Saturday, March 20, 2010

Last Month's OPAG Meeting

The presentations for last month's meeting of NASA's Outer Planets Assessment Group (OPAG) were posted online last week.  The focus of the meeting, which took place on February 8 and 9, was the president's NASA budget for FY2011 and the projected budgets over the next few years, and the Europa/Jupiter System Mission (EJSM).

In the first day of the meeting, the presenters focused on the new NASA budget and the ongoing, planetary science decadal survey.  James Green and Curt Niebur, both from NASA Headquarters, presented on the new budget and how it impacts ongoing and upcoming outer planet missions.  Green made it clear that NASA's Planetary Science Division was committed to funding EJSM through at least pre-phase A, and the budget reflects that.  NASA will then look to the new decadal survey for how to proceed with flagship mission program.  Personally, I don't see why they need to wait, the flagship mission was selected competitively.  I don't see why we need to go through this non-sense again.  These issues won't effect budgets until the out-years in the current budget projections...  Anyways, Green also reported that funding for the restart of Pu-238 production is back on track now that NASA and the Department of Energy have developed a plan outline the "role and contribution of major users of Pu-238", as requested by Congress last year after nulling out such restart funding in last year's budget.  Niebur's presentation provides a breakdown of planned funding for EJSM in the president's budget: "FY11: $20M, FY12: $72M, FY13: $64M, FY$14: $53M, FY15: $63M."  This is fine for phase pre-A and A, but as we get passed instrument selection from the AO, those budgets should be going up not down, as seen now in FY13, FY14, and FY15, if a 2020 launch is still planned for.  John Spencer's presentation on the satellites part of the decadal survey showed a series of mission concepts that are being evaluated inclusion in the survey, including a New Frontiers-class Io Observer.

The Europa/Jupiter System Mission presentations from the meeting's second day provide additional details on cooperative observations by the two spacecraft of the mission.  For example, they plan to use a radio link between the Jupiter Europa Orbiter and the Jupiter Ganymede Orbiter to probe the upper atmosphere of Jupiter. 

I will post more on the EJSM presentations tomorrow.

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