Feeds

NASA panel: Human spaceflight in 'unsustainable trajectory'

Needs $3bn more for viable exploration program

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

NASA's human spaceflight program appears headed on an "unsustainable trajectory" under its current budget, according to a committee charged with reviewing the US space program for the Obama administration.

While NASA has big plans to retire the Shuttle Program in 2011, de-orbit the ISS in 2016, and begin a fresh round of lunar surface exploration, there simply isn't enough money to go around. "It is perpetuating the perilous practice of pursing goals that do not match allocated resources," the Review of US Human Flight Plans Committee report stated.

The committee, headed by retired aerospace executive Norm Augustine, issued an executive summary of its findings today, recommending the agency's budget be increased by $3 billion just to sustain a viable exploration program.

"Human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit is not viable under the FY 2010 budget guideline," the panel stated. If NASA is indeed restricted to its current 2010 budget profile, the Committee claims one of two scenarios are available.

Under one option, NASA would focus its budget on sustaining the Shuttle program past its planned retirement in 2011 and maintaining sufficient funds to de-orbit the International Space Station in 2016. If constrained to this budget, the Ares I and Orion program would not be available until after the ISS is de-orbited. The heavy-lift Ares V rocket would also not be available until the late 2010s. "And worse, there are insufficient funds to develop the lunar lander and surface systems until well into the 2030s, if ever," the report states.

A second option would be to extend the lifespan of the ISS until 2010 and include a lunar exploration program using Ares V. But the scenario assumes a Shuttle program retirement in 2011, holding the ISS in orbit until 2020, and the agency would not have the funding to develop the systems needed to land on or explore the moon.

The Committee also predicted that under current budget conditions, the country will be unable to launch astronauts into space for at least seven years after the Shuttle Program is retired.

"The original 2005 schedule showed Ares I and Orion available to support ISS in 2012, only two years after scheduled Shuttle retirement. The current schedule now shows that date as 2015," the report said. "An independent assessment of the technical, budgetary and schedule risk to the Constellation Program performed for the Committee indicates that an additional delay of at least two years is likely. This means that Ares I and Orion will not reach ISS before the Station’s currently planned termination, and the length of the gap in U.S. ability to launch astronauts into space will be no less than seven years."

If NASA's budget were increased by $3 billion annually, however, the Committee had several suggestions it deemed "more appropriate for an exploration program designed to carry humans beyond low-Earth orbit."

Recommendations include extending the life of the ISS well past when NASA plans to send the orbiting station crashing down into the Pacific.

"The Committee finds that the return on investment of ISS to both the United States and the international partners would be significantly enhanced by an extension of ISS life to 2020," the report stated. "It seems unwise to de-orbit the Station after 25 years of assembly and only five years of operational life. Not to extend its operations would significantly impair U.S. ability to develop and lead future international spaceflight partnerships."

It also recommends commercial ventures be given better incentives to develop services for delivering crew to low-Earth orbit.

A full copy of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee summary is available here. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Voyager 1 now EIGHTEEN LIGHT HOURS from home
Almost 20 BEEELION kilometres from Sol
Ex-Soviet engines fingered after Antares ROCKET launch BLAST
Speculation rife, but Orbital claims it's too early to tell
MEN: For pity's sake SLEEP with LOTS of WOMEN - and avoid Prostate Cancer
And, um, don't sleep with other men. If that's what worries you
Jim Beam me up, Scotty! WHISKY from SPAAACE returns to Earth
They're insured for $1m, before you thirsty folks make plans
ROGUE SAIL BOAT blocks SPACE STATION PODULE blastoff
Er, we think our ISS launch beats your fishing expedition
NASA: Spacecraft crash site FOUND ON MOON RIM
'What fun!' exlaims NASA boffin who found the LADEE
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
BAE points electromagnetic projectile at US Army
Railguns for 'Future fighting vehicle'
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
The Heartbleed Bug: how to protect your business with Symantec
What happens when the next Heartbleed (or worse) comes along, and what can you do to weather another chapter in an all-too-familiar string of debilitating attacks?