Augustine Report – How Much Will Constellation Cost?

Since the release of the Augustine Committee’s Final Report, it has become the sine qua non of facts and figures bandied about by critics of the Constellation Program. It’s all-too-common to hear or read NASA’s leaders reference the Augustine Committee when stating that current budget limitations prevent the U.S. from continuing with Constellation. For example, in his February 25th testimony before the House Science and Space Subcommittee, NASA Administrator Bolden maintained that an extra $7 billion was needed to continue with Constellation. And it wouldn’t be too much for one to wonder where that number came from in the Final Report?

So, we thought it might be useful to give you, our readers, some background as to where those Constellation numbers come from and how they are easily miscalculated and perhaps accidentally misused. So, grab your copy of the Final Report of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, and we’ll dive right in.

In Section 6.2.3, second paragraph, p. 81, the Committee discusses the difference between the Constrained, or the FY 2010 Budget Case, and Less-Constrained budget approaches. Figure 6.2.3-1 shows the Constrained and Less-Constrained Budget cases from 2010 through 2025.

The Constrained Budget is simply the budget proposed by the Obama Administration for NASA’s Fiscal Year 2010 funding and forms a baseline against which the Committee costed out changes to the current human space flight program. As can be seen in Fig. 6.3.1 [Augustine, p. 84], the Administration’s FY 2010 NASA Budget declines or is flat for human space exploration until 2014, after which it grows 1.4%, to account for what would seem to be a very low-rate of inflation. In its FY 2010 NASA Budget, the Administration had Constellation, or Program of Record, funding grow from $3.5B in 2010 to $5.5B in 2011, after which Constellation funding declines to $5.47B, $5.41B in 2012 and 2013 respectively before beginning to climb again to $5.6B in 2014. In the FY 2010 Budget, it was assumed that the Shuttle program’s budget would decline from $3.2B in 2010 to $382M in 2011 and $87.8M in 2012. We do not know why the Administration chose to make that assumption as it was on the record as desiring to continue the Shuttle through FY2011. The other parts of the human space exploration budget, ISS and Advanced Capabilities, which we assume means Ares V, either grow or decline slightly from 2010 to 2014.

However, missing from the Committee’s Report is that the Administration’s FY 2010 NASA Budget short-changes Project Constellation of approximately $700M in 2011, $1,100M in 2012, $1,200M in 2013 and then $1,000M in 2014. How?

When NASA’s Exploration Systems Architecture Study (ESAS), which laid the ground work for Project Constellation, was completed in November 2005, it called for the Shuttle to be retired in 2010 and that program’s annual $3B in funding was to be inherited by what was to become Project Constellation. In essence, without increasing NASA’s budget, between 2010 and 2012, Project Constellation would see a $3B budget increase. In part, this was to accelerate development and completion of the Ares I launcher and Orion human spacecraft, and begin work on Ares V. But the additional funding was also to pay for the Shuttle program’s large fixed-costs of $1.5B [Augustine, p. 50], of which 90% is from Kennedy Space Center, Johnson Space Center’s Mission Control, the engine test stands at Stennis Space Center, and the Michoud facility in Louisiana that Project Constellation would inherit. So, even as Project Constellation is assuming those Shuttle fixed-costs, the Administration’s plan was to put Constellation on a budgetary diet for R&D.

In its deliberations and hearings, the Augustine Committee realized that the Administration’s FY 2010 NASA Budget would result in a human exploration program that would not allow us to go beyond low-Earth orbit until the late 2020’s. In response, the Committee looked at a Less-Constrained Budget, which took the FY 2010 NASA Budget and added a funding ramp-up (not a single-shot step increase, but a ramp-up) to $3B/yr between 2010 and 2014, after which the budget grows 2.4% annually to account for inflation. The Committee’s Less-Constrained Budget is meant to get Constellation back on track from previous budgetary path deviations in order to provide “meaningful exploration”, as noted on p. 96 of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee.

Originally, ISS was to be completed in 2010, abandoned in 2015, and de-orbited in 2016. For the last several years, many have felt that abandoning ISS only 5 years after its completion would be to literally burn-up over $50B. In Section 6.2.4 [Augustine, p.84] referes to two additional items to the Less-Constrained Case, flying the Shuttle into 2011 and extending ISS to 2020. Those two costs add to the Less-Constrained Case, growing from $3B in FY 2010 to $6B by 2019.

The ongoing debate is whether to terminate Constellation, as the President wishes to do, and not to extend ISS to 2020 or retire the Shuttle in 2011. Most who back a robust human space program concede that extending ISS through 2020 is the right thing to do. From a budgetary perspective, that means that any discussion over added costs of continuing Project Constellation must be about funds solely for Constellation and not include funds for ISS extension or an additional Shuttle flight in 2011. In order to meaningfully continue Constellation, if Augustine’s Less-Constrained budget is meant to get Constellation back on track, the cost ramps-up to $3B in Fiscal Year 2014 and then increases at a 2.4% rate from 2015 through the 2020’s over the President’s FY 2010 NASA Budget.

So the next time you hear someone say that Constellation will cost an additional $7B, as the NASA Administrator stated on February 25, you’ll know he’s got his numbers mixed-up.

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