NASA’s inspector general says the agency could save nearly $1 billion if Congress gives it the ability to choose the best launch vehicle for a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, rather than mandating the use of the Space Launch System.
As NASA prepares for a key review of the Europa Clipper mission, a report by the agency’s inspector general warns that the mission’s launch may face delays and significant cost increases.
A House appropriations subcommittee approved a spending bill May 17 that provides NASA with more than $22.3 billion but largely ignores an administration request for an additional $1.6 billion to support plans for a 2024 human return to the moon.
A NASA decision last month to replace an instrument on the Europa Clipper mission with a less expensive, but less capable, alternative is leaving scientists concerned about the ability of the mission to meet some of its objectives.
While NASA’s overall planetary sciences program is enjoying record funding levels, the agency is grappling with cost growth in two of its largest missions.
With a two-week extension of the stopgap spending bill funding much of the federal government enacted, the outgoing chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA says he’s hopeful to get a final spending bill approved before that bill expires.
The Trump administration’s desire to establish a Space Force could be in jeopardy next year after Democrats assume control of the House, while the departure of a key House appropriator could spell trouble for NASA missions to the potentially habitable moon of Europa.
Switching from SLS to the Falcon Heavy may cause some trade-offs in designing both the Europa Clipper and the Europa Lander to fit the smaller rocket. However, the cost savings could be plowed into an Enceladus orbiter.
NASA has done a good job implementing the recommendations of its latest planetary science decadal survey despite past budget problems, but needs to improve some programs, a recent report concluded.
A House funding bill approved by an appropriations subcommittee May 9 will help keep a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa on track for a launch in 2022.
NASA is in discussions with its Russian counterparts about extending some upcoming space station missions as a way to buy more time for development of commercial crew vehicles.
Revised concepts for a proposed Europa lander mission could reduce its mass and cost by simplifying its science requirements and doing away with a dedicated communications relay.