NASA's return to the Moon Constellation programme has been cancelled under president Barack Obama's fiscal year 2011 budget request after billions of dollars have been spent, the US government's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has announced.

The confirmation has come hours earlier than the publication of the president's FY2011 budget request in a funding highlights document. This says Constellation's Ares rockets I and V, the Orion crew exploration vehicle and the Altair lunar lander have been cancelled, while research will begin for a new heavylift booster. A commercial crew transport programme is to be funded.

"The budget funds NASA to contract with industry to provide astronaut transportation to the International Space Station as soon as possible," says the OMB document. Although Constellation is cancelled, the FY2011 exploration budget line increases by about $1.5 billion, indicating that the definition of what exploration includes has changed.

The commercial crew transport will take astronauts to the International Space Station. Under Obama's budget the ISS will be operated beyond 2016, but no new end date for its use is specified.

Other points in the OMB highlights document include NASA getting $19 billion in FY2011, an increase of less than $300 million on FY2010, with the budget growing by $6 billion over the next five years; aeronautics is combined with space technology research; the Space Shuttle is funded until the final flight, even if that is in FY2012; and NASA is called a "research and development agency".

Source: Flight International