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NASA Inspector General asks Congress for flexibility in launching Europa Clipper



WASHINGTON – NASA's Inspector General says the agency could save nearly $ 1 billion by allowing Congress to choose the best launcher for a mission to Jupiter's Moon Europa, rather than using the space carrier system demand.

In a letter dated 27 August to the chairmen and senior members of both the Senate Committee on Funds and its Subcommittee on Trade, Justice and Science, NASA Inspector General Paul Martin said that the bills included in previous draft budgets marked the launch of the European Delaying Clipper Mission

"NASA's renewed focus on people's return to the moon on an accelerated schedule means that an SLS will not be available to launch the Clipper mission to Europe by 2025 at the earliest," he wrote Finally, the seven-page letter. The budget for the financial year 201

9 stipulated that the mission must be started by 2023 with an SLS.

"[W] We urge Congress to consider lifting the requirement that NASA launch the Europa Clipper with an SLS and allow the agency to decide whether to use it Commercial vehicle based on cost, schedule, vehicle availability and impact on scientific requirements.

The letter is a follow-up to the Europa Clipper program published in May by the Inspector General. This report warned against cost and scheduling issues, including the conclusion that an SLS would not be available for launch in 2023 due to production schedules and the assignment of the first two SLS vehicles for Artemis missions.

Since this review, Europe Clipper has passed an exam review known as key decision point C, setting costs and schedules for the mission. Martin stated in his letter that although the spacecraft could be ready in 2023, NASA set a launch date for 2025 as the Agency's "Basic Commitment" for the mission, as the SLS must be used and no vehicle is available.

For this approach, assuming the spacecraft will be completed as planned in 2023, Europe Clipper will have to be stored for two years at an estimated cost of $ 3 to $ 5 million per month. Martin stated in the letter that NASA had allocated $ 250 million in reserves during the most recent review "to cover the costs of storage, personnel and other associated start delays."

Starting in 2023 would make these reserves redundant and save $ 250 million from the estimated total cost of $ 4.25 billion identified in this review. Martin stated in his letter that NASA could save an additional $ 700 million on a SLS launch with a commercial launcher – either a Delta 4 Heavy from United Launch Alliance or SpaceX Falcon Heavy – from SpaceX Falcon Heavy. However, the May review revealed savings of less than $ 300 million could be made by taking into account the longer travel time and thus the operating costs of launching Europa Clipper on a Delta 4 Heavy or Falcon Heavy.

"Congress could reduce risks for the Europe mission and the Artemis program, while taxpayers could potentially save as much as $ 1 billion by giving NASA the flexibility it needs in the next budget year 2020 to be the cheapest and most cost-effective." To determine the most punctual vehicle for the launch of the Europa Clipper mission in 2023 or at any time. The satellite is ready, "wrote Martin.

A decision must be made "in the coming months" so that NASA has time to launch a commercial launch vehicle in time for launch in 2023. An additional complication is that the ULA plans to phase out the Delta 4 Heavy during this time, with the final of five missions scheduled for its remaining manifest in 2023.

The letter was sent to the appropriators of the Senate, as they are still in the development of their budget year 2020 expenditure bills. The House of Representatives passed its version of a spending law for NASA in June, maintaining the language of the law of 2019, which requires Europe to launch Clipper 2023 on SLS.

The Senate has supported Europe Clipper or in the past less a subsequent landing mission than the House of Representatives, which offers no significant increases in funding or requirements for launching the mission on SLS at any given time. The House's former support to the Mission was linked to former MP John Culberson (R-Texas), who chaired the Sub-Committee on Funds, which funded NASA, and was a strong proponent of European exploration. Culberson lost his re-election bid last November.


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