SETI CHAMPOLLION COMET MISSION TO BE CANCELED


Larry Klaes (lklaes@bbn.com)
Tue, 29 Jun 1999 13:06:20 -0400


CHAMPOLLION MISSION TO BE CANCELED >From SpaceViews, 29 June 1999 http://www.spaceviews.com/1999/06/29b.html A planned NASA mission to land a spacecraft on the nucleus of a comet will soon be canceled, SpaceViews has learned. Top project officials told SpaceViews that the Space Technology 4 (ST4) mission, also known as Champollion, will be canceled as part of a budget-tightening effort by NASA. "We understand that NASA Headquarters has proposed [canceling Champollion] to the Office of Management and Budget and we think that Office of Management and Budget will accept that," ST4 project manager Brian Muirhead said. Other sources, including the Associated Press, have reported that Champollion has already been canceled, but Muirhead said late Monday, June 28, that he has received no official notification of the project's cancellation. However, he noted, "everybody from [JPL director] Ed Stone on down is speaking as if that were the case." The Planetary Society and the scientific community are organizing efforts to lobby Congress to save the mission, but Muirhead said that the chances of reinstating the project that way are low, "given all the other challenges that exist in Washington these days." Champollion faced possible cancellation earlier this year, when NASA headquarters officials expressed concern that the mission would not be able to meet its planned cost and mass goals. However, Muirhead and team members redesigned the mission, combining a planned orbiter and lander into a single spacecraft to land on a comet nucleus, that won approval from NASA officials. Muirhead said the expected cancellation of Champollion had nothing to do with the project or the team or "any force outside of the budget forces that NASA is struggling with." The cost of the extra Hubble servicing mission planned for October, along with costs associated with delays with the launch of the Chandra x-ray telescope, have put pressure on NASA's space science budget. In addition, Congress may impose caps on all federal budgets as part of an earlier deficit- reduction deal that could cut NASA's budget by up to 10 percent -- despite an expected $100 billion budget surplus for this year. Champollion may be the first victim of NASA's belt-tightening, but Muirhead said it's unlikely to be the last. "They can kill ST4 but that doesn't fill the bucket," Muirhead said. "There are still other problems that exceed our level of funding." The Planetary Society reported earlier in June that both Champollion and the 2001 Mars Surveyor lander were in danger of cancellation. The society later reported that the Mars lander was out of danger. Other sources have indicated that NASA may cut funding from proposed extended missions for spacecraft currently in operation, including Deep Space 1 and Galileo. Extended mission funding allows spacecraft to continue operations at a lower level after the originally planned mission comes to an end. Champollion is part of NASA's New Millennium Program, an effort to flight-test advanced technologies that could be utilized on future missions. Scheduled for launch in 2003, Champollion would have been the first spacecraft to land on the nucleus of a comet when it touched down on Tempel 1 in 2005. The mission would have returned key information about the composition and structure of a comet nucleus while testing advanced instruments, solar panels, and other technologies, including an advanced version of the ion engine tested on Deep Space 1, another New Millennium Program mission. "It's certainly a very challenging mission, one that not only had great technology and great science but a level of public interest that would blossom as people came to know more about it," Muirhead said. News of the impending cancellation has left the team very disappointed. "We just assembled a really incredible group of people," Muirhead said, "and if anyone could pull this off we could." "People will go on to other jobs, but I think it will be hard to find anything as exciting as anything we had just been attempting." Copyright 1999, SpaceViews



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