NASA weighing continuing VERITAS versus future Discovery mission

WASHINGTON — Price range pressures in NASA’s planetary science program may drive the company to decide on between persevering with a mission to Venus that has already been delayed or requesting proposals for a future mission.

NASA’s fiscal yr 2024 funds proposal, launched March 13, included $3.383 billion for planetary science, a 5.7% improve from what Congress appropriated for 2022. The company, within the rollout of the funds, emphasised the funding included within the proposal for main planetary missions like Mars Pattern Return and Europa Clipper.

Nevertheless, the proposal included solely $1.5 million for the Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy (VERITAS) mission, a Venus orbiter chosen by NASA in 2021 as considered one of two Discovery missions. NASA had projected spending $56.7 million on VERITAS in 2024 in its fiscal yr 2023 funds proposal.

NASA introduced in November 2022 that it was delaying VERITAS by at least three years in response to the findings on an independent review board into the issues with the Psyche mission, which missed its 2022 launch due to delays in testing software program for that asteroid mission. The impartial assessment discovered institutional points on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which leads each Psyche and VERITAS, that prompted NASA to delay VERITAS to permit JPL to appropriate these issues whereas specializing in different missions.

The $1.5 million supplied for VERITAS within the 2024 funds proposal is meant to permit the mission’s science workforce to proceed work. The long run “outyears” funds projections for VERITAS, although, preserve the mission at $1.5 million a yr by means of fiscal yr 2028, in impact indefinitely delaying the mission.

“That’s functionally a comfortable cancellation,” stated Casey Dreier, chief of house coverage at The Planetary Society, throughout a March 16 webinar in regards to the funds proposal organized by the Aerospace Industries Affiliation. “That goes to indicate that there’s numerous pressures, notably inside the planetary funds.”

At a NASA city corridor assembly throughout the Lunar and Planetary Sciences Convention (LPSC) March 14, Lori Glaze, director of the planetary science division at NASA Headquarters, defended the choice to postpone VERITAS. “We appeared throughout the board at a bunch of various choices, and the VERITAS delay was the one which we picked. There have been no good choices right here,” she stated.

She stated there have been three standards for restarting VERITAS as quickly as 2025. One is to safe the funding wanted for the mission, whereas a second is for JPL to indicate progress implementing suggestions from the impartial assessment of the Psyche delay, one thing that JPL’s director, Laurie Leshin, said at a recent advisory committee meeting that the lab was doing.

A 3rd issue, in keeping with Glaze, was for JPL to efficiently launch each Europa Clipper and the NASA-ISRO Artificial Aperture Radar (NISAR) Earth science mission, one other mission the place JPL is taking part in a number one position. Any delays in both, she stated, would tie up personnel and assets wanted for VERITAS.

Through the city corridor, scientists criticized NASA for delaying VERITAS. Amongst those that spoke was Suzanne Smrekar, principal investigator for VERITAS, who stated that the funds would require JPL to disband an skilled engineering workforce engaged on its design.

“This mission that was on observe is being successfully martyred for all these missions which might be going over funds,” she stated. “The explanation that so many locally are outraged by this are these details, {that a} mission that was on observe is contingent on Earth science missions and all types of issues that don’t have anything to do with us.”

Glaze indicated that, even when VERITAS clears these hurdles, there is no such thing as a assure the mission will proceed. She steered NASA could also be compelled to decide on whether or not to proceed VERITAS or maintain a contest for the following Discovery-class mission, at the moment scheduled for fiscal yr 2025.

“I’ve requested the neighborhood to offer suggestions on priorities associated to the following Discovery calls and assist of the chosen mission, VERITAS,” she stated. “We’ve acquired numerous nice assist from the neighborhood to restart VERITAS, even when which means not holding the following Discovery name.”

At a Feb. 27 assembly of the Mars Exploration Program Evaluation Group, members mentioned a query offered from NASA Headquarters asking in the event that they supported restarting VERITAS versus a brand new Discovery mission. Most appeared to assist VERITAS if NASA had to decide on between them.

“It could be very upsetting to overlook the Discovery name, but when they’re implying that they’d defund VERITAS in an effort to fund the Discovery name, that’s even much less acceptable,” stated Bruce Banerdt of JPL, who was principal investigator on one other Discovery mission, the InSight Mars lander.

Glaze stated she acquired comparable feedback from the general planetary science neighborhood supporting persevering with VERITAS versus one other Discovery mission. “We heard from the neighborhood. We’re going to have a look at the place we’re and see what we are able to assist,” she stated.

She justified the delay due to broader points, like the results of the pandemic, provide chain challenges and elevated operations prices, that she estimated had been within the a whole bunch of thousands and thousands of {dollars}, in addition to the JPL-specific issues. “That was the choice that was made, to delay a mission at JPL to not solely release the assets but additionally to release the bandwidth to cope with the entire points throughout JPL.”

The Discovery funds drawback additionally impacts a line of smallsat missions. Whereas Glaze and others at NASA have expressed assist for Small Modern Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEx), the fiscal yr 2024 funds request stated that NASA plans to solicit just one SIMPLEx mission within the coming years, with a draft announcement of alternative in fiscal yr 2024. That mission, with a value cap of $85 million, would fly with the DAVINCI Venus mission in 2030.

NASA chosen three SIMPLEx missions in 2019 at a value cap of $55 million every, though the three missions have run into value overruns or different issues. That features the Janus asteroid mission, which misplaced its experience due to the Psyche delay. Glaze stated that the mission is various missions the dual smallsats may perform. “In the event that they discover one thing that appears compelling, we informed them that our door is open.”


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