IG Audit: NASA Planetary Program Faces Major Financial, Managerial Challenges

Dragonfly flying over the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s Planetary Science Division (PSD) faces a series of managerial, financial and personnel challenges as it prepares to conduct a series of ever more ambitious missions to the moon and planets, according to a new audit by the space agency’s Office of Inspector General (IG).


Lasers Could Give Space Research its ‘Broadband’ Moment

Several upcoming NASA missions will use lasers to increase data transmission from space. (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Amber Jacobson, producer)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — Thought your Internet speeds were slow? Try being a space scientist for a day.

The vast distances involved will throttle data rates to a trickle. You’re lucky if a spacecraft can send more than a few megabits per second (Mbps) — a pittance even by dial-up standards.


Keck Proposes Deep Space CubeSat Missions

CHAMPAGNE Rings Explorer (Credit: Keck Institute for Space Studies)
CHAMPAGNE Rings Explorer (Credit: Keck Institute for Space Studies)

Last month, the Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) at the California Institute of Technology released a report titled, “Small Satellites: A Revolution in Space Science,” which examines the sorts of missions types of missions that could be with rapidly evolving small satellites. The potential missions described in the report cover planetary science (moons, asteroids, etc.), astrophysics and heliophysics.

The planetary science missions include the use of mother ships that would deploy CubeSats and impactors to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa, tens of thousands of ChipSats to characterize Saturn’s rings, landing vehicles to explore asteroids, and small spacecraft that would map the moon’s interior and search for volatiles and organics.


Planetary Society Says NASA Budget Proposal Inadequate

Planetary_Society_LogoPASADENA, Calif. (TPS PR) — The Planetary Society cannot fully support the FY2015 NASA Budget Request. While there are some positive aspects—particularly the newfound openness to exploring Europa and the continued science operations of most high-priority planetary missions—the request imposes unacceptable cuts to the Science Mission Directorate that damage the immediate and long-term health of some of NASA’s most successful programs, particularly planetary exploration. If this budget is passed unchanged, there will be fewer planetary missions in development by 2019 than at any point in the past few decades (Fig. 1).


The Space Review: Space Tourism, Debris & Solar Power

XCOR's Lynx suborbital vehicle
XCOR's Lynx suborbital vehicle

The week in The Space Review:

Jeff Foust reviews one book that falls short of accurately describing the state of the space tourism industry.

Mike Snead explains why solar power from space might be the only way to meet the world’s growing demands for energy in the next century.

Taylor Dinerman discusses how it might be more expedient for the United States to start dealing with the orbital debris problem on its own rather than waiting for a multinational effort to form.

Jeff Foust reports on what some NASA officials say are the best ways for NASA to balance cost, performance, and risk for its ambitious slate of science missions.

Cassini Flies Through Watery Plumes of Saturn Moon

Enceladus’ North Polar Region


NASA’s Cassini spacecraft performed a daring flyby of Saturn’s moon Enceladus on Wednesday, March 12, flying about 15 kilometers per second (32,000 mph) through icy water geyser-like jets. The spacecraft snatched up precious samples that might point to a water ocean or organics inside the little moon.

Scientists believe the geysers could provide evidence that liquid water is trapped under the icy crust of Enceladus. The geysers emanate from fractures running along the moon’s south pole, spewing out water vapor at approximately 400 meters per second (800 mph).

The new data provide a much more detailed look at the fractures that modify the surface and will give a significantly improved comparison between the geologic history of the moon’s north pole and south pole.