Thursday, 22 February, 2018

Trump budget proposal to end funding for ISS, several NASA missions

Sergey Savostyanov  TASS Sergey Savostyanov TASS
Delores Daniels | 15 February, 2018, 07:10

The Trump administration is considering turning the International Space Station over to the private sector and ending its federal funding, according to an internal NASA document obtained by the Washington Post.

In Trump's budget proposals released on Monday, the administration is seeking US$150 million in fiscal year 2019, with more in additional years "to enable the development and maturation of commercial entities and capabilities which will ensure that commercial successors to the ISS - potentially including elements of the ISS - are operational when they are needed". It could also be too soon for the private sector to have such an asset, a concern expressed by Mark Mulqueen, Boeing's space station program manager. This hugely expensive program - which unlike SpaceX rockets, has no reusable parts - would receive $3.7 billion, close to 20 percent of NASA's entire budget.

Almost half of the proposed $19.9 billion budget - $10.5 billion - is earmarked for "an innovative and sustainable campaign of exploration and lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilisation followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations", according to a NASA overview.

"We're building capability for the eventual human exploration of deep space and the moon is a stepping stone", NASA's acting chief financial officer Andrew Hunter said in a Monday news conference.

Elon Musk's SpaceX company and Orbital ATK have been delivering to the station since 2012.

The same budget proposal proposes to pull the plug on WFIRST, a space telescope mission that NASA said is "designed to settle essential questions in the areas of dark energy, exoplanets, and infrared astrophysics".

The Soyuz 2-1a booster carrying the Progress MS-08/69P cargo craft took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:13 a.m. EST (GMT-5; 2:13 p.m. local time), streaking away through a cold, overcast sky and climbing directly into the plane of the space station's orbit.

Cochair of the WFIRST research team, David Spergel, who is an astrophysicist at the Princeton University, thinks that it is bad that space astronomy leadership is being abandoned, following the recommendation of the Trump administration to cut the mission.

In 2015, Congress guaranteed funding for the United States part of the International Space Station until 2024. President Barack Obama extended that model to hire Boeing and SpaceX to fly astronauts there. Frank Slazar, the vice president of space systems for the Aerospace Industries Association, pointed out to the Post that the worldwide agreements the USA signed regarding the creation of the ISS would render making it a commercial outpost tricky.

While the budget plan said it places renewed support on returning humans to the moon, followed by human expeditions to Mars and elsewhere, no precise timeline and few details are provided.

The station has allowed global crews - notably in collaboration with the Canadian, European and Japanese space agencies - to pursue scientific research in the environment of a low Earth orbit.

Hertz also added that only way to preserve the US space agency's ability to meet the established target cost and deliver the project on time is to maintain progress against the existing plan, should Congress decide against Trump's proposal to eliminate WFIRST.

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