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NASA gets full budget but COTS suffers 30% cut

NASA has been given $49 million more than it requested for the development of its Constellation programme's Ares I crew launch vehicle (CLV) for its late fiscal year 2008 budget but has seen a deep cut in funding for its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demonstration programme.

NASA's exploration systems mission directorate (ESMD), which is running the Constellation programme, was designated $950.8 million in US president Bush's February 2007 published FY2008 budget request for its Orion crew exploration vehicle (CEV) and $1.175 billion for the CEV's CLV boooster.

The US Congress-amended FY2008 budget appropriations bill, signed into law by Bush on 26 December 2007, has given NASA the $17.3 billion that was requested for the agency as a whole but has cut $81.8 million from the ESMD budget - providing the directorate with $3.84 billion instead of the $3.92 billion wanted.

"The budget passed by Congress supports the president's total funding request, but it is too early to discuss specific impacts on agency programmes," says NASA, now three months into the FY2008 that began on 1 October 2007. The space agency now has 60 days to provide Congress with its FY2008 operational plan. The president's FY2009 budget request will be published in February.

Despite the appropriated FY2008 budget matching the requested figure, the delay to NASA's Ares/Orion first flight date to March 2015 will remain and not advance to September 2014 or earlier, unless its FY2009/10 budget appropriations provide substantially more funding to reverse the delays incurred by 15 months of 2006-level finances resulting in a $600 million shortfall in FY2007.

COTS suffered the bulk of the $81.8 million cut to FY2008 funding with a $76 million reduction, leaving it with $160 million. NASA's remaining COTS phase one space act agreement partner, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), has told Flight that the programme's appropriated funding will "be more than sufficient for SpaceX's FY2008 [COTS] activities".

NASA will select another COTS phase one SAA partner in February but its possible FY2008 milestone payments are unknown.

On 20 December 2007 NASA announced it would use Tennessee based-Gloyer-Taylor Laboratories' Universal Combustion Device Stability (UCDS) process to assess the thrust oscillation issues it has with its CLV. UCDS is a modelling and analysis process that provides a physical insight into the stability characteristics of complex combustion devices.

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