2011 NASA Budget Proposal

There are many significant changes in the 2011 NASA budget proposal that are clarified in the detailed Fiscal Year 2011 Budget Estimates (PDF) for NASA. Instead of trying to cover all of it, I'll just point out a couple items related to prizes. First, there's the NASA Centennial Challenges prize program. The budget proposes $10M for new Centennial Challenges prizes in each year from 2011-2015. For several years, Administration budget proposals requested $4M for Centennial Challenges, but Congress didn't appropriate this money most of those years, so the program has been running off of funding from years ago. With many of the original prizes now won, it seems like it's make-or-break time for Centennial Challenges.

Google Lunar X PRIZE teams may want be aware of the robotic human spaceflight precursor program in the new budget. In addition to NASA's robotic lunar science missions in development and under consideration for development, a whole new line of potential robotic missions, following the example of LRO and LCROSS, is proposed in the new budget. Here are some excerpts:

NASA will begin funding at least two dedicated precursor missions in 2011. One will likely be a lunar mission to demonstrate tele-operation capability from Earth and potentially from the International Space Station, including the ability to transmit near-live video to Earth. This will also result in investigations for validating the availability of resources for extraction. NASA will provide opportunities to participate in the payloads and observation teams, and potentially portions of the spacecraft, through open competition.

NASA will also select at least one additional robotic precursor mission to initiate in 2011, and identify potential future missions to begin in 2012 and/or 2013. Potential missions may include:

Landing on asteroids or the moons of Mars ...

Landing a facility to test processing technologies for transforming lunar or asteroid materials for fuel ...

Additionally, a new portfolio of explorer scouts will execute small, rapid turn-around, highly competitive missions to exploration destinations. Generally budgeted at between $100M and $200M lifecycle cost, these missions will allow NASA to test new and innovative ways of doing robotic exploration of destinations of interest to future human exploration. Selected projects may provide multiple small scouting spacecraft to investigate multiple possible landing sites, or provide means of rapid-prototyping new spacecraft approaches. These missions will be fully and openly competed in a Principal Investigator mode.

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