House committee questions proposed delay to NASA asteroid mission

House committee questions proposed delay to NASA asteroid mission

WASHINGTON — Members of the House Science Committee used a hearing on the 10-Year Inquiry into Planetary Science to criticize a proposal in NASA’s budget request to delay work on a space telescope to track nearby objects. of the Earth (NEO).

The budget request for fiscal year 2023, released on March 28, proposed only $39.9 million for NEO Surveyor, compared to $143.2 million for the mission in 2022. NASA had planned to spend $174.2 million dollars for the mission in 2023 in the runout included in its 2022 budget request.

The decrease in funding, NASA said in the application, reflected plans to delay the mission for two years, with launch now no earlier than 2028. NEO Surveyor would place a small telescope with infrared detectors in space to search more effectively NEOs and meet a goal set in a 2005 NASA Authorization Act to detect 90% of potentially dangerous objects at least 140 meters in diameter.

This delay, along with plans to terminate a Mars orbiter called the International Mars Ice Mapper, was necessary “to support higher priority missions” in NASA’s planetary science portfolio, including Mars Sample Return and Europa Clipper, explained the agency in the budget submission.

A few weeks later, however, the Decade Survey of Planetary Science endorsed the continued development of NEO Surveyor. “NASA should fully support the development, timely launch, and subsequent operation of NEO Surveyor to achieve the highest priority planetary defense NEO survey goals,” the 10-year survey final report states.

Representative Brian Babin (R-Texas), a senior member of the House Science Committee’s space subcommittee, mentioned the conflict between the 10-year survey recommendations and the budget proposal during a May 26 hearing on The report.

“The recommendation to fully support the development, timely launch, and subsequent operation of the NEO Surveyor mission is particularly important as NASA proposes to significantly reduce the budget for the NEO Surveyor mission and even reprogram existing appropriate funds from the ‘exercise in progress,’ he said in his opening. statement. Such reprogramming would need to be approved by Congress in a fiscal year 2022 operating plan that has yet to be released by the agency.

Later in the hearing, one of the co-chairs of the 10-year survey steering committee reaffirmed his support for NEO Surveyor. “Our report strongly endorsed this mission,” said Philip Christensen of Arizona State University. “The consensus was that this was an important mission. It is crucial for people here on Earth. We need to understand and identify these objects.

“We continue to urge NASA and Congress to ensure that this mission is funded and launched in a timely manner,” he said in response to a question from Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), Member rank of the Committee of the Whole.

Lucas then asked if that meant Congress would have to keep funding for the mission to keep it on its previous schedule. “We believe it has to happen and it should happen quickly,” Christensen replied.

Neither the House nor Senate owners mentioned NEO Surveyor during their hearings earlier this month on NASA’s budget request, nor have they yet released details of their appropriation bills for the 2023 financial year.

The recommendations of the 10-year inquiry received broad support in general at the hearing, with only a few questions. Babin asked about the report’s conclusion that the cost caps for the Discovery and New Frontiers rows of competing planetary science missions would be increased, to $800 million for Discovery and $1.6 billion for New Frontiers.

Robin Canup of the Southwest Research Institute, the other decade co-chair, said the proposed increase reflected a desire to include all costs, including operations, in the cap. “The intention is to bring the cost cap back in line with the true lifecycle costs of these missions,” she said, noting that recent missions in both programs have had total costs that “are consistent with the cost”. ceiling structure that we propose in the report this time.

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