President Barack Obama will announce tomorrow a new strategy for human spaceflight that increases the NASA budget by $6bn over the next five years.
In his speech at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the US president will unveil the possibility for developing a new heavy lift rocket that could eventually launch future manned deep-space spacecraft intended to explore Mars and the rest of the Solar System. President Obama will state a final decision to fund the rocket development programme will be made in 2015.
The new rocket would take advantage of $3.1bn set aside in the NASA budget for investment in heavy-lift research and development over the next five years. This propulsion R&D effort will include development of a US first-stage hydrocarbon engine for potential use in future heavy lift and other launch systems. Other research in areas such as new propellants, advanced propulsion materials, combustion processes and engine health monitoring are also expected to shorten the development time for any future heavy-lift rocket.
Also being revealed tomorrow will be additional funding for other breakthrough technologies that could lead to human exploration such as in-space refueling.
The new strategy will lay out a stepping stone approach for sending humans to Mars. Firstly the goal will be to reach lunar orbit, then Lagrange points, near-Earth asteroids, the moons of Mars and eventually Mars itself.
As highlighted in the strategy, the missions will begin with a set of crewed flights to prove the capabilities required for exploration beyond low Earth orbit. After these initial missions, it is expected human spaceflight technologies be will developed enough to allow human explorers to conduct a crewed mission into deep space to an asteroid–a historical first.
This will then lead to ventures into deep space locations such as the Lagrange points where it is believed there are potential sites for fuel depots that would enable future missions to the Moon, Mars and other destinations. Assuming all of this is successful, the go-ahead will be given for a manned mission that will orbit Mars.
In his speech President Obama will also address the recently cancelled Constellation Program, a NASA mission that would have sent humans back to the Moon and later to the Mars. He will propose the Orion crew exploration vehicle, which was originally intended for the Constellation Programme, will now be repurposed as a stand-by emergency escape system for astronauts on the space Station.
The vehicle will be designed simpler and more efficiently through a new development programme. It is expected to be ready for launch within the next few years.
Finally, the president will highlight the potential for creating thousands of more jobs through a reinvigorated space programme. He estimated it could lead to more than 2,500 additional jobs in Florida’s Kennedy Space Center area by 2012.