Lobbying, NASA

Reaction to the NASA budget proposal

The fiscal year 2014 budget proposal for NASA is, as previously noted, fairly similar to the agency’s 2013 proposal, with the notable exceptions of the new asteroid initiative and changes to NASA’s education programs as part of the administration’s broader STEM education consolidation. That may be why the budget has, so far, not gotten a very strong reaction, with one notable exception.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science Committee, did weigh in on NASA’s asteroid retrieval mission plans in his broader statement about the administration’s budget proposal. “While getting points for creativity, a proposed NASA mission to ‘lasso’ an asteroid and drag it to the Moon’s orbit will require serious deliberation,” he stated. “Seemingly out of the blue, this mission has never been evaluated or recommended by the scientific community and has not received the scrutiny that a normal program would undergo.”

By comparison, Smith’s Democratic counterpart on the committee, ranking member Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), did not bring up the asteroid mission or other specifics of the NASA budget proposal in her statement, although she does mention that the STEM education reorganization effort is one area that is “going to require scrutiny.” She does favorably compare the administration’s budget request to Republican budget proposals that made cuts in areas “that lead to breakthroughs in areas like materials science and space exploration.”

While Smith is skeptical of the asteroid mission proposal, the National Space Society (NSS) is enthusiastic about it. They see the mission as supporting efforts to both protect the Earth from asteroid impacts as well as to extract resources from them. Mark Hopkins, chairman of the NSS’s Executive Committee, called the mission an “important step toward the NSS Vision of people living and working in thriving communities beyond the Earth.”

The industry group the Coalition for Space Exploration also supports the budget request, calling the proposed asteroid mission “a stepping stone for deep space exploration will help focus discussion on America’s next steps toward deep space exploration.” But, while NASA says the budget proposal fully funds SLS and Orion, the Coalition is concerned that the FY14 proposal funds those programs at levels below the final FY12 appropriations: almost $175 million for Orion and more than $110 million for SLS. Those programs, they write, “must remain on track to support the already planned 2017 Orion and SLS test flight and 2021 crewed Orion exploration missions.”

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation, not surprisingly, endorses the budget proposal’s plans to fund commercial crew at more than $800 million for FY14, compared to the pre-rescission and -sequester level of $525 million in the FY13 appropriations bill signed into law. It also supports the agency’s space technology budget request; that includes NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, which funds research flight on commercial suborbital vehicles.

An exception to the general, if sometimes qualified, support for the budget proposal comes from The Planetary Society, who is concerned that NASA is cutting deep into its planetary science program. The proposal allocated just over $1.2 billion for planetary in FY14, compared to $1.5 billion in FY12; the administration proposed a similar cut in planetary science in FY13, although Congress partially restored it. Bill Nye, CEO of The Planetary Society, said in a blog post that he found the asteroid retrieval mission proposal “intriguing,” but was disappointed the administration again sought to cut planetary science. “NASA did not get the message from Congress and the public about their wishes for missions to distant worlds,” he stated.

46 comments to Reaction to the NASA budget proposal

  • Coastal Ron

    Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science Committee said of the proposed asteroid mission:

    “Seemingly out of the blue, this mission has never been evaluated or recommended by the scientific community and has not received the scrutiny that a normal program would undergo.”

    Funny, that’s how we feel about the SLS – that it was never evaluated or recommended by the scientific community, nor was it competed to find out if it was truly the best solution at the lowest practical cost to the U.S. Taxpayer.

    If only you had listened to your own advice Rep. Lamar Smith…

    • Dark Blue Nine

      Lack of due diligence begets lack of due diligence…

      Someone will compare this NEO mission to Triana/GoreSat before the summer is over.

      • James

        Triana/GoreSat, after being cancelled by Bush, once Clinton/Gore regime ended, was a hanger queen at GSFC for nearly 10 years, and cannibalized for parts by other programs during that time. Now it is being re populated and has been resurrected by NOAA , with NASA managing the effort, as DSCVR. Digging into what was left reveals much was missing; so its not a straightforward effort to re purpose for NOAA. I think it is supposed to fly in 2014? or maybe 2015

        So look for ASTEROID CAPTURE SAT to some day provide parts for other missions too.

        • E.P. Grondine

          Hi DBN, James –

          After Chelyabinsk, my estimate is that this mission is attack proof. Does anyone really want to run on the platform of leaving their constituents undefended against impact?

          • Hiram

            Well, if this asteroid capture satellite could really defend against impact, that might make some sense. But it won’t. That’s not what the initiative is designed to do. In fact, no asteroid impact mitigation strategy has ever even considered asteroid capture as part of a sensible strategy, except for the hand waving from the advocates of this mission.

            This mission isn’t even about learning about asteroids. What it’s about is moving the goal posts so we have a chance of meeting Obama’s asteroid-by-2025 directive. That would never happen if we’re trying to get humans to rendezvous with an asteroid at tens of lunar distances. Of course, that 2025 target is a presidential directive that won’t survive beyond his term in office.

            Attack-proof? No, no worries about attacks. It’ll die naturally.

          • Dark Blue Nine

            “After Chelyabinsk, my estimate is that this mission is attack proof. Does anyone really want to run on the platform of leaving their constituents undefended against impact?”

            If any politician is stupid or venal enough to make that argument, they’ll be lying. The capability created by this mission can’t divert large, dangerous space objects, and the telescopic search necessary to find space objects small enough for this mission to move will take resources away the ongoing search to identify and track the dangerous objects.

            At best, the robotic NEO retrieval mission proposed by NASA will capture a 7-meter NEO weighing 250 thousand kilograms. By comparison, the Chelyabinsk airburst was caused by a 20-meter meteor weighing 11 million kilograms. So the capability created by this mission is too small by a factor of three in terms of physical size and a factor of 44 in terms of mass to defend against another meteor like Chelyabinsk.

            And the Chelyabinsk meteor is at the extreme lower end of space objects that can cause damage on Earth. The region-destroying and civilization-ending NEOs that we really need to worry about moving are in the 140-meter to 1,000-meter range. These objects are orders of magnitude larger than what NASA’s proposed mission could grapple with or move. We don’t even envisage using the same techniques to move objects that large. At that scale, we have to resort to nukes, impactors, gravity tractors, albedo resurfacing, etc. — not bags and small solar-electric engines.

            Not only won’t this mission provide a capability to defend against any dangerous space objects, it will divert resources from ongoing searches for those dangerous objects. There are a very limited number of telescopes involved in SpaceGuard and related searches for larger, dangerous NEOs that cross Earth’s orbit. But NASA’s proposed mission needs to find NEOs that are smaller and of no danger to Earth. So to find a target for NASA’s mission, we’ll take precious telescope observation time away from searches for large dangerous NEOs and apply them to searches for small NEOs that could never hurt us. That’s boneheaded in its stupidity.

            If you want to support this mission because it provides SLS/MPCV with a stunt to help justify those projects’ multi-billion dollar existence, that’s fine. If you want to support this mission because it gives the Obama Administration a figleaf on its 2025 human NEO mission goal after NASA has dropped the ball on executing that mission for the past three years, that’s fine. If you want to support this mission just because it’s cool, that’s fine.

            But no one should propogate lies about how this mission will help defend Earth from future NEO impacts. It won’t, and it will actually harm the search for dangerous NEOs.

            Knowledgeable folks in the planetary defense community should (and probably will) come to oppose this mission.

            • E.P. Grondine

              Hi DBN –

              “the telescopic search necessary to find space objects small enough for this mission to move will take resources away the ongoing search to identify and track the dangerous objects.”

              ??? – What on-going search are you talking about?
              The one at $5 million per year? The one at $20 million per year? Why do you think that the search for smaller objects will not find the larger objects earlier and farther away?

              What secret laws of optics and physics have you discovered, DBN?

              You have to find these things before you can even hope to do anything about them.

              While we know the density of the components of asteroids, we know little about the conglomerations/aggregates that most of them are. (In fact, what we do know generally is that their wholes differ from their parts.)

              How about supporting this proposal because it actually gives SLS/Orion something useful to do?
              How about supporting this proposal because it preserves those technology bases in the US for later use?

              As you and I both know SLS and Orion will continue anyway, so why not do something useful with them?

              For all of you “private sector” fantasists out there, IMA, the chances of the other states supporting a southern California/Texas only manned space program are nil. For you old hands, IMA, the same thing likely holds for a ULA based manned space program as well.

              • Dark Blue Nine

                “??? – What on-going search are you talking about?”

                I’m talking about fundamentally changing the character of our ongoing NEO searches from one of identifying and tracking threatening supra-100m NEOs to one of identifying, tracking, and precisely characterizing sub-7m NEOs.

                The former doesn’t take much telescope time per object. You’re looking for relatively bright objects that don’t take much integration time to identify, and you only want to characterize them enough to know that they’re not on a collision course with Earth anytime soon.

                The latter takes a huge amount of telescope time. You’re looking for the faintest possible objects, which require lots of integration time to identify. Then you have to do a lot more than just make sure their orbits do not intersect with Earth. You’re pinning down exact orbits for rendezvous, exact sizes and exact spin rates to determine whether the NEOs are capturable, and exact densities to know whether they can be transported. If you care about retrieving a useful NEO (it’s unclear whether NASA does given the timetable and lack of precursor missions), even more telescope time is necessary to obtain spectra.

                All that takes a huge amount of telescope time — staring at a relatively small number of non-threatening, sub-7m NEOs — time that could better be spent finding many more threating, supra-100m NEOs.

                “The one at $5 million per year? The one at $20 million per year?”

                If they get the $20 million increase in the FY14 budget, NASA doesn’t plan to spend it searching for very small (or big) NEOs. They plan to spend it creating a plan to search for very small NEOs.

                And even with an increased budget, if money is driving telescope time towards identifying and deeply characterizing a few, small, non-threatening NEOs, then there will to be less telescope time for finding large, threatening NEOs.

                “Why do you think that the search for smaller objects will not find the larger objects earlier and farther away?”

                See above. Not all telescopic observations are created equal. Instead of rapidly scanning the sky for relatively bright (large, dangerous) objects, we’re going to slowly scan for some of the faintest possible (small, non-threatening objects). And then we’re going to spend even more telescope time pinning down the characteristics of those faint, non-threatening objects to a gnat’s eyelash, instead of scanning for bright, dangerous objects.

                “What secret laws of optics and physics have you discovered, DBN?”

                None. But 20-odd years ago, I ran the night shift at a near-IR telescope and broadly understand what different types of observations can and can’t do and what they require in terms of telescope time.

                “How about supporting this proposal because it actually gives SLS/Orion something useful to do?”

                First, it doesn’t give SLS/MPCV anything useful to do. Sub-7m NEOs are of no threat to Earth, so it doesn’t help with planetary defense. NEOs aren’t a priority in the NRC’s planetary decadal surveys and the White House proposes cutting NASA’s planetary science budget, so it doesn’t help with planetary science. For stability, they’re going to have to put the NEO in lunar orbit, so it doesn’t help advance human space exploration any further than Apollo LOR achievements from 40 years ago. And unless they’re incredibly lucky in the absence of precursor missions, they’re probably not going to retrieve a NEO that’s a good proxy for asteroid mining. It’s a big, $2.6 billion waste of time, regardless of whether astronauts visit this truck-sized rock on SLS/MPCV, EELV Phase 2/CST-100, or Falcon Heavy/DragonRider.

                Second, if SLS/MPCV can’t achieve the President’s NEO goal despite the 14-year timeframe and multi-billion dollar budget already allotted, then these projects should be cancelled and replaced with something that can. Pouring another $2.6 billion down the SLS/MPCV toilet for a robotic NEO retrieval mission that does nothing more than give the appearance that SLS/MPCV can do something is just throwing good money after bad.

                We need to do the right thing. Not spend more billions of taxpayer money cobbling together stunts that only give the appearance of doing the right thing.

                “How about supporting this proposal because it preserves those technology bases in the US for later use?”

                The retrieval spacecraft requires a couple new, relatively low-priority technologies, but it doesn’t preserve any technical base.

                “As you and I both know SLS and Orion will continue anyway, so why not do something useful with them?”

                I don’t know that. I’d bet that the next White House and Congress at that time will terminate SLS/MPCV because it’s too expensive to get anything done in any reasonable timeframe, just like this White House and the prior Congress terminated Constellation/Ares I for the same reason. Heck, this White House and Congress may terminate if there’s another budget crunch, if MPCV can’t get its technical act together, if MPCV has a flight test failure, and/or if SLS overruns.

                SLS/MPCV are so expensive that we can’t even afford to build all of MPCV in the US. Where are the billions are going to come from for this robotic NEO retrieval mission, nevertheless to fix MPCV’s technical issues or to restore the SLS budget?

                “For all of you ‘private sector’ fantasists out there, IMA, the chances of the other states supporting a southern California/Texas only manned space program are nil.”

                I don’t know what the relevance of this statement is to the proposed robotic NEO retrieval mission, but it’s a stupid statement given that the spacecraft would probably be built in southern CA.

                “For you old hands, IMA, the same thing likely holds for a ULA based manned space program as well.”

                Because you hate Alabama, Colorado, and Florida too?

                What a weird non-sequitur…

              • E.P. Grondine

                Hi DBN –

                “But 20-odd years ago, I ran the night shift at a near-IR telescope and broadly understand what different types of observations can and can’t do and what they require in terms of
                telescope time.”

                Since those observations 20 years ago were not NEO related, that clears up both your biases and the extent of your knowledge of NEO searches, DBN.

                Why you think all NEOs have the same luminence (reflectivity) violates their known physics. The most likely ones to hit are dead comet fragments, which have the reflectivity of charcoal.

                While the US could and can carry out this program using SpaceX or ULA based launchers, I do not think that is the best way to go right now. The outlined mission will leave the US in a good position for the 2020′s.

                “The retrieval spacecraft requires a couple new, relatively low-priority technologies, but it doesn’t preserve any technical base.”

                Another non-sequitur.

                “SLS/MPCV are so expensive”

                Griffin blew that $8-%10 billion on Ares 1, not on SLS. My bottom line analysis is that in pandering to Utah, Griffin screwed Florida, Alabma, Mississippi, Texas, and too many other states to list here, including Ohio and Virginia.

                “that we can’t even afford to build all of MPCV in the US.”

                We could afford it if we absolutely had to, but there is no need to. Europe is a good partner for MPCV, and it satisfies their needs as well at a good price for them.

                DBN, my immediate space goals differ from meny peoples, including yours. I think that this mission is an excellent recovery from Griffin’s fiasco.

              • Dark Blue Nine

                “Since those observations 20 years ago were not NEO related”

                How do you know? Eros was discovered 115 years ago. Astronomers have been searching for NEOs ever since.

                “Why you think all NEOs have the same luminence (reflectivity) violates their known physics.”

                First, the term is “albedo”, not “luminence”. “Luminence” isn’t even a word.

                Second, where did I write or imply that all NEOs have the same albedo?

                “The most likely ones to hit are dead comet fragments, which have the reflectivity of charcoal.”

                Thanks for repeating well-established facts.

                And your point is?

                “While the US could and can carry out this program using SpaceX or ULA based launchers, I do not think that is the best way to go right now.”

                Why? Because it would save billions of taxpayer dollars for other missions?

                “The outlined mission will leave the US in a good position for the 2020′s.”

                How is blowing 10-20 billion of taxpayer dollars so that a couple astronauts can clamber around a 20-foot rock “leave the US in a good position” for anything?

                “Griffin blew that $8-%10 billion on Ares 1, not on SLS.”

                We’ve already blown $4.2 billion on SLS.

                Your point?

                “My bottom line analysis is that in pandering to Utah, Griffin screwed Florida, Alabma, Mississippi, Texas, and too many other states to list here, including Ohio and Virginia.”

                SLS uses new SRBs. We’re still pandering to Utah.

                And pandering to Utah has nothing to do with the robotic NEO retrieval mission.

                Your point?

                “Europe is a good partner for MPCV”

                Then why hasn’t ESA committed to fully funding it?

                And why is ESA only willing to produce one copy with spares?

                “DBN, my immediate space goals differ from meny peoples, including yours.”

                My goal for you is for you to put together a coherent argument that doesn’t wander in a dozen directions without ever making a point.

                “I think that this mission is an excellent recovery from Griffin’s fiasco.”

                How? We’re still stuck with a suppossed human deep space transportation system that is too expensive to actually do anything in deep space with humans. It’s the same problem.

            • red

              “If they get the $20 million increase in the FY14 budget, NASA doesn’t plan to spend it searching for very small (or big) NEOs. They plan to spend it creating a plan to search for very small NEOs.

              And even with an increased budget, if money is driving telescope time towards identifying and deeply characterizing a few, small, non-threatening NEOs, then there will to be less telescope time for finding large, threatening NEOs.”

              From the budget proposal document’s Planetary Science section:

              “In FY 2014 NASA will aggressively pursue an expanded NEO observation program that will increase the detection and characterization of NEOs of all sizes by increasing the observing time on ground-based telescopes such as PanSTARRs. In support of the future human mission to an asteroid, the Science Mission Directorate and the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate will release a joint Announcement of Opportunity for a space-based NEO infrared telescope, to be flown as a hosted payload on a non-NASA geosynchronous spacecraft. This telescope would observe NEOs that either fly by or impact the Earth, prior to their encounter.”

              So it sounds like some of the proposed increase in NEO search money would go to increasing observation time on ground telescopes, and some would go towards a hosted payload NEO search instrument. If they increase observation time, they wouldn’t necessarily have to interfere with the search for larger objects to search for the smaller ones. The hosted payload also shouldn’t hurt the existing searches.

              The Cross-Cutting Space Technology section of the budget says

              “Increased funding supports early stage concepts and technologies useful for asteroid detection, characterization, proximity operations, mitigation, and resource utilization.”

              and planned for 2014:

              “Initiate at least two new Centennial Challenges, including one relevant to near Earth asteroid
              detection, characterization and mitigation efforts.”

              So the “package deal” might be bringing other ways to make progress in the NEO search and characterization goals beyond the $20M proposed increase in search funding.

              Of course this doesn’t require the NEO retrieval mission itself to happen, or the SLS/MPCV mission to visit it. Not only the NEO search, but also close-up NEO investigations (which may or may not be included in all of this) and the SEP technology demo don’t require it. However, the “package deal” with the later possibility of the retrieval and SLS/MPCV visit missions might make it easier to fund those other (likely more near-term, affordable, and useful) things.

              • E.P. Grondine

                Hi Red –

                As it is, it is a constant fight with the cosmologists for observing time on PanStarrs and all telescopes. The same thing holds for Hubble observing time.

                Why some people believe that small NEOs do not hit all that often and have no effects is a groundless belief that people who work in the field are annoyed at.

                A pea sized object moving at cosmic speeds has as much energy as a battleship shell. At 540 KT, we were very very lucky at Chelyabinsk that that one went off 22 kilometers high.
                Evene a little lower, or a little larger, and we would not be discussing this here at all right now.

              • Dark Blue Nine

                “In FY 2014 NASA will aggressively pursue an expanded NEO observation program that will increase the detection and characterization of NEOs of all sizes by increasing the observing time on ground-based telescopes such as PanSTARRs.”

                This is not directed at you, Red, but I call bullcrap. Only one (PS1) of four PanSTARRs telescopes has been built, and much of its data is compromised. If PanSTARRs is ever properly funded, the other three telescopes are built, and the system becomes operational, then maybe some years from now it will make a serious dent in NEO detection rates. But in 2014, the Catalina Sky Survey will continue to dominate NEO discoveries. Pan-STARRs isn’t going to make a substantial contribution to a 7m NEO target list in time for one of those NEOs to be hauled back to lunar orbit for the crewed MPCV test flight in 2021.

                “In support of the future human mission to an asteroid, the Science Mission Directorate and the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate will release a joint Announcement of Opportunity for a space-based NEO infrared telescope, to be flown as a hosted payload on a non-NASA geosynchronous spacecraft.”

                More bullcrap. NASA has intermittently run GEO Quick Ride Programs for years at GSFC and LaRC, but has never flown a GEO hosted payload. The agency has never been serious about this, is way behind the USAF (which has at least flown a payload or two) in this area, and would have no clue how to interface with commercial comsat builders and operators even if the will was there.

                “Initiate at least two new Centennial Challenges, including one relevant to near Earth asteroid detection, characterization and mitigation efforts.”

                Bullcrap, again. After 2-3 years, the Space Technology Program (now Directorate) couldn’t even get an orbital launcher competition for a 1kg payload off the ground. Unless it’s some software programming competition, they’re not capable of pulling off an asteroid prize.

                “Of course this doesn’t require the NEO retrieval mission itself to happen, or the SLS/MPCV mission to visit it. Not only the NEO search, but also close-up NEO investigations (which may or may not be included in all of this) and the SEP technology demo don’t require it.”

                None of these things are going to happen, regardless. The “plan” in that budget justification relies on telescopes with major issues and NASA programs that have never been used or have had major problems in recent years. If that’s really the agency’s plan, then they’re going to spend the $20 million reworking the plan until it’s workable and that’s probably about it.

                “However, the ‘package deal’ with the later possibility of the retrieval and SLS/MPCV visit missions might make it easier to fund those other (likely more near-term, affordable, and useful) things.”

                Even if the plan above wasn’t so full of holes and could actually make large advances in planetary defense, it’s hard to swallow a $2.6 billion robotic NEO retrieval stunt — on top of billions and billions on SLS/MPCV hardware that can’t get to a NEO on its own in the first place — just so we can spend $20 million on some better NEO searches and prizes.

              • red

                ” If PanSTARRs is ever properly funded, the other three telescopes are built, and the system becomes operational, then maybe some years from now it will make a serious dent in NEO detection rates. But in 2014, the Catalina Sky Survey will continue to dominate NEO discoveries. Pan-STARRs isn’t going to make a substantial contribution to a 7m NEO target list in time for one of those NEOs to be hauled back to lunar orbit for the crewed MPCV test flight in 2021.”

                One other item from the budget proposal suggests that the search funding wouldn’t just go to search time and the hosted payload, but also to search improvements:

                “The budget request includes a doubling of NASA’s efforts to identify and characterize potentially hazardous near-Earth objects (NEOs). NASA will prioritize partnerships and incentives that can enhance detection, characterization, and follow-up in the next few years.”

                The Lightfoot slide presentation has a schedule for “Asteroid Detection, Characterization, & Selection Segment” with a label of “Enhanced ground assets & Initial candidates” around 2013-2015. Year 2013 has a picture of SST (DARPA Space Surveillance Telescope) and 2014 has a picture of PS-2, so maybe they intend to put a dent in that problem (whether or not it’s soon enough for the 2021 SLS/MPCV mission). The same schedule shows “GEO-hosted payload detection” and “Final target selection” for 2016.

                http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/740512main_FY2014%20CJ%20for%20Online.pdf

                “More bullcrap. NASA has intermittently run GEO Quick Ride Programs for years at GSFC and LaRC, but has never flown a GEO hosted payload. The agency has never been serious about this, is way behind the USAF (which has at least flown a payload or two) in this area, and would have no clue how to interface with commercial comsat builders and operators even if the will was there.”

                Maybe this is a chance to get them to take it seriously. NASA hasn’t flown a GEO hosted payload, but they have a couple in the works. We will see if they make it through sequestration. The recent “Earth Venture – Instrument” selection of TEMPO is supposed to use a hosted payload on a GEO satellite. If that line continues, I imagine NASA will have to get used to hosted payloads. Page 10 of this has an article on TEMPO. Page 14 includes their hosted payload plan, which involves work with the Air Force’s “Hosted Payload Solution” program. Hopefully that will get their feet wet.

                http://eospso.gsfc.nasa.gov/eos_observ/pdf/March_April_2013_508_color.pdf

                Space Technology also has the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration project, which is supposed to be hosted on a Loral GEO comsat. This one is also some years away from flight, but you have to start somewhere.

                Apart from GEO comsats, NASA Space Technology also plans to fly the Deep Space Atomic Clock technology demonstration mission as a hosted payload on an Iridium comsat. Also, SeaWiFS was a hosted payload from the 1990′s.

                ” After 2-3 years, the Space Technology Program (now Directorate) couldn’t even get an orbital launcher competition for a 1kg payload off the ground. Unless it’s some software programming competition, they’re not capable of pulling off an asteroid prize.”

                Oh, don’t get me going on the Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge, or the recent Centennial Challenge status in general. But in the event that they get and keep funding for it, it’s possible that it would be something like a software competition, maybe image processing to search data archives of telescope images and other data for NEOs. Maybe it would have a ground-based telescope component. Maybe it would just be “find me a 7-10m NEO with such-and-such parameters, and prove it”. Who knows? I’m not picturing something extremely ambitious like a B612 telescope or a PS/DSI type mission. But I think with some small changes they could manage something like that. After all they did the Lunar Lander Challenge. A lot of what NASA would need to do is “keep hands off”.

              • red

                It looks like I gave the wrong link to the Lightfoot presentation. Trying again:

                http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/740684main_LightfootBudgetPresent0410.pdf

                “Even if the plan above wasn’t so full of holes and could actually make large advances in planetary defense, it’s hard to swallow a $2.6 billion robotic NEO retrieval stunt — on top of billions and billions on SLS/MPCV hardware that can’t get to a NEO on its own in the first place — just so we can spend $20 million on some better NEO searches and prizes.”

                That’s not a good trade, but the trade doesn’t seem to me to be as bad as that. The pile of billions wasted on SLS/MPCV (and Ares/Orion) will be wasted anyway. I don’t see this mission being the reason to keep SLS/MPCV, and removing it wouldn’t remove SLS/MPCV. So let’s say it’s $2.6B spent on the NEO retrieval mission as a cost. On the other hand there’s $20M on better NEO searches and a small prize competition, and let’s assume those are benefits.

                The NEO search improvements probably aren’t going to be just for 1 year. I think an article about the NEO search hosted payload from some time ago suggested $50M for that. Assuming other search improvements … maybe over several years you’re in the ballpark of $80M vs $2600M. It still sounds bad, but we’re used to $400M commercial crew vs $4000M for SLS/MPCV/SLS ground systems, so if this is a compromise, we’re starting with low expectations.

                The value of accomplishing the SEP technology demonstration (if we assume they can do it) could also be counted in the “benefit” column. That value might be in the hundreds of millions.

                If we assume the NEO retrieval can actually be done, the science value could be considerable. The Planetary Science community values NEO retrieval, as demonstrated by OSIRIS-REx winning the last New Frontiers competition. That mission’s cost is probably on the order of $1B, a significant fraction of $2.6B, for small sample retrieval and robotically checking characteristics of the asteroid. I’m not sure how Planetary Science would value this new mission. An OSIRIS-REx success might diminish the value to them somewhat, but differences in the retrieved samples from the 2 missions might have science value. Of course the amount of material retrieved for the new mission would be much greater, and the ability to have astronauts investigate and sample the object in situ might have value. Future telerobotic investigations might also have science value.

                The budget teleconference transcript has bad news for the idea of carefully selecting the object. I wasn’t sure what their approach would be in this respect. It looks like they might take a “check the box off” attitude for selecting the object:

                http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/740871main_FY14_budget_telecon_trans.pdf

                “And there have been some estimates published by others. In particular, the Keck study published a figure of $2.6 billion. We do not think at this point that it will be that expensive for two reasons. One is that the Keck study didn’t take into account all the
                activities we already have going on in our base, so we wouldn’t need 2.6 billion of new money. And also, because the Keck study was very particular about what kind of asteroid it wanted to go get, and it was focused on carbonaceous chondrites, which are actually a little farther away than a lot of other asteroids, and so it would take you longer to go get—on average longer to go get it, so the program would be longer.”

                That would likely considerably reduce the science, ISRU technology demonstration, and commercial potential of the mission. If NASA doesn’t care whether it gets a “good” asteroid, it probably also makes it unlikely that there would be a series of small close-up missions to check out the objects to be able to select the best one, thus eliminating any side benefits (science, commercial, etc) of such missions.

                The transcript also outlines exactly what the initial $105M funding would be for:

                $20M – Science, improvements to NEO search
                $45M – Space Technology
                $38M – accelerate Solar Electric Power Demonstration
                $7M – “a broader initiative to look at hazard mitigation technologies” (so maybe some Planetary Defense progress)
                $40M – Advanced Exploration Systems – uncooperative targets technology

                So far it’s all for technology development/demonstration and science, so the current funding proposal doesn’t look objectionable in the sense of SLS/MPCV or an asteroid version of JWST … yet.

          • MrEarl

            Just another example of how clueless the Obama administration is. Stunts like this asteroid capture are just a waste of time and money.
            I have completely despaired of this administration coming up with anything that would even come close to useful maned space exploration.
            I hope the next administration can come up with innovative uses for the SLS and Orion and create partnerships with business and other nations to really explore the solar system.

            • E.P. Grondine

              Hi Mr Earl –

              To state the obvious, different people define “useful” in different ways. My opinion is that what a majority of people might define as “useful” may differ from your definition.

              Why is asteroid capture more than a “stunt”?
              because NEOs hit more than rarely, and have killed large numbers of people. They will do so again if the hazard is not addressed.

            • Coastal Ron

              MrEarl said:

              I hope the next administration can come up with innovative uses for the SLS and Orion…

              Once the President of 2016 takes office, then you have to hope that the Congress of 2016 wants to actually spend money on SLS missions.

              However you do realize that if the Congress of today wanted the SLS to be used, they would just direct NASA to create a plan to use it? Congress can define the high level goals, provide the budget estimates for NASA to use in determining how the goals can be funded, and ask NASA to present their plans to Congress.

              But Congress hasn’t done that yet… know why? Because they know there is not enough money to do a steady stream of SLS missions, especially missions that will start in 2021.

              And let’s see, if they do wait until 2016 (2017 actually) to start funding SLS missions, then it’s likely the SLS will be sitting on the ground for at least 5 years with only the MPCV to lift.

              With that being the case, what’s the rush to build the SLS, but not fully fund Commercial Crew? Don’t we all want to stop sending our money to Russia and have a domestic crew capability that can become a self-supporting transportation industry?

              The money math is a pretty simple one here…

  • josh

    corrupt members of congress will do their best to protect the pork rocket aka sls and the overpriced apollo-replica aka orion by slashing funding for commercial crew once again. calling these actions disgraceful would be an understatement..

  • Rep. Lamar Smith blathered:

    Seemingly out of the blue, this mission has never been evaluated or recommended by the scientific community …

    Apparently the Keck Institute and all the scientists, engineers and astronauts who participated in generating the Asteroid Retrieval Feasibility Study are no longer part of the scientific community, because Rep. Smith says so.

    I must have missed the day that Congress passed the law giving itself the power to declare who’s a scientist and who isn’t.

    • DCSCA

      “I must have missed the day that Congress passed the law giving itself the power to declare who’s a scientist and who isn’t..” quips Stephen.

      It was the same day it declared the $100 billion boondoggle ISS a ‘National Laboratory’, Smitty.

      • Coastal Ron

        Tinkerbell DCSCA said:

        “It was the same day it declared the $100 billion boondoggle ISS a ‘National Laboratory”

        At least the ISS is doing science for the nation (hence the National Laboratory designation), and is already proving crucial for validating systems and techniques we’ll need for future space exploration (the reason it’s there).

        In addition to this most recent incident, another day in question is when Rep. Lamar Smith decided to fully support a mega rocket to nowhere that has no customers, and no funding for any payloads.

        • E.P. Grondine

          Hi CR –

          For some people, usually on the left, all space is a boondoogle. For others, unless its manned flight to Mars now, its a boondoogle.

          As both positions are fantasist (IMO), arguing facts with them is somewhat futile. About the only good that comes is alerting others that they are fantasist, so thanks.

        • DCSCA

          At least the ISS is doing science for the nation” reagans Ron.

          Except it’s not.

          Least? Try little to none. but if you want to defend a 20th Century Cold War relic representing planning from an era long over, go for it. But a ‘national laboratory’ that cost $100 billion and costs billiobs/year to operate to house one or, at best two Americans at a time is a pretty poor ROI even for a commercialist like you. You have no idea what they did up there today to justify the expense.

          • “You have no idea what they did up there today to justify the expense.”

            So…can you say that about any other National Laboratory?

            • DCSCA

              the civl psace progam isn’t a secret, Frank… but apparently cloaking that they’re doing nothing of value up there aboard the ISS to justify ther $100 billion expense and billions/year in ops funding is. It ain’t exactly an orbiting Oak Ridge or the CDC with just one or two U.S. astro-’researchers’ aboard.

              • Coastal Ron

                DCSCA whined:

                You have no idea what they did up there today to justify the expense.

                It’s funny how ignorant and wrong you can be.

                I did a quick search and found the Weekly Recap From the Expedition Lead Scientist.

                Apparently if you don’t stick your fingers in your ears and scream nonsensical words you can find just about anything about the ISS. Maybe you should try it next time, huh? ;-)

      • Bennett In Vermont

        “Smitty”

        Your lack of manners and ugly nature is why you are viewed as a troll by most who read these comments.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      “Apparently the Keck Institute and all the scientists, engineers and astronauts who participated in generating the Asteroid Retrieval Feasibility Study are no longer part of the scientific community, because Rep. Smith says so.”

      The hypocrisy is that the Keck study is way more due diligence than what SLS/MPCV got.

      But it’s less due diligence than what Constellation/Ares I/Orion got. And much less than what JWST and Mars Curiousity got. And we know how well all those projects turned out.

      • E.P. Grondine

        Hi DBN –

        Take a look at the roster for this one. Given their abilities, experience, and skills, the diligence here is far greater than anything Ares 1 and the rest of Griffin’s architecture faced.

        • Dark Blue Nine

          “Take a look at the roster for this one. Given their abilities, experience, and skills, the diligence here is far greater than anything Ares 1 and the rest of Griffin’s architecture faced.”

          That’s simply wrong. ESAS produced a 750-page report. The Keck study is only 50-pages long. ESAS has a seven-person independent review team. The Keck study had no independent review. ESAS started with hundreds of architecture and vehicle combinations. The Keck study is a point design exercise.

          ESAS was gravely flawed by the prejudiced assumptions that Griffin provided and by other prejudiced data that the study accepted. But a lot more though and a lot more review still went into ESAS than the Keck study.

          The Keck study is great for what it is — a proof-of-concept that a cool mission design could be pulled off. But that doesn’t mean that this mission is the best next step to mitigate the danger of future NEO impacts, exploit space resources, and advance human space exploration. It’s not, not by a long shot. And it’s certainly not the basis by which multi-billion dollar decisions about future programs (space or otherwise) should be made.

          • E.P. Grondine

            Hi DBN –

            “ESAS was gravely flawed by the prejudiced assumptions that Griffin provided and by other prejudiced data that the study accepted.”

            I agree 100%with you on that. How the combustion oscillations made it through all of those studies is a wonder. It is interesting that we still do not known everything that went on. (As my diabetes is pretty bad right now, don’t expect much work from me on this.)

            “But a lot more though and a lot more review still went into ESAS than the Keck study.”

            I can’t agree with you there, and the facts show otherwise.

            After his advisors’ initial plan was rejected, Obama went and took up Goldin’s plan for using an asteroid visit as a means of developing the technologies for manned Mars flight. (It is clear to me now that Goldin wanted to fly the 2018 Mars flyby trajectory using the 2018 launch window and the NLS.)

            The new mission changes that, and brings it into line with the budget realities. Instead of flying into Deep Space for the rendezvous, the capture brings the asteroid to the astronauts, instead of bringing the astronauts to the asteroid. Otherwise, all of the technologies and systems have already been reviewed extensively.

            If you have another goal, or path to that goal, would you please be clear about it?

            • Dark Blue Nine

              “I can’t agree with you there, and the facts show otherwise.”

              No, they don’t. ESAS had 14x more published detail, examined hundreds of hardware combinations, and had the benefit of an independent review. The Keck study has 14x less published detail than ESAS, is a point design exercise, and had no independent review.

              “After his advisors’ initial plan was rejected, Obama went and took up Goldin’s plan for using an asteroid visit”

              What “Goldin plan” for an asteroid visit? Link? Reference?

              “Otherwise, all of the technologies and systems have already been reviewed extensively.”

              No, they havn’t.

              NASA’s Space Technology Program (now Directorate) has rejected proposals to develop and flight test robotic capture mechanisms for spent rocket stages and other debris in Earth orbit. Now they’re going to develop robotic capture mechanisms for multi-hundred ton rocks? And operate them far beyond Earth orbit?

              Yeah, right.

              High-power electric propulsion systems have been a priority on the NRC’s space technology decadal survey for several years now. But instead of following consensus priorities from a national report that NASA asked and paid for, NASA’s Space Technology Program (now Directorate) has pursued technologies like solar sails and green propulsion that don’t even appear in the report. Now, all of a sudden, NASA’s Space Technology Program is going to get out of the sandbox and have the focus and fortitude necessary to bring high-power electric propulsion into operation within a handful of years?

              Yeah, right.

              “If you have another goal, or path to that goal, would you please be clear about it?”

              I’ve always been fine with a real human NEO mission as the next step. Short of an Inspiration Mars-type mission, it’s by far the best bang for your tax-buck when it comes to testing the systems necessary for human exploration of deep space. And it would have examined one representative NEO of the right size to threaten Earth.

              But this isn’t a real human NEO mission. It’s an Apollo-era lunar orbit rendezvous mission.

              Drop SLS and MPCV, and NASA will have plenty of budget and personnel to apply toward the hardware necessary for a real human NEO (or other deep space) mission.

    • Hiram

      Smith’s dismissal of this study as not being an independent one makes some sense. This was not a study to examine options for getting the best science for an asteroid (which would be done by the science community), and not a study to examine the best options for mitigation (which would be done by space defense experts). It wasn’t a comparative study of opportunities. It was advocacy for one mission concept. Nothing to criticize there. It’s a wonderful study, and makes the mission more credible. But in terms of making policy, that’s not how it’s done. The next step would be to engage (or re-engage) comparative studies, with this mission study as a key input.

      The question isn’t whether we can do it, but whether it’s the best way to do what we want to get done. The KISS study didn’t make that case.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Let’s see.

    NASA’s real pros hunker down and give Smith and everyone else about the only way to turn Griffin’s disaster around, and Smith beefs?

    Perhaps since SpaceX is setting up a launch facility in Texas, Smith is wiling to throw all the other states under the budget bus(?) If so, I don’t think that will win him or Texas any friends.

    While I know Texaas favors beef brisquet, one man’s pork is another man’s BBQ, and SpaceX does not have a wide enough support for the public to pay for “exploration” done solely through it, IMO.

    That possible ugliness aside, Congress has a need to oversee, and I would think that some people need to tell Smith and everyone else how this program came about. NASA needs to mkae sure that their legislative supporters are talking with their colleagues.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      “Perhaps since SpaceX is setting up a launch facility… While I know Texaas favors beef brisquet, one man’s pork is another man’s BBQ, and SpaceX…”

      Except in your imagination, SpaceX has nothing to do with the Keck study or NASA’s robotic NEO retrieval mission initiative.

      You’re grasping at straws.

  • E.P. Grondine

    DBN – That’s the facts. A solely California-Texas based manned space effort would have no support from other states.

    I have little doubt that Rep. Smith will revise his comments after discussing about dealing with this real and serious hazard with his colleagues.

    While dealing with the impact hazard is not NASA’s only mission, IMO and that of others it is one that NASA has to do before moving on to other deep space missions.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      “DBN – That’s the facts. A solely California-Texas based manned space effort would have no support from other states.”

      Your SpaceX obsession has nothing to do with the robotic NEO retrieval mission. It’s a weird non-sequitur.

      “I have little doubt that Rep. Smith will revise his comments after discussing about dealing with this real and serious hazard with his colleagues.”

      NASA’s proposed robotic NEO retrieval mission doesn’t deal with any “real and serious hazard”. No 7-meter NEO threatens the Earth. They disintegrate during entry in our atmosphere.

      “While dealing with the impact hazard is not NASA’s only mission, IMO and that of others it is one that NASA has to do before moving on to other deep space missions.”

      Fine. Then let’s put together a set of programs that actually deals with that threat.

      Let’s finish the survey of NEOs down to 140 meters that threaten regional catastrophes.

      Let’s extend the survey down to sub-100 meter NEOs that still pose local, if not region- or globe spanning-, dangers.

      Let’s put a B612-type telescope inside Earth’s orbit to actively scan for the ~10% of dangerous NEOs that escape the ground-based searches.

      Let’s send robotic missions to several representative NEOs of dangerous size so we understand their composition and structure in great detail.

      And based on all that information, let’s do better modeling, development, and testing of techniques for diverting large, dangerous NEOs.

      Working efficiently, we could probably do all that for ~$1-1.5 billion.

      But let’s not pretend that finding a non-threatening, sub-10m NEO, putting a bag over it, and towing it somewhere else is going to make a substantial contribution to planetary defense. It’s a stunt performed on a innocuous space rock, not a diversion capability for dangerous, Earth-crossing asteroids.

      • E.P. Grondine

        Hi DBN –

        “Let’s put a B612-type telescope inside Earth’s orbit to actively scan for the ~10% of dangerous NEOs that escape the ground-based searches.”

        Wrong. What makes you think that only ~10% of dangerous objects are not picked up by current systems?

        What makes you think you know more about detection capabilities than the experts who worked on this study?

        More importantly, why are you trying so hard to find objections to it, and why are you looking to set up as large bureaucratic obstacles as you can?

        If you want NASA to immediately fly a few men to Mars, and think that should be NASA’s only goal, then please be clear about it.

        I have a simple question for you: What do you think NASA’ main goals should be? Manned Moon? Manned Mars? Planetary probes? Searching for Little Green Men? Measuring CO2?

        Please be explicit in your answer, and do not use loaded words to avoid answering that question.

        • Dark Blue Nine

          “What makes you think that only ~10% of dangerous objects are not picked up by current systems?”

          Based on best estimates, past surveys had a goal of finding 90% of all NEOs over 1,000m and current surveys have a goal of finding 90% of all NEOs over 140m. That leaves 10% of NEOs in those classes undetected, based on best estimates.

          “What makes you think you know more about detection capabilities than the experts who worked on this study?”

          Where did I say that I thought that?

          Please don’t put words in my mouth.

          I will repeat that there is a very limited number of telescopes that do these NEO searches, with only a limited amount of observation time on each telescope. To the extent that you’re spending that observation time doing long integrations to find very small and faint but non-threatening NEOs — and even more observation time pinning down the orbits, spin rates, compositions, etc. of many of these non-threatening NEOs down to the gnat’s eyelash — you will have less observation time on these telescopes available for rapid scans to find the larger, brighter, dangerous NEOs.

          And I’ll repeat — that’s a stupendously stupid misallocation of resources.

          “More importantly, why are you trying so hard to find objections to it,”

          Because NASA and the US taxpayer shouldn’t spend $2.6 billion on a stunt to provide a figleaf for another multi-billion dollar launch vehicle and capsule that was suppossed to, but can’t, do the job that the stunt/figleaf is pretending to do.

          “and why are you looking to set up as large bureaucratic obstacles as you can?”

          I’m a poster on a blog site. How am I setting up “large bureaucratic obstacles”?

          “If you want NASA to immediately fly a few men to Mars, and think that should be NASA’s only goal, then please be clear about it.”

          That’s not my desire. We’d kill the crew with our current technical base.

          “I have a simple question for you: What do you think NASA’ main goals should be? Manned Moon? Manned Mars? Planetary probes? Searching for Little Green Men? Measuring CO2?”

          NASA’s human space exploration goal should be to establish the technical base, including flight demonstrations, to enable affordable and repeated expeditions to multiple deep space locations, including Lagrange Points, asteroids, and Mars.

  • DCSCA

    “We need to do the right thing. Not spend more billions of taxpayer money cobbling together stunts that only give the appearance of doing the right thing.”

    Which is precisely why subsidizing redundant stunts like commercial HSF with tax dollars should be terminated immediately.

    • How you can continue to believe that seeking lower-cost ways to provide re-supply and crew rotation to ISS and any future permanent manned orbital platforms, and reduce reliance on a sole-source, still adversarial partner for same, continues to amaze me.

      If that does not fall under the heading of ‘the right thing,’ I do not know what does…

      Yes, I know your problem is with ISS too. Yet anywhere else we go, if we intend to stay there longer than the consumables carried along will support life and operations (Apollo, of course, did not), then somebody had darn well better be able to provide an affordable supply chain to that place. Even ISRU and 3-D printing will make you only so self-reliant. Sooner or later, humans need those…groceries.

      And there’s nothing radical or new about the government contracting such things out to multiple commercial entities. Space doesn’t change that logic. Manned space ops have always, and understandably been shot full of redundancy, yet past experience of US and Russian human (and otherwise) access to space being down for extended periods, after greater or lesser launcher/spacecraft problems, and no transportation alternatives, seems lost on you, and redundancy suddenly becomes a bad word…

  • DCSCA

    Your SpaceX obsession has nothing to do with the robotic NEO retrieval mission. It’s a weird non-sequitur.
    It’s a placeholder for the green eyeshade fellas and planners, sbn, Project Lasso wil never happen simply because it is a silly concept to start with and and an expensive one to attempt.

  • DCSCA

    “… SpaceX obsession has nothing to do with the robotic NEO retrieval mission. It’s a weird non-sequitur.” moted dbn.

    It’s a placeholder for the green eyeshade fellas and planners, dbn. Project Lasso wil never happen simply because it is a silly concept to start with and and an expensive one to attempt.
    ..

    • Coastal Ron

      DCSCA whined:

      Project Lasso wil never happen simply because it is a silly concept to start with and and an expensive one to attempt.

      You keep forgetting that this asteroid mission was a way to provide some sort of need for your precious SLS. Without this proposed mission, the SLS has NOTHING to do but sit on it’s butt and kill the grass underneath it.

      Or did you not understand that?

      That’s reason enough to kill it and use it’s funding to finish Commercial Crew and build exploration hardware that flies on existing rockets.

  • Hiram

    It seems to have escaped everyone that, for NASA, the fundamental purpose of capturing an asteroid and bringing it back to EM L2 is to satisfy what has come to be understood as a presidential directive to send humans to an asteroid by 2025. It’s not about impact mitigation, and it’s not about resource development. It’s certainly not about science. It’s about going somewhere (anywhere!) that we’ve never gone before.

    That being the case, and that it’s getting pretty well established that we can’t easily send humans to a distant asteroid by 2025, NASA leadership is DELIGHTED that we can send humans to a nearby asteroid by 2025. Hey, President Obama never said “distant” did he? So an asteroid is captured, brought nearby, and the goalposts are moved. Yessir, Mr. President, we can do what you asked!

    I am sure that President Obama didn’t give that directive more than a few milliseconds of thought before he voiced it. One of those few milliseconds was that we’d already been to the Moon.

    I will expand on DSN’s comment — let’s not pretend that finding a non-threatening, sub-10m NEO, putting a bag over it, and towing it somewhere else is going to make a substantial contribution to planetary defense, science, or resource development. It’s a stunt performed on a innocuous space rock. Betcha that if the President took a few more milliseconds considering that, he’d come to the same conclusion.

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>