Monday, November 07, 2005

NASA: I heart space, but this is friggin' ridicilous

I've been trying to digest Griffin's testimony to Congress on budget constraints (courtesy of NASAwatch):

the issue is simple: there is a ~ $5 billion shortfall in the next few years (cumulative, and this is realistically an understimate)

this is because NASA is trying to return shuttles to flight, at the same time as they try to accelerate Crewed Exploration Vehicle development to replace the shuttle; at the same time as they have ~ 15% in Congressional earmarks which require funding be taken from real projects.

This can not be done under the budget they have: so, either shuttle is shutdown immediately, and the Space Station very shortly after (modulo the Russians and ESA keeping it); this means no HST refurbishment, which is now allegedly a top priority again. (Meaning presumably one of first 3 shuttle missions after return to flight).
Or, the Exploration program is delayed a few years; we'll see if it survives the 2006 State of the Union speech.

Or, something else gives. Well, everything else, starting with aeronautics, then climate and earth science, and finishing with a large gouge from space science. We're talking maybe 10-30% cuts in these sectors. Ouch.

Cost overruns in space science have not helped, a couple of the big projects have blindsided HQ with sudden large overruns that were disguised for too long. But, a little part of the overruns is that no one knows what f'ing budget they will have next year because the administration changes priorities every year. You can't run multi-year projects if your budget projections have to allow for factors of 2-3 variation from year to year, with zero notice. I hear budget numbers now change about every 2 weeks as HQ shuffles funds to try to float projects through the fiscal year.

Incidentally, I also hear that a lot of "second year funding" is coming in at a small percentage (50% or less) of the total award. With a promise the rest will come along during the year; but it makes people real uneasy when at the beginning of the fiscal year only a small part of the promised amount is actually handed out. This is salary money for soft money people, it can't be rolled over indefinitely.

NASAwatch also has the weekly roundup of RIFs and layoffs.

Good news is that there was still funding over in exploration to do an "advanced concept" study of using Blacklight Power for Rocket Engines, back in 2002 that was...

I'll give them this - if 20++eV monatomic hydrogen is being produced in low temperature electrically pumped plasma, then, yes, it'd produce spectacular thrust... 21,000s theoretically for a "p=3 hydrino state"[sic], about 40 times better than a LOX/H2 rocket.
A working thruster was built, that allegedly produces excess power, but strangely no excess thrust or high velocity hydrogen was seen.
So they need more money.
The high speed hydrogen shouldn't be subtle, I'm surprised it is so hard to measure...
Budget info was missing from this report but phase I grants were typically $75k apparently.

I'm actually genuinely ambivalent about things like this; an "advanced concept" funding line should be doing "what if" tests on beyond standard physics models; BUT, some level of consistency and sanity needs to be maintained. The claimed excess power in this stuff varies by 2-3 orders of magnitude from experiment to experiment, and the claimed principal physical effects (such as a large population thermal H atoms with very high mean effective temperatures) are not subtle things that need high precision spectroscopy.


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