While a proposed asteroid retrieval mission got the bulk of the attention in NASA’s 2014 budget proposal, another mission also got an outsized share of attention compared to its budget. A number of media reports played up the inclusion in the budget of funding for the Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR. This spacecraft’s long, tortured history dates back to the late 1990s, when the spacecraft was officially known as Triana and was primarily designed to return full-disk images of the Earth from the Earth-Sun L-1 point. Since NASA started the mission at the behest of then Vice President Al Gore, the spacecraft earned the unofficial, but widely used, moniker “Goresat.” Congressional opposition to the program, based on concerns about its scientific utility, put the spacecraft into storage for years.
DSCOVR, though, was back in the headlines this week. “President Barack Obama is proposing dusting off and finally launching an old environmental satellite championed by Al Gore but shelved a dozen years by his 2000 rival George W. Bush,” the AP reported. Although the article notes money has been spent on the spacecraft in the last several years to refurbish its instruments, the article was widely interpreted to mean that this program was a new start (if reviving a satellite built over a decade ago can be considered a “new start.”) That got reinterpreted by some outlets differently: Engadget said the US Air Force was planning to spend $35 million for DSCOVR, for example.
The problem is that DSCOVR is not new to the fiscal year 2014 budget. Back in its FY12 budget, NOAA requested $47.3 million to begin refurbishment of DSCOVR with a primary mission of providing solar storm warnings. The program ended up with $29.8 million in FY12, and in FY13 NOAA requested almost $22.9 million to continue preparing DSCOVR for launch. And NOAA’s FY14 budget proposal, released this week, requests $23.675 million for DSCOVR.
The Air Force is a partner in DSCOVR, providing launch services. The Air Force’s 2012 budget request included funding for launch services, receiving $134.5 million, according to a NASA presentation on the mission last year. That was enough to fully fund the launch: “The FY12 budget purchases a launch vehicle for NOAA’s DSCOVR climate observing satellite–no need for additional funds in FY13,” Gen. William Shelton, head of Air Force Space Command, said in a speech almost one year ago. In December, the Air Force awarded the DSCOVR launch contract to SpaceX, one of the first EELV-class missions SpaceX won from the military.
What is new, though, is that there is a line item for DSCOVR in the NASA FY14 budget request. It is a modest one: $9.9 million in 2014 to finish integration of two Earth sciences instruments on the spacecraft, with projections of $1.7 million each in FY15 and 16. However, the resurrection of Goresat has been going on for a couple of years now.