Budget crisis jeopardizes new NASA mission

Due to budget problems, NASA may postpone the implementation of the next mission under the New Frontiers program for at least several years. This was announced on July 27 by a representative of the organization.

What is the New Frontiers program?

The New Frontiers program was born at the beginning of the XXI century. Within its framework, NASA finances “medium” price range missions designed to explore the least studied areas of the Solar System. 

In total, during the existence of New Frontiers, three interplanetary vehicles were launched — New Horizons, Juno and OSIRIS-Rex. The fourth mission will be the Dragonfly octocopter, which is scheduled to be sent to Titan in 2027.

The fifth selection of projects under the New Frontiers program was to begin in 2021. Then, due to the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift in the launch date of Dragonfly, it was postponed to 2023. However, with a high probability, the selection will not take place this year.

NASA Budget Crisis

The problems of New Frontiers are related to the agreement reached in May 2023 between Congress and the White House on raising the debt ceiling in exchange for limiting the costs of the non-defense sphere (which includes NASA) compared to the level of 2023. Because of this, all the existing bills on the NASA budget for the next year suggest a significant reduction in spending on planetary research.

In this situation, the organization tends to spend the remaining money on spacecraft already launched or under construction rather than finance the development of new missions. All this means that the next selection for the New Frontiers program will be postponed again. According to experts, NASA will be able to return to the program no earlier than 2026. If we take into account the time required for the competition, the comparison of projects, and the final selection of the winner, the launch of the next New Frontiers mission may not take place until the mid-2030s.

Recall that in the fifth selection for the New Frontiers program, projects that were included in one of the following categories had to participate:

  • delivery of samples of cometary matter to Earth;
  • studying Io;
  • creation of a network of geophysical stations on the Moon;
  • delivery of a sample of the matter from the territory of the South Pole–Aitken impact basin;
  • assessment of the potential habitability of Enceladus;
  • probe to study the atmosphere of Saturn.

By the time NASA is able to resume the implementation of New Frontiers, it is possible that the organization will add some new categories of projects to participate in the selection.

According to https://spacenews.com

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