NASA’s decision to withdraw funding for the modest VERITAS mission to Venus, which was on track and under budget, in order to accommodate other missions facing cost overruns left team members angry and confused.
“This on-track mission is cited for virtually all of those missions that are over budget,” Susan Smirkar, Veritas principal investigator, said Tuesday (March 14) during a briefing at NASA Headquarters. “It’s a much more complex and dangerous situation than society realizes.”
White House 2024 Budget request For NASA, which has yet to be approved by Congress, it proposes $3.38 billion for NASA’s Planetary Science Division that funds some of the agency’s missions, including the VERITAS Venus mission. Laurie Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, said during the briefing at the 54th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) held in Texas Connected.
Related: Venus: The second hottest planet from the Sun
Proposal 2024 allocates a paltry budget of $1.5 million for VERITAS—a sharp drop from NASA’s budget. projected (Opens in a new tab) $56.7 million. Estimates for future years put mission funding at $1.5 million through 2028, reflecting NASA’s decision to indefinitely delay the mission’s launch. Limited funding keeps the mission’s science team intact but disbands the entire engineering wing. Instead, most of the projected funding will be used to fund other missions that currently exceed their initial budgets, including absorption. cost overruns To Mars sample return and help delayed breath Meet its new release date of October 2023.
“We looked across the board at a bunch of different options and delayed Veritas was the one we chose,” Glaze said. There were no good options here.
VERITAS delays began in November 2022, when it was pushed back from its initial launch in 2027 to no later than 2031. At the time, the delay was attributed to corporate issues. Discover (Opens in a new tab) Via NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is building a radar instrument called VISAR (or Venus Synthetic Aperture Radar) for the Venus mission.
After JPL-led Psyche missed its fall 2022 launch window, an independent review found that JPL’s workforce is facing an “unprecedented workload.” Although VERITAS is not resource-intensive, many of the smaller missions were “emphasizing order across the board,” Glaze said at the LPSC. In response to this review, NASA VERITAS has been postponed Three years ago “to free up not only resources but also bandwidth in order to handle the whole issues across JPL,” she said.
While missions closer to launch like Psyche always have a higher priority and using personnel from other missions to help meet projected launch dates is really how things work at JPL, “the vast majority of the workforce at VERITAS is not at JPL,” she says. Darby Diar, deputy principal investigator for VERTIAS, told Space.com in an email. Most of the work happens at Lockheed Martin for the mission’s spacecraft and with foreign partners, while one-third to one-half of JPL’s workforce is focused on developing the VISAR system at any given time.
“Veritas has a very light footprint in the specific workforce shortage identified by the Psyche report,” Diar said. So, given JPL’s manpower shortage and the cost of delaying Psyche, a delay of 12-18 months could be justified — but not as long as three years, say the VERITAS team.
“The idea of supporting the team to help other missions doesn’t make sense in detail, and would really introduce a significant amount of risk,” Diar told Space.com.
The proposed $1.5 million earmarked for Veritas isn’t enough to keep the team together in the years to come, and that’s not the norm for delayed missions. Normally, a small amount of “bridge funding” would allow scientists to continue to make progress on critical aspects of a mission, but “Veritas requested this bridge funding at a meeting in January 2023 and it was denied,” Dyer told Space.com. This system is very unusual, perhaps unprecedented.”
At the LPSC, Glaze said restarting VERITAS as soon as 2025 depends on three criteria: securing funding, having JPL show progress on solving reported problems, and launching two more missions in time for 2024 — Europa Clipper and NASA-ISRO synthetic aperture radar (Nessar (Opens in a new tab)). Glaze said it was “crucial” to launch the two missions on time because they “require a lot of resources at the center” and a delay in either would disrupt personnel and resources for Veritas.
The NISAR payload was shipped to India on March 3, and the Europa Clipper launch date is expected to be October 2024, so the 3-year delay for VERITAS is still too long to be justified by these reasons, the team argues.
“The reason why so many in the community are so upset about these facts, is that the mission that was on the right track hinged on earth science missions and all sorts of things that had nothing to do with us,” Smrekar said at the LPSC.
Budget problems had already caused complications for Team Veritas. Chief among them are the international partnerships with the space agencies of Italy, Germany and France, which contribute seven core components to Veritas totaling more than $90 million. “In many cases, they already have contracts with the industry that they may have to break if we can’t continue to support them,” Darby told Space.com.
When pressed for more details on budget decisions for VERITAS, Glaze said the pandemic has increased operational costs, and that rise meant missions that were closer to launch such as Lucy And Arrow It ended up costing more than their initial budgets. Missions in development also face cost overruns, Glaze said, which she attributed to supply chain issues around the world that have inflated costs and lead times for hardware and other parts. “That means the money I’ve budgeted for 2024 or 2025, and I need it now,” she said.
The Veritas science team, supported by $1.5 million, will continue to prepare for the mission and work with NASA to move the launch date back before 2031.
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