International Space Station gets smallest budget share as it moves into operation

NASA is endeavouring to return to its roots as a research and development (R&D) agency with its 2003 budget request, which shifts substantial funds from manned spaceflight operations to aerospace technology and space science. The fiscal year 2003 budget is the first step in President Bush's plan to emphasise the agency's mission to "explore and discover", says new NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe. 

Overall, at $15 billion for FY03, the Bush administration is seeking only a marginal increase in NASA spending, but aerospace technology funding increases by 11%, and by 19% for space science, as space flight spending is cut by more than 11%. The biggest cut is in International Space Station spending as it moves from development to operation. The biggest increase is for the Space Launch Initiative (SLI) to develop technology for a new reusable launch vehicle (RLV).

There are increases in funding for propulsion research in aviation and space disciplines. Under its Vehicle Systems programme, NASA plans the first end-to-end demonstration of an all-electric propulsion and power (P&P) system for aircraft. The ground testbed will include fuel-cell power generation and realistic aircraft load requirements. Quiet, low-emission aircraft with electric propulsion are a key focus of NASA's long-awaited "Aeronautics Blueprint" research agenda, released to coincide with the budget request.

Under the Space Transportation & Launch Technology programme, NASA has refocused its third-generation RLV research on ground demonstrations of rocket-based combined-cycle and turbine-based combined-cycle propulsion systems and flight demonstration of an airframe-integrated supersonic-combustion ramjet. Meanwhile, a request for proposals for second-generation RLV architectures will be issued this month and contracts for preliminary design will be awarded in September.

Under the Nuclear Systems Initiative, NASA plans to restart research into space propulsion and power systems that could reduce dramatically the time required to explore the outer reaches of the Solar System. As a first step, the agency wants to restart production of the radio-isotope thermal generators (RTGs) used to power previous deep space probes. O'Keefe says research into nuclear electric propulsion is intended to overcome the time and distance obstacles to space exploration. The shelved mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, which would take 17 years if launched today, could go ahead if a nuclear propulsion and power system is developed.

NASA's FY03 budget request funds a new planetary exploration programme, New Frontiers, modelled on its cost-capped, competitively awarded Discovery missions. Each mission will be capped at $600 million, with launch scheduled 48 months after programme start. The first mission will be selected in 2003.

Source: Flight International