sounds a lot like what a qualifying Google Lunar X PRIZE spacecraft would do.)
After closeout of Constellation, the rest of the exploration budget goes to commercial spaceflight. There are few additional details about the commercial crew program in the budget, other than that funds “will be competed through COTS-like, fixed-price, milestone-based Space Act Agreements”; awards need not be for complete systems but instead could cover human-rating launch vehicles, developing spacecraft, or “new high-reliability rocket systems”. In addition, the $312 million in the FY11 budget for commercial cargo development is to “improve the chance of mission success” by either accelerating existing COTS milestones for SpaceX and Orbital Sciences or adding new ones, such as development of improved engines for the Taurus 2 and Falcon 9.
The exploration technology line item actually is bigger than the overall “Space Technology” line in the budget, which grows from under $600 million in FY11 to just over $1.2 billion in FY15. This budget includes a number of interesting projects, from
“Game Changing Technology” to the reestablishment of the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts (NIAC). The budget also includes funding for smallsat technology development and an “Edison” class of smallsat demonstration missions. Centennial Challenges also would get a robust $10 million a year over five years; the prize program got $4 million in FY10 after several years of no funding. This section of the budget also includes the CRuSR program, which NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver said last week would bet getting $15 million/year in the budget (it’s part of a $17 million/year “Flight Opportunities” line item with FAST, which flies experiments on parabolic aircraft flights.)
The Space Operations part of the budget includes $428.6 million for the “21st Century Launch Complex” at the Kennedy Space Center, the beginning of nearly $2 billion of planned spending on the project over the next five years. The project “focuses on upgrades to the Florida launch range, expanding capabilities to support commercial launch providers, and transforming KSC into a modern facility”, although it looks more now to be a wish list of upgrades rather than a specific plan. Elsewhere in Space Operations, the budget would fund a study with the National Research Council on the agency’s Human Space Flight Operations program, including the “role and size of the human spaceflight office” in the post-shuttle era, which some have interpreted as the beginning of a potential downsizing of the astronaut corps.
In science, Earth Sciences gets a healthy increase over the current budget ($1.8 billion versus $1.42 billion in FY10), with continued increases to nearly $2.3 billion in FY15. The funding will be used to start or accelerate several missions identified in the last Earth sciences decadal survey in 2007; there’s also funding for a reflight of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory lost in a launch failure last year. Other science programs don’t do nearly so well: astrophysics, heliophysics, and planetary sciences see much less growth and are closer to, and even slightly smaller than, the outyear projections in the FY10 budget. Tucked away in the planetary sciences budget, under the “Lunar Quest Program”, is $15 million in FY11 to restart plutonium-238 production, needed for RTGs. This will be a joint program with the Department of Energy, which is requesting a similar amount for this in its FY11 budget (p. 51 of the PDF).