How Sequestration Could Hit NASA Projects - InformationWeek

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How Sequestration Could Hit NASA Projects

Across-the-board budget cuts due to hit March 1, if Congress doesn't make a budget deal, could quickly impact NASA's technology work.

NASA Mars Mission: No Little Green Men -- Yet
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At NASA, tech projects will be among those hit by the across-the-board budget cuts scheduled to hit federal agencies if Congress does not move to stop sequestration by the March 1 deadline.

According to a letter sent to the Senate Committee on Appropriations earlier this month, sequestration will cause the cancellation or de-scoping of a number of tech projects, including the possible cancellation of a deep space optical networking program.

Sequestration could also cancel the Deep Space Atomic Clock, NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts Program, and some work on autonomous systems, and would include $51.1 million in cuts to NASA's science budget.

[ A brief communications glitch occurred between NASA and the ISS following a routine software upgrade. Read more at NASA Reports Space Station Communications Outage Fixed. ]

These cuts are only the beginning. The sequestration effects sent to the Senate include only those projects that could see cuts in fiscal 2013, but sequestration will phase in over several years. In fiscal 2013 alone, the sequester would reduce NASA's funding level by $894 million from levels authorized by the continuing appropriations resolution.

"Anybody who thinks this is no big deal -- it's a big deal," NASA administrator Charles Bolden reportedly said last Friday. "We're going to suffer."

In terms of deep space optical networking, NASA was scheduled this year to test optical communications with lunar and satellite missions.

The Innovative Advanced Concepts Program, meanwhile, is looking for "revolutionary concepts with the potential to transform future aerospace missions." Among projects that are part of the program or have been proposed are sensing and imaging technologies, technologies for autonomous space exploration and proposals to use three-dimensional printers to print spacecraft on paper.

Unlike the Department of Defense, which has said that it will furlough federal contractors in a move that could hit many IT workers, NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver has said that NASA does not currently have plans to furlough civilians in the event of sequestration.

As sequestration has neared over the past several months, NASA and others have sounded the alarm about the possible negative effects of sequestration's across-the-board cuts on NASA's budgets. A November report by NASA's Inspector General, for example, said that sequestration contributed to NASA's "bleak budgetary backdrop."

In December, the Aerospace Industries Association released a report calling sequestration "a devastating threat to our space leadership." The report found that sequestration could result in 20,500 job cuts this year alone, including many cuts in high-tech work.

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