NASA has prioritized funding for its partnership with the commercial space industry to facilitate crew and cargo transport to the station. Companies will innovate to provide safe, reliable and cost effective access to low Earth orbit. NASA also will invest in the flight systems to take humans beyond low Earth orbit,including a deep space capsule and heavy lift rocket, and key research and technology to enable the long journeys. NASA's science budget supports new missions and continued operations of the many observatories successfully studying Earth and space. The agency will launch the Mars Science Laboratory in fiscal year 2012 and continue work on a wide range of astrophysics, heliophysics and Earth science missions. The 2012 budget request continues NASA's commitment to enhancing aviation safety and airspace efficiency, and reducing the environmental impact of aviation. NASA also remains dedicated to developing the next generation of technology leaders through vital programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. "We had to make some tough choices, but the budget gives us a plan forsustainable and affordable exploration," said NASA's Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Robinson. "We're looking at new ways of doing business that improve program management and delivers even greater results to the American taxpayers."
Explorationand Science are the big winners in the NASA portion of the spending bill Congress intends to enact this week to keep the federal government funded for the remainder of fiscal 2011, which runs through September. Thebill, H.R. 1473, carves out $3.8 billion for Exploration, including $1.2 billion for a multipurpose crew vehicle based on NASA's in-development Orion capsule and $1.8 billion for a heavy-lift vehicle "which shall have a lift capability not less than 130 tons and which shall have an upper stage and other core elements developed simultaneously." Exploration was funded at $3.625 billion in 2010, a sum that would rise to $3.7 billion under the agency's spending plan for 2012.
NASA’s budget proposal looks like a death knell forthe highest-profile aerospace industry project in Colorado. But observers say there still may be life for the Orion capsule.The space agency proposed cancelling funding for the humanspaceflight program. Littleton-based Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co-designed and is building the multibillion-dollar Orion crew vehicle.“I don’t think it’s over — not quite,” said Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and a veteran observer of budgeting battles. Lockheed Martin Space Systems won the project in 2006 and has received at least $4 billion for it. About 600 employees work on Orion locally. About 4,000 people work on it nationwide for Lockheed Martin, NASA, and subcontractors. Work continues on Orion despite the project being dropped from NASA’s proposed 2011 budget. The shift scraps the President George W. Bush-era Constellation program. Constellation intended to return U.S. astronauts to the moon by 2020 and prepare NASA for Mars missions. Instead of Constellation, NASA now proposes to have commercial companies lead the development of new space vehicles for U.S. astronauts. It plans to drop the ambitious deadline for another moonshot, too. Congress still has to authorize NASA’s new direction. Until that happens, Orion still will be prepared for an April flight test to stay on schedule for low-Earth orbit flights in 2013, said Joan Underwood, spokeswoman for Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. “Our NASA customers expect us to meet the milestones that are already in place,” she said. Dropping Constellation from the budget was an enormous disappointment for Lockheed Martin Space Systems employees working on Orion, Underwood said, but they remain convinced the crew capsule’s features will persuade policy makers it should remain the country’s next spacecraft. Orion has been designed to be more versatile than any previous spacecraft. It’s meant to be able to take astronauts beyond Earth’s orbit, hover by asteroids, serve as an unmanned cargo carrier for the International Space Station and conduct close-in Earth observation. “People have not been adequately made aware of all its capabilities,” she said. There’ll be a good fight in Congress to restore Orion, especially when the federal budget gets to the Senate, and it’s too soon to assume the capsule’s out of the nation’s space plans, Pace said. Orion was expected to be an $8 billion project for Lockheed Martin, the defense giant’s second-biggest current contract. All that changed with President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget. “So this budget cancels the Constellation Program, including the Ares I and V rockets and the Orion crew exploration vehicle,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced Feb. 1.
Orion is still being funded despite cancelling constellation – but its still on the chopping block
NASA is pushing ahead with work on its new Orion space capsule and Ares rockets despite their ambiguous status as lawmakers discuss the agency's 2011 budget request. Orion and Ares are part of Constellation, a NASA program designed to take astronauts back to the moon. Under his 2011 budget proposal, President Barack Obama called for canceling Constellation and urged NASA to work toward sending humans to an asteroid and then on to Mars. The outlook for Constellation's fledgling rocket and capsule spacecraft is not clear. Obama did recommend continuing development of Orion ? but to be used only as an escape ship that could carry astronauts home from the International Space Station in an emergency. A NASA authorization bill recently passed by the Senate would direct the space agency to continue developing Orion and to fast-track plans for heavy-lift rockets and vehicles required for space exploration beyond low-Earth orbit. A different bill under consideration in the House also seeks to revive some Constellation plans, including Orion and the Ares rockets. Political uncertainty Since 2006, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has contracted with Lockheed Martin to build the Orion spacecraft ? a 21,000-pound (9,500-kg) capsule that would ride atop a rocket to carry a crew of four to six into space. Initially, the spacecraft was on the chopping block along with the rest of the Constellation program, but it received a reprieve of sorts in April when Obama unveiled plans to use a stripped-down version of the ?capsule as an escape ship. [FAQ: NASA's New Direction] Regardless of Orion's future, Lockheed is contracted to continue working on it throughout this year. "We have been on contract to execute the 2010 plan, and there are a lot of accomplishments and milestones in that plan," said Larry Price, Lockheed's Orion deputy program manager. He acknowledged that the political uncertainty is distracting. "It is a disturbance, people wonder what's happening," Price told SPACE.com. "But people are doing this because they are passionate about it. It is exciting, inspiring work to be building a human spacecraft to go beyond low Earth orbit."