Pace, Bowersox Worry About Artemis Funding

Pace, Bowersox Worry About Artemis Funding

The National Space Council’s Scott Pace and NASA’s Ken Bowersox both expressed concern about getting the money needed to execute the Artemis program today. Pace thinks that even if Congress approves the 12 percent increase for NASA this year, the agency’s budget will grow only at the rate of inflation thereafter. Bowersox said although Congress has given NASA a lot of money already, he senses they are not yet convinced of the need to get back to the Moon by 2024.

Both spoke to a joint meeting of the Space Studies Board and Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Pace is Deputy Assistant to President Trump and Executive Secretary of the White House’s National Space Council, chaired by Vice President Pence.  He covered a lot of ground in an hour-long virtual session.

Among his remarks, he pushed back on the idea of sending humans only to orbit, not land on, Mars as some are suggesting.  That would be “flags and footprints without the footprints.”

The comment came during a discussion of the future of the International Space Station (ISS).  Pace said there’s a “comfort level” with space stations and some are content to remain in orbit around the Moon and Mars rather than touching surfaces.  “You can imagine … drifting in orbit around Mars” and deciding not to spend the money to land.  That’s “problematic” for a lot of reasons.  Not only do other countries want to land, but it would preclude learning how to use local resources and “we’re at risk of becoming a flags and footprints program without the footprints.”

As for the ISS itself, he reiterated the Trump Administration’s position that a plan is needed to transition from ISS to commercial platforms in low Earth orbit.  Although some Members of Congress want to keep it operating indefinitely, the ISS has a finite lifetime and is closer to its end than its beginning.

NASA also needs the money for other things like exploration.  Pace thinks getting the 12 percent increase for FY2021 is “doable,” but  “do I think that rate of increase will continue?  No, I don’t.”

He hopes the future budget will remain level, with adjustments for inflation, which could be as low as “1 percent nominal growth per year.”  That will “force some other conversations” about transitioning away from ISS.

“We can talk about whether it’s 2024, 2028, 2030, 2035,” but a plan is needed. “I don’t want to get into a situation where we’re caught in a panic and we have nothing” because the ISS is no longer technically sound and no replacement is ready.

Maintaining a U.S. human space presence in Earth orbit is important for many reasons, not least of which is American leadership.  “We don’t want a situation where the Chinese have the only space station in low Earth orbit.”

Regarding Artemis and getting astronauts back on the Moon by 2024, Pace is satisfied with the status of the Space Launch System (SLS), Orion, and spacesuits, but Human Landing Systems (HLS) are the missing link.  Technical challenges are “non-trivial,” but it has been a long time since the last new major human spaceflight program and “the workforce and management are the areas where continual attention is necessary.”

He wants to get a good technical baseline to be able to conduct a Joint Confidence Level (JCL) cost and schedule assessment that will produce an estimate that has a 50-50 chance of being correct.

NASA performs JCLs for most of its programs before approving them to proceed into development. Science projects must estimate their costs and schedules at a 70 percent confidence level.

The 2024 schedule is “extremely challenging,” but moving the deadline forward from 2028 to 2024 is beneficial.  It has streamlined decision-making and forced prioritization of what is really needed to get back to the Moon, Pace said.

Bowersox, Acting Associate Administrator (AA) of NASA’s Human Exploration and Mission Operations Directorate (HEOMD), is in charge of executing the plan while NASA searches for another permanent AA.  Doug Loverro resigned in May after less than six months on the job.

A former astronaut, Bowersox views implementation of the Moon/Mars program in light of the “5 Hazards of Human Spaceflight.”  The ISS, future facilities in Earth orbit, and Artemis are all needed to “practice all the pieces” before heading off to Mars.

Source: Ken Bowersox presentation to Space Studies Board and Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board, June 9, 2020.

Progress is being made on the elements needed for Artemis, but a lot of resources will be needed. He realizes not everyone in Congress supports the 2024 goal and it is his job to convince them.

The administration has allowed us to ask for a lot from Congress. And when we asked for a lot last time, Congress gave us a lot of what we asked for, but there’s always a little bit of a reduction every time.

And truthfully, I think we’re going to need more if we want to get to 2024. We have asked for quite a bit for landers next year.

When we talk with the folks over in Congress, they explain all the different problems they’ve got and they indicate that it may be difficult to give us everything that we’ve asked for.

I’m not going to say that it’s impossible to do 2024 if we don’t get what we asked for.   … We take what they appropriate and we relook at our plan, and we don’t want to give up on 2024 if we have any chance of making it.  And right now we still think we have a chance…. But at some point,  you just run out of room to reduce your program anymore. I don’t think we’re there yet.

But you know that the Congress communicates with us through how much money they give us and they tell us what they think is important.

I would say that the Congress has communicated that they’re not as sold on 2024 as the Executive Branch, and it’s my job to help them feel more interested in getting there by 2024. So I’m still trying to do that.

International cooperation is an important component of the Artemis program. The State Department is engaging with potential partners to discuss the Artemis Accords with a goal of signing bilateral agreements that set forth principles for exploration and utilization of lunar resources.

Asked if Russia or China will be invited to join, Pace said he is worried about the health of the Russian space industrial base. Russia is putting its money into “military things” instead of civil and scientific programs, but “we haven’t ruled that out.”  As for China, “I would say flat no, not going to happen for a variety of … technical reasons, political reasons, readiness reasons. It’s pretty much a non-starter the way things are going.” The United States will begin with countries “that share our values.”

Separately, Pace reiterated that the White House is revising the 2010 National Space Policy. So far, the Trump Administration has made only one change to the Obama Administration’s policy, reinstating the goal of landing astronauts on the Moon instead of visiting an asteroid as a steppingstone to Mars.

He said today there will be a lot of continuity with the 2010 policy (which itself shared many similarities with prior national space policies) and input from international partners is being sought via the State Department for certain portions of it.

The Trump Administration has issued four Space Policy Directives and two Executive Orders so far. Pace said there is backlog of other statements that have been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, but provided no details.

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