A long-running debate about how to launch a multibillion-dollar NASA mission to Jupiter is now further complicated by potential technical issues involving one of the vehicles.
Cost overruns on three instruments for NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft led NASA to consider dropping them from the mission and ultimately requiring significant changes to some of them.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill Sept. 26 that would give $22.75 billion for NASA, but expressed some frustration about the lack of details in the agency’s plans to return humans to the moon.
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.