May 18, 2024

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NASA’s Artemis Program May Face a Budget Crunch as Costs Continue to Rise – Ars Technica

NASA’s Artemis Program May Face a Budget Crunch as Costs Continue to Rise – Ars Technica
Zoom in / The launch of Artemis I was a huge success for NASA. But what next?

NASA

The Artemis program to return humans to the Moon has an aura of imperative now, with broad political support, strong international involvement and a successful first mission – Artemis I – under its belt.

Perhaps most significant for Artemis is that, in a rare show of bipartisanship, both Republicans and Democrats support NASA’s plan to send humans to the moon later this decade, at least once a year, as they get to the point where astronauts stay. for 30 days. time. Forged during the Trump administration, the Biden White House reaffirmed these Artemis plans within days of taking office. Biden’s diplomats have also continued to add countries to the “Artemis Accords,” with more than two dozen countries now participating.

But despite all this support, there is a worrying sign. The budget for the Artemis program is ballooning, and it’s not at all clear when humans will start flying to the moon. Those concerns were highlighted this week at a meeting of the NASA Advisory Committee on Human Spaceflight.

Big budget request

The space agency’s chief for human spaceflight in deep space, Jim Frye, discussed the budget from fiscal year 2024 through fiscal year 2028. During this five-year period, the space agency will spend at least $41.5 billion on the Artemis program, when there are Likely to be one human landing at most. That includes some staggering sums for the Space Launch System rocket, $11 billion, which is already being developed for this mission.

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That $11 billion is the same amount that NASA proposes spending on not one, but two lunar landers for humans, arguably as complex as the SLS rocket, which has been in development since 2011. NASA has not given The first lunar rover has a landing contract until 2021. It is not clear why NASA needs to spend as much money on a flight-proven rocket as it does on developing two large and technically challenging human landers.

Asked during the meeting about the continuing high costs of the SLS rocket, Frye said the space agency was trying to cut costs by shifting from development to operations.

“We’re trying to move into contract exploration production operations, and that’s happening at the very end of the budget horizon where we’re trying to cut our dollars,” Frye said. “So you wouldn’t see that necessarily captured in the item. We’re looking at more than a little bit to get affordability.”

NASA budget request for the Artemis program.
Zoom in / NASA budget request for the Artemis program.

NASA

NASA’s budget also proposes spending $4 billion for a lunar gateway that will not be used during the first moon landing; And while it might provide a nice way station capability, the Gateway isn’t necessary for the actual moon landing.

During his presentation, Frye warned that even with the president’s budget proposal, there may not have been enough funding to implement the Artemis program as envisioned, which calls for an initial human landing in 2025 (which will almost certainly be delayed by two years or more). three years), and follow-up to the drop in 2028 (again, slip-ups are to be expected).

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“There are a lot of program managers here in the room,” he said of the major components of the Artemis plan, including the SLS rocket, Orion spacecraft and lunar lander. “And I’m sure they tell you, they need more than this to do.”

Congressional priorities

Frye also said that Congress’s inability to pass the budget in a timely manner, and its reliance on continuous resolutions (CR), made starting new programs to get the Artemis program moving difficult.

“This feels like the weight of the world on my shoulders in an effort to stabilize Congress,” Frye said. “If we’re trying to increase the budget to launch more stuff, and we’re on CR, that’s our budget from last year, so we can’t grow. We can’t start new programs when we’re on CR, bar none.”

So one of the main problems for Artemis is that its budget is ballooning at a time when Republicans in Congress seek to shrink the federal budget, a debt limit crisis looms, and the cost of borrowing money is growing with each. raise the interest rate. At some point, has Artemis become a luxury rather than a necessity? Advisory Committee Chairman Wayne Hill suggested as much as he talked about the need for Congress to meet multiple priorities.

“Ultimately, what kind of space program we have depends on what the American people want from their elected representatives,” Hill said. “We space enthusiasts here would love to have more, but using taxpayer money comes with prioritizing, among all the different things that government needs to do.”

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