The Clinton Administration and NASA have come up with $2 billion to cover the ballooning costs of the International Space Station project during the next 5 years but at the expense of the agency's aeronautics program, which would take a big hit.
NASA's proposed Fiscal 2000 budget calls for terminating the High-Speed Research program, an effort to spur development of a next-generation High-Speed Civil Transport. The Advanced Subsonic Technology program also would be canceled as part of a plan to break up the aeronautics research into smaller, less-costly efforts.
The increase in funding for the station and the decrease to aeronautics were the major shifts in the $13.57-billion budget, which is $113 million more than the agency requested last year but $87 million below what it actually received from Congress.
In a plus for NASA , the Clinton Administration came up with $800 million in new funding over the next 5 years for the station program, which has been beset by delays caused largely by Russia's failure to deliver crucial hardware on time. But NASA has to locate another $1.2 billion for the station within its own budget.
Administrator Daniel S. Goldin said the termination of the High-Speed Research program would generate $600 million for the station over 5 years. The remaining money would come from stretching out station research and operations ($200 million each) and modifications to the 5-year space shuttle manifest ($200 million).
NASA would have to find hundreds of millions of additional dollars in coming years if Russia defaults on its commitment to provide resupply flights to the space station. Goldin said agency officials considered including up to $500 million more in the Fiscal 2000 budget to help bail out the Russian Space Agency but decided that would discourage the Russian government from funding its commitments. The High-Speed Research program had been one of NASA's highest priorities during the early days of the Clinton Administration. But the research effort became vulnerable to the budget ax when Boeing declined to commit to development of a next-generation civil transport (AW&ST Nov. 9, 1998, p. 40). Goldin hinted at its demise last October, when he warned at an aeronautics conference that NASA would have to start terminating programs if it didn't receive more money from the Administration.
"This problem was driven mainly by market conditions," he said last week, citing the collapse of the Asian market for aircraft and a "change in direction" by Boeing.
The High-Speed Research program was funded at $180 million in Fiscal 1999, while the Advanced Subsonic Technology effort received $89 million.
NASA's new budget would compensate in part for the termination of the two programs by creating several smaller, broader-based efforts. Goldin also pledged that there will be no reductions in the civil service workforce at the agency's aeronautics centers. The new initiatives include spending $250 million over 5 years to develop an ultra-efficient testbed engine that would not be tied to any specific airframe; $180 million for intelligent synthetic environments that could significantly reduce cycle times for designing and developing aircraft; and $50 million to develop synthetic vision that would enable airline pilots to see through all types of weather.
But Goldin said the agency will no longer undertake aeronautical research that is tied to one or two huge companies. "That's yesterday's newspaper," he said.
NASA will now move "into new areas, exploring revolutionary concepts in flight research," and fly more experimental airplanes, Goldin said.
In the space arena, NASA's new budget would boost space station funding in Fiscal 2000 by $178 million, or 7%, to $2.482 billion, but other major space accounts remain essentially level. The space shuttle would be funded at $2.986 billion, a slight decline of $12 million. Space science spending would rise $78 million, to $2.197 billion. The Earth Science account would increase $45 million, to $1.459 billion, while Life & Microgravity Sciences & Applications spending would decline by $7 million, to $256 million. The Advanced Space Transportation budget would decline by $175 million to $254 million as the result of a pre-planned tailoff in funding for the X-33 single-stage-to-orbit test vehicle. One budget highlight, housed in the space science account, is a plan to develop a robotic "Mars Airplane'' to fill in the gap between orbiters providing low resolution coverage of large areas and landers providing high resolution coverage of very small areas.
The Mars plane would be launched in 2003 on a European Ariane 5 booster as a piggyback "micromission" payload on a joint U.S.-French mission to Mars. The plane would have to fit into a 400-450-lb. package. The cost of the project would be limited to $50 million.
NASA said the project would focus on demonstrating technology for deployment and operation of the plane, with science as a secondary goal. NASA officials are hoping to conduct a competitive review for the mission and are open to either a powered craft or a glider.
Potential uses of the craft include regional imaging, measurements of atmospheric conditions over a range of altitudes in Mars' lower atmosphere, unique geophysical investigations that probe the subsurface of a large region and investigating possible landing sites for future missions.