NASA

Detailed NASA budget request offers details on SOFIA decision and more

NASA released late Monday its detailed (713-page) fiscal year 2015 budget request, containing many additional details about its proposed budget now available last week. Some highlights:

The budget document provides more details on the decision to cut funding for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) airborne telescope, which will result in the facility being put in storage if NASA can’t find partners to pick up the slack. “The original case for compelling ‘Great Observatory’ science from SOFIA assumed an overlap with the Spitzer Space Telescope for complementary science observations and at least one year of operations prior to the launch of the Herschel Space Observatory,” said the document. However, SOFIA has suffered several years of delays, which NASA concludes means it “will no longer provide the kind of scientific impact and synergies with other missions as once planned. Additionally, the James Webb Space Telescope, planned to launch in 2018, will provide data at mid-infrared wavelengths, partially mitigating the absence of SOFIA.”

The budget proposal provides breakouts for the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion, revealing that NASA is seeking less month for both than Congress appropriated in FY14. NASA seeks $1.053 billion for Orion, versus $1.197 billion appropriated for the current fiscal year; SLS would get $1.38 billion versus $1.6 billion in 2014. The budget doesn’t go into details about how the SLS funding would be spent, as the program is pending a milestone known as Key Decision Point C (KDP-C). “Once the SLS Key Decision Point (KDP)-C is completed (expected in April 2014), NASA will provide this [budget] data in a revision to the Congressional Justification,” the document states.

Planned spending for ISS operations will result in the “elimination” of one planned cargo mission to the ISS in fiscal year 2015, according to the document, which doesn’t specify if that mission is one flown by Orbital or SpaceX. “NASA is currently updating cargo requirements as part of the FY 2016 budget planning process, and assessing the full impacts of the FY 2014 appropriations,” the document states. As part of the Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative (OGSI), NASA is seeking $100.6 million for ISS operations to “prevent additional Commercial Resupply Service (CRS) flight deletions.”

The budget document provides some details on changes to NASA’s Space Technology programs. A planned in-space demonstration for its Cryogenic Propellant Storage and Transfer project, seen as key to potential future propellant depots, will now be done as a series of tests on the ground. NASA also plans to restructure its Laser Communications Relay Demonstration project “to encourage the greater involvement of industry.” The Sunjammer Solar Sail project will be delayed as it finds a new launch opportunity.

The budget projections for NASA’s Mars program do not, curiously, including any funding for the Mars Exploration Rover program (the Opportunity rover) for FY15 or beyond. MER, like other ongoing missions, is subject to the upcoming senior review to determine if it will continue operations, but other extended missions that will also be part of the review, like Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, do have funding listed for FY15 and beyond.

The budget also includes no funding for the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 (OCO-3) instrument, planned to make use of spare parts for the OCO-2 spacecraft but be flown on the ISS. “In light of other planned spaceborne carbon dioxide measurement missions, the development of OCO-3 will cease, and no funds are requested for OCO-3 in FY 2015,” the document states. However, the additional OGSI funding includes $29.3 million to continue work on OGO-3.

Besides funding for ISS resupply missions and OCO-3, the OGSI section details how NASA would use this additional funding, if provided. The OGSI funding includes $35 million for additional planetary science mission extended funding and $15 million for accelerating work on radioisotope power systems. The $100 million for Space Technology would be used for a variety of programs, from additional support for the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program to cooperation with DARPA on a robotics competition.

13 comments to Detailed NASA budget request offers details on SOFIA decision and more

  • lacalaca

    Hmm… “partially mitigating” is an interesting euphemism for “if you need mid-IR observations, you only have to wait 4+ years to get it done”.

    • Hiram

      That “partially mitigating” business is actually just nuts. JWST will observe out to 28 microns, while SOFIA covers the 1-1000 micron range. So JWST is supposed to be “partially mitigating” the absence of SOFIA by offering access to 3% of the spectrum that SOFIA would? If we kill JWST, it’s absence would be “Partially mitigated” by a host of operational observatories.

      Also, while the original case for operations assumed overlap with Spitzer and Herschel, it also assumed that, as a 20-year mission, it would greatly outlive Spitzer and Herschel.

      • James

        Never trust NASA when it speaks of grandiose plans. LRO was supposed to be the first of many lunar mission to ‘map’ the moon for eventual return. Sophia, to be a 20 year program. etc. etc. etc.

        Therefore, SLS is dead, so is Orion MPCV.

      • Dark Blue Nine

        “SOFIA covers the 1-1000 micron range”

        No, it doesn’t. The wideband camera is 50-240 microns and the five spectrometers and one photometer all work at or below 240 microns.

        There may be other instruments in design or development that could reach 1000 microns, but given the high unreliability of the platform and the loss of synergy with other telescopes, finishing them would be throwing good money after bad.

        • Hiram

          Again, that’s wrong because you’re not reading the whole thing. Formally, SOFIA is aimed at 0.3-1600 microns — see http://sofia.usra.edu/Science/overview/index.html (hey, that makes JWST 1.8% mitigating, not 3%!), but at any one time there may or may not be an instrument that works at a given wavelength. The shortest wavelengths are largely covered by ground-based observatories, but SOFIA can put a large telescope at a specific place to meet an astronomical event only visible from that place. The longest wavelengths are also largely covered from the ground, but there are wavelength gaps from water absorption.

          Again, one should look at this as a big positive, not a negative. SOFIA doesn’t have to do everything at once. It can follow scientific needs as they evolve. No space astronomy mission can do that now. HST once could, but servicing of that telescope is done.

          Also, the facility is simply not “unreliable”. That’s just false. My car is unreliable, er, every once in a while when it breaks. Same with SOFIA. Given that it is only now achieving any measure of full operation, it’s patently silly to expect 100% success. The Source Evaluation Board in their PIR last year was very complementary about the status of and prospects for the project.

          Now, this business with loss of synergy is, as I said, an issue that is long past. SOFIA was designed to operate, and be valuable, vastly longer than Spitzer or Herschel.

          The value of SOFIA is something that deserves inspection, as for any mission, but that inspection hasn’t happened. NASA has Senior Reviews that are specifically constituted to do that inspection, but SOFIA isn’t due for one for another year or two.

          • Dark Blue Nine

            “Again, that’s wrong because you’re not reading the whole thing. Formally, SOFIA is aimed at 0.3-1600 microns…”

            Misleading advertising. Collecting useless photons in a reflector is not the same as converting those photons to useful bits in a detector. Here’s SOFIA’s actual instrument list with their actual spectral ranges:

            EXES M. Richter Univ. of
            California, Davis Echelon Spectrometer
            5-28 microns

            FIFI LS A. Poglitsch MPE, Garching Imaging Grating Spectrometer
            42-210 microns

            FLITECAM I. McLean UCLA Near-IR Camera and Grism Spectrometer
            1-5 microns

            FORCAST T.Herter Cornell Mid-IR Camera and Grism Spectrometer
            5-40 microns

            GREAT R. Guesten MPIfR
            KOSMA
            DLR-WS Heterodyne Spectrometer
            60 – 240 microns

            HAWC D.A. Harper Univ. of
            Chicago HAWC+ High-resolution Airborne Wideband Camera and Polarimeter
            50-240 microns

            HIPO E. Dunham Lowell
            Observatory High-speed Imaging Photometer for Occultations
            0.3 – 1.1 microns

            Also, the project’s actual instrumentation would have been only half of this list as the bar was lowered to only four instruments for operations.

            “Also, the facility is simply not ‘unreliable’. That’s just false. My car is unreliable, er, every once in a while when it breaks. Same with SOFIA.”

            Bullcrap. SOFIA was scheduled for five-and-a-half months of mandatory maintenance downtime in its first full years of operations (2014) alone. Unless you think having your car in the shop for half the year constitutes reliable performance, your analogy is poorly informed bunk.

            And the mandatory maintenance says nothing about how the aircraft would have flown only a few times a week even when everything was working perfectly. Or anything about all the observations that have been lost to electrical failures thanks to NASA’s kludged 10,000-connector rewiring of the avionics and aircraft with no Boeing blueprints to work from.

            “SOFIA can put a large telescope at a specific place to meet an astronomical event only visible from that place.”

            Only within the range of the aircraft. And this is a centuries old capability, regardless. Astronomical expeditions have been observing eclipses and other geographically constrained events in extreme locations around the globe since the 19th century.

            “Now, this business with loss of synergy is, as I said, an issue that is long past. SOFIA was designed to operate, and be valuable, vastly longer than Spitzer or Herschel.”

            SOFIA’s primary value was in pathfinding observations for Herschel and Spitzer. Thanks to years of delays, that value has been lost.

            “SOFIA doesn’t have to do everything at once. It can follow scientific needs as they evolve.”

            Only for lots more money. SOFIA already costs as much as a Great Observatory — over $1 billion to date (a 4x overrun in development) and another $2+ billion to go. But it doesn’t observe above the atmosphere like a Great Observatory, it doesn’t observe in tandem with the telescopes it was designed to complement like a Great Observatory, and doesn’t work around-the-clock like a Great Observatory. It consumes more operational money than any other NASA telescope besides HST. Even the remaining projected budget for SOFIA — before adding new instruments — would practically pay for WFIRST, the last decadal’s highest priority.

            How much more money are we going to pour down this expensive, poorly performing, low-priority rat hole?

            “The value of SOFIA is something that deserves inspection, as for any mission, but that inspection hasn’t happened.”

            It did. NASA terminated the project in 2006, and congressional pressure restored it. It’s another poorly conceived, poorly executed, grossly underperforming, fragile, costly NASA engineering workforce employment project that has been kept alive by congressional earmarks and fiat instead of sound project assessments.

            It is way, way past time to put SOFIA out of its (and our) misery.

            • Hiram

              “Misleading advertising. Collecting useless photons in a reflector is not the same as converting those photons to useful bits in a detector.”

              Useless photons? That’s creative. We’ll leave it up to the time assignment and instrument development selection committees to decide which ones are useless and which ones aren’t.

              “Here’s SOFIA’s actual instrument list with their actual spectral ranges:”

              A URL would have been a lot shorter … . This is the actual *current* instrument list. Others are being developed, including a far infrared polarimeter that will be highly productive — HAWC+. Not quite sure what these column inches have to do with your point. As I said, the observatory is intended to host instruments with a much wider range of wavelengths than what happen to be represented here. This is an advantage, not a demerit. Herschel and Spitzer couldn’t do that. That’s not a hard concept, is it?

              “SOFIA was scheduled for five-and-a-half months of mandatory maintenance downtime in its first full years of operations (2014) alone.”

              The airframe was purchased much more than a decade ago. Passenger jets have to undergo regular maintenance. As you say, this is *mandatory* maintenance. This is not a special problem for SOFIA any more than it’s a special problem for Delta Airlines or UPS. It’s unfortunate that this scheduled maintenance has to happen in the first year of operation, but the FAA doesn’t care that much about science scheduling. While SOFIA is hugely advantageous in that it allows people to fly with their science instruments, we are talking about man-rating a vehicle, and that’s a safety issue that takes money and effort.

              “SOFIA’s primary value was in pathfinding observations for Herschel and Spitzer.”

              The primary NEAR TERM value was this. But not the far term value. It took no great brain power to see that in a 20-year mission such complementarity with those few-year missions was not going to be a factor in the whole duration.

              “But it doesn’t But it doesn’t But it doesn’t”

              But what SOFIA does do is that it offers the opportunity for cutting edge instrumentation at all times, and thus spurs instrument technology development. It offers telescope time to low TRL instruments that would never even get close to being put on a space mission. MSL is a marvelous flagship mission that already is using old technology. In eight years, it will be a real creaker compared to what could be done. As in, low efficiency. Same with the HST flagship. Same with the JWST flagship in five years after launch (and even now, to some extent). SOFIA will always be at the cutting edge. In fact, SOFIA can host instruments that are much more massive and take more room that can be accommodated in a spacecraft. That translates to capability that can’t be achieved in a spacecraft. It is simplistic and naive to hold SOFIA up to spacecraft standards.

              “NASA terminated the project in 2006, and congressional pressure restored it.”

              C’mon. This really isn’t that hard. That termination had nothing to do with science value. NASA terminated the project because of management travails (and some bad luck in the project, such as when partner United Airlines went belly-up). The restoration of SOFIA happened when Mary Cleave was convinced that the project could be reorganized to put aircraft mod and operations under DFRC instead of USRA. In retrospect, at least, it came as no surprise to many that the science management house USRA, which led the program, didn’t know how to cut big holes in airplanes or to manage aerospace companies that did. As an aside, Cleave was formally reassured by the science community that the science value of SOFIA was still high.

              It’s way past time to stop making things up out of whole cloth. SOFIA was a decadal priority when it was being considered for development. No question that SOFIA has had a hard road to successful operation. But it’s there now.

              • Dark Blue Nine

                “Useless photons? That’s creative.”

                It’s not creative. It’s a fact. Photons collected by a reflector are scientifically useless without an instrument (or human eyeball) to convert them to data and information.

                You’ve bought into misleading advertising. SOFIA can’t access most of the spectrum you think it can because it doesn’t have the instruments to do it.

                “This is the actual *current* instrument list. Others are being developed, including a far infrared polarimeter that will be highly productive — HAWC+.”

                Oh come on. You’re not this dense.

                HAWC+ is one of the current instruments. I even included it in the list above. And it only goes up to 240 microns, not 1600 microns.

                Surely you can compare two numbers.

                “A URL would have been a lot shorter … . Not quite sure what these column inches have to do with your point.”

                You didn’t even bother to read the list that I copied for you. Why are you whining about a URL that you’re clearly too lazy to click on?

                “As I said, the observatory is intended to host instruments with a much wider range of wavelengths”

                The SOFIA project has been “intending” to host such instruments for a decade-and-a-half, and still doesn’t have any under development or within its budget profile.

                “This is an advantage, not a demerit.”

                It’s a huge demerit when a project repeatedly fails to deliver on promises, and still has no means to deliver on those promises within its remaining (large) budget profile.

                “Herschel and Spitzer couldn’t do that. That’s not a hard concept, is it?”

                At $720M, NASA could have built a second Spitzer-equivalent IR space telescope for what has been spent on SOFIA to date, and could buy another three Spitzers for what was planned to be spent on SOFIA before its grounding.

                That’s not a hard concept, is it?

                And those four Spitzers could have spent most of the past decade-and-a-half and most of the next two decades performing observations around the clock instead of spending three quarters of the year as a hanger queen and ruining observations with spit-and-bailing-wire electronics during the remainder of the year.

                That’s not a hard concept, is it?

                And those four Spitzers could have hosted 12 new IR instruments between them, instead of the four that SOFIA would have carried into operation.

                That’s not a hard concept, is it?

                And those Spitzers would have performed their observations without any atmosphere, weather, engine damage, etc. to contend with.

                That’s not a hard concept, is it?

                “As you say, this is *mandatory* maintenance. This is not a special problem for SOFIA any more than it’s a special problem for Delta Airlines or UPS.”

                Another idiotic analogy. Delta Airlines and UPS have hundreds and thousands of other airframes with which to deliver passengers and mail. The SOFIA project has one airframe, and it’s down for half the year and only flies for half of the rest.

                “While SOFIA is hugely advantageous in that it allows people to fly with their science instruments, we are talking about man-rating a vehicle, and that’s a safety issue that takes money and effort.”

                Human-rating is not an advantage when the resulting telescope requires the astronomy program to spend billions of taxpayer dollars for it to sit in a hanger three-quarters of the year.

                “But not the far term value.”

                What “far term [sic] value”? The project is stuck with old, limited instruments that don’t deliver on the telescope’s promise, doesn’t have the money to develop new ones, only operates for a fraction of a year, and can’t provide value for the telescopes it was designed to complement.

                “But what SOFIA does do is that it offers the opportunity for cutting edge instrumentation at all times”

                Not without yet another large budget increase, it doesn’t.

                You’re like the MPCV/SLS advocates. If you can just keep the project going long enough, someday, someone in the White House and Congress will provide the budget increase necessary to create the payloads that will justify and give the project purpose.

                Hope is not a programmatic strategy.

                “and thus spurs instrument technology development.”

                Technology development takes money. SOFIA has none for that purpose.

                “That termination had nothing to do with science value.”

                More bullcrap. Per PMC Chair Geveden: “However, it is not yet clear whether SOFIA represents the best investment of space science funding, and we will need to consider funding options and sources before we decide to continue the mission.” Congressional pressure cut short that science decision making process.

                “No question that SOFIA has had a hard road to successful operation. But it’s there now.”

                Since when is a telescope that can’t take observations for three-quarters of the year “there now” in terms of “successful operation”?

                “It’s way past time to stop making things up out of whole cloth.”

                Please. You’ve made false statements about SOFIA’s spectral capabilities, operability, and prior termination. When you’ve been corrected with facts and figures, you’ve been shown incapable of reading a list, comparing a couple numbers, and understanding the difference between a fleet of one aircraft and hundreds of aircraft. The one sliver of a valid point you might have is about the promise of future instruments, but you conveniently ignore the fact that SOFIA has no money to develop them despite its Great Observatory-class budget.

                And I’m the one making things up out of whole cloth?

                Look in the mirror, dressmaker.

  • amightywind

    You would think NASA would jump at the chance to accelerate SLS with the increased funding offer. We also see signs that NASA overestimated number of ISS resupply flights. I always thought paying 2 contractors for this mission was extravagant.

  • Egad

    There are two tables in the SLS section, Development Cost and Schedule and Development Cost Details, that are currently completely blank, but for which it is promised Once the SLS KDP-C is completed (expected in April 2014), NASA will provide this data in a revision to the Congressional Justification.

    It will be fascinating to see the filled-in versions of those tables. If, of course, they don’t fall under ITAR or some other concealing veil.

  • Probably the best plan we could hope for, given SLS’s continued eating NASA’s lunch, though I’m very disappointed to see the depot demos truncated. That should be one of NASA’s highest priorities. Look for things to get even tighter as Congress adds money to SLS and Orion, and subtracts it from commercial crew.

    – Donald

  • vulture4

    Sophia was intended to operate for 20 years, but the Sophia budget is about $85M/yr, which is considered a little high. Apparently it ended up being traded off for Cassini which only has a few years to go and can’t be parked on the ground for a few years. As attractive as deep-space missions are for IR astronomy, I feel that a small-aperture scope mounted on ISS could allow active cooling, which would overcome the disadvantage of the higher equilibrium temperature in LEO.

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