NASA might reduce aeronautics funding

 - September 21, 2006, 4:38 AM

NASA is requesting 3.2 percent more for its FY2007 budget than it requested for this fiscal year, but the agency’s aeronautics division may not benefit from the proposed increase. In fact, the Aeronautics Mission Research Directorate might lose 18 percent of its funding. The agency’s request went to Congress for debate early last month.
“NASA simply cannot afford to do everything that our many constituencies would like us to do,” said NASA Administrator Michael Griffin.

The President’s Vision for Space Exploration helped boost NASA’s overall budget request to $16.8 billion in FY2007 despite severe cuts in science research and more ground-bound programs.

If the budget is approved in its current form $724.6 million would be set aside for aeronautics–$447.2 million for fundamental aeronautics; $102.2 million for aviation safety; $120.2 million for airspace systems; and $55 million for wind tunnels and the new aeronautics test program, the purpose of which is to keep the agency’s wind tunnels blowing and its propulsion test cells firing.

A quiet but potentially dramatic difference in 2007 is NASA’s decision to limit aeronautics money solely to “fundamental questions” and “activities appropriate to NASA’s unique capabilities rather than research more appropriately performed or funded by industry,” Griffin explained.

“While I am concerned that our nation’s aviation industry not lose market share to global competitors, NASA’s aeronautics research cannot and will not directly subsidize work to specific corporate interests,” he added. Griffin did not define how the agency would determine whether an investment is more suited to the agency or industry.

Budgeting To Meet Agency Goals
NASA’s $16.8 billion budget represents 0.7 percent of the federal budget and, said Griffin, a “modest investment to extend the frontiers of space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics.” Griffin emphasized, “I will ensure that our centers contribute to NASA’s primary mission of space exploration and discovery.”

Closer to Earth, NASA’s research aims to speed the technology for intelligent aircraft systems, advanced sensors, adaptive controls and resilient structures and the next-generation ATC environment; and to integrate GPS, satellite and digital datalinks. The NGATS is intended to handle by 2025 at least 3,000 more aircraft than the current peak capacity of 4,000 without compromising safety and environmental compatibility.

The agency’s other priorities for FY2007 include “mastery of all flight regimes from subsonic all the way up to hypersonic” and integration of new propulsion systems to advanced rotorcraft.

In addition to the reduction in its aeronautics budget, NASA can cut costs by reducing employees. NASA uses the term “uncovered capacity” for employees not working directly on a funded project. Last fall, the agency offered buyouts to 650 such employees, ran job fairs to redeploy another 100, and froze outside hiring to promote from within. Nonetheless, of 18,000 full-time employees as of the beginning of this year, more than 1,000 remain “uncovered.”

The full text of NASA’s aeronautics budget is available for download at