Press Release

DPS Comments on the proposed FY2003 budget for NASA

By SpaceRef Editor
February 8, 2002
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The Administration released its proposed FY2003 budget for NASA today.
This is the first budget developed by the Bush Administration and the
new NASA Administrator, Mr. Sean O’Keefe. The Division of Planetary
Science (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society commends the support
this budget provides for planetary exploration, which includes a new
initiative for nuclear power and propulsion, and a second new initiative
for a “New Frontier” line of competitively procured planetary space
flight missions. Funding has been increased in real dollars for
Research and Analysis programs, which provide a fundamental knowledge
base allowing for the design of focused, efficient missions.

The Administration gave high ratings to the Discovery program of
low-cost planetary missions and as a result has introduced a new line of
moderately priced missions modeled on the Discovery program. The “New
Frontier” missions would be about twice the cost of Discovery missions.
The budget proposal would provide for about one Frontier mission every
three years, bringing a new level of flight opportunity to the sciencIƒCªD
community with competitively procured missions of higher capability.

The DPS is concerned about the cancellation of the outer planets
program, which included the New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Europa
Orbiter. The cost-capped New Horizons mission was recently selected
after an open competition in which scientists and their industry
partners spent millions of dollars and months of time in good faith
response to a NASA call for proposals. This precedent discourages
community participation in NASA’s efforts to produce cost-effective
missions through competition. Whether New Horizons may be resurrected in
the New Frontier program will depend on its ultimate prioritization in
the Planetary Decadal Survey.

The surprise in this budget is the proposal to revive development of
nuclear technology for in-space propulsion and power. Development of
this technology was terminated in the 1970s and planetary exploration
has been limited ever since to long, complex flight missions using
conventional propulsion and to spacecraft barely capable of powering a
single light bulb. Nuclear propulsion will increase accessibility of
Solar System objects and decrease the flight time for some missions.
On-board nuclear power will provide a power-rich environment for science
investigations at the planets and increase the lifetime of these systems
to years instead of a few weeks or months.

The planetary Research and Analysis program was given a 3% increase
above inflation, and a new program was funded at $10M to develop
planetary instruments for biological investigations on other planets.
Mars exploration will continue as planned through this decade, but the
large rover planned for 2007 is delayed until 2009 in order to
substitute nuclear for solar power and increase its lifetime from months
to years. A fully competed Discovery-class Mars Scout mission will be
flown in 2007.

The DPS calls upon Congress to support the President’s proposed FY03
NASA budget. It builds on the strengths and successes of our planetary
program. New nuclear technology for both power and propulsion will
extend our reach and capabilities to the outermost regions of our Solar
System while increasing our capabilities in the inner Solar System.
The “New Frontier” program offers exciting opportunities, including
restoration of missions to the outer solar system.

The DPS is the world’s largest professional organization dedicated to
the exploration of the Solar System.

SpaceRef staff editor.