JWST muddling along

Congress is moving on 2012 appropriations, and the Science agency “minibus” bill has reported out of conference…

So, fiscal 2012 started last month, and funding is currently under a short term “continuing resolution” through friday.
Three of the appropriation bills the House and Senate had worked on were combined into a “minibus” bill (as opposed to an omnibus bill of all appropriations), and the differences between the Senate and House versions were hammered out in conference over the last week.
Yesterday the conference report came out, and supposedly will be voted on thursday.

The bill is now H.R. 2112 formerly Agriculture appropriations.
Science is now stuck onto the end of that bill with many other agencies.

1) Word on the social networks is that the vote on the conference bill will be straight up-down, no amendments permitted.
That is very important, as it precludes maverick congress critters from doing line item deletions or major shifts in funding of single items or agencies on whim.
This means the current version of the bill has a good chance of passing as is.

2) There is some additional funding for science.

The conference reports are terse and opaque to the average non lawyer.
thomas.loc.gov should have full final text by next week.

However, the good news seems to be that while NASA overall takes a significant cut, Science within NASA gets a little bit of extra money.

JWST is IN the current version: and is allegedly fully funded for 2012 at $529 million, as I heard it.
BUT, there is language in the bill capping total cost to $8 billion, going above that triggers a Congressional review – that is less than NASA says it needs, but I think it is enough to take the project into Mission Operations… ie through launch, if I did me ‘rithmetic rite…

But, the extra science money is not enough to cover this cost, sounds like, as promised, $100 million extra was scrounged up for JWST, and the rest has to come out of existing programs.
Supposedly, Planetary Science is protected and may have extra money.

May I petulantly note that the last estimated budget for all of Exoplanets was $46 million.

Oh, and LISA Pathfinder sensors exceeded specs

This will be interesting, both whether JWST can now be brought in on the new revised budget, and what takes the hit – MODA? New programs?

In other news, NSF gets a little bit extra also – maybe enough that AST will not have to take a big cut.

BUT – Major Research Facilities is funded at a very low level.
There is enough, as I understand, for Advanced LIGO and Advanced Solar Telescope, but not enough to start LSST on schedule.
This could be a power play to force funding for the TMT to move up in the pipeline.
No idea what happens to the Ecology and Ocean MRFs.

Other implications are that Major Research Instrumentation will take a big hit for now,
maybe zeroed for 2012; and, any hope to do midsize instrumentation for national facilities is out.
As before, operation costs of the new big observatories is squeezing everything.

For those of us who just got NSF proposals in – word I heard is that success rate for this year, given funding and expected proposal pressure, will be 10-12%.

I think 8% is where the famous EU study concluded more net time is spent on proposal preparation than doing the resultant funded research, across a community…

Maybe if we mounted guns on the telescopes…

Haven’t had time or energy to look at NIST or NOAA or DoE or any other scienty agencies.


  1. #1 Anon former dean
    November 16, 2011

    10-12% !?!?
    Looks like I timed my exit from NSF-funded science (both personal and in my deanly role) pretty well. I’ll pass on my lottery tickets to you: good luck!

  2. #2 Marshall Perrin
    November 16, 2011

    BUT, there is language in the bill capping total cost to $8 billion, going above that triggers a Congressional review – that is less than NASA says it needs, but I think it is enough to take the project into Mission Operations… ie through launch, if I did me ‘rithmetic rite…

    For what it’s worth, yes, that’s it exactly. The $8B cost cap is precisely consistent with NASA’s current planned budget (the replan from this past summer) for everything up to launch, but not including flight operations or science. Notably, for the first time ever that budget includes substantial contingency reserves in both time and money (a full year of both), so there’s reasonable grounds to believe the $8B cost cap is a realistic and achievable goal. Time will tell, of course.

    Adding in operations costs (commissioning 0.5 years, nominal mission 5 years, additional data analysis 2 years) brings the current total cost up to $8.8B for a nominal mission duration. (Of course, all the consumables are sized for 2x life or more). For comparison, the HST program budget currently is very close to $100M/year including both operations costs and the grants program, so the planned operations budget for JWST is quite similar to that on an annual basis.

    I’m not sure where you’re getting “a power play to force funding for the TMT to move up in the pipeline.” from; the chances of any federal funding for TMT or GMT at any point in this decade are looking slim to none right now. Which is a real shame, as Europe pulls ahead with the EELT…

  3. #3 bph
    November 16, 2011

    The NSF has explicitly said that the LSST will get bridge funding. This is in the AAAC presentation. I mean, Congress could order the TMT to be funded and the killing of the LSST, but that seems a bit extreme.

    Color me confused as well.

  4. #4 Steinn Sigurdsson
    November 16, 2011

    Ok, so here is my understanding from some cryptic conversations:

    with the current MRFC budget nothing new gets ramped up for a couple of years;
    NSF is on-board to do LSST first and next, with powerpoint money to keep the project alive until MRFC$ wedge opens up;
    this would push TMT into the very far future (GMT faces a very tough hurdle with congressional language requiring next big glass to be on US soil…);

    IF one were to think that TMT has to wait for LSST, then LSST has to be put down for TMT to get a shot at the MRFC pot in the finite future – so better to start nothing now and see if TMT can overcome the decadal either through LSST starving or new process reprioritizing during the delay.

    This would of course be fiendish and Machiavellian, and inconceivable.

    One might also note that the attempt to reprioritize the last decadal in mid-cycle lead to nothing getting funded.

  5. #5 Heinrich Monroe
    November 16, 2011

    As noted above, the $8B cap applies to development only. That’s consistent with the replan budget.

    I don’t think there was ever any doubt that JWST would get FY12 funding. Rep. Wolf says he didn’t want to kill it, but just to shake it up (which he did), and Senator Mikulski would never stand for its cancellation (and has probably also sold some promises of support to things that she might not have otherwise supported in order to preserve it).

    But what it does mean is that Congress has accepted pirating funds from other NASA disciplines to support JWST. Of course, it has left it up to NASA to decide who gets pirated. JWST is a major embarrassment to the agency, which might well make it the last flagship science mission for a long time. It will eat the Astrophysics Division seed corn, allowing few new opportunities for a decade. The young astronomers who worship the mission now will later come to see, in 2024 or so, the dearth of opportunities and mission development expertise they’ve been left with. Of course, the senior astronomers who worship the mission will be happily retired. Let’s hope it works.

    Shall we place bets on whether JWST will ever launch? Having spent less than half its projected development budget, and with an abysmal fiscal record as a legacy, I’m really not optimistic. One also has to wonder how long Senator Mikulski will be around to protect it.

  6. #6 bph
    November 17, 2011

    Thanks for the explanation. It seems like running the clock would not work given the current public NSF backing of LSST. But what do I know?

  7. #7 Bruce
    November 18, 2011

    I thought the NSF major faciltiies (MREFC) in the passed minibus was $167M – which puts it basically at the original FY2011 request level and pretty much at historical levels of funding, so I’m not sure why you say a “very low level”. See http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2011/11/nsf-slated-for-a-25-boost-in-2012.html which also mentions an option to transfer another $50M, which would result in quite a large MREFC budget.

    Also, MREFC of course funds big ticket items in many disciplines – the expensive items in FY2012 are NEON and OOI, both of which are ahead of LSST in the queue but are also possibly unpopular with some congressional factions – so I wouldn’t read anything about the MREFC budget only in terms of astronomical conspiracy theories.

  8. #8 Steinn Sigurdsson
    November 19, 2011

    @Bruce – ’cause when I read it, the $50M extra for MRFC hadn’t been added in yet…

    the report now has language on GSMT – requiring a CFP by end of 2011 and a decision by Aug 2012.
    If the language requiring GSMT be on US soil from a previous bill still holds, then it is a done deal.

    Strange language when LSST is ahead in the line and can’t ramp up yet.

  9. #9 asdf
    November 19, 2011

    I don’t think the US soil requirement holds anymore. The Joint Explanatory Statement says: “The direction in this section is provided in lieu of any language in the Senate report relating to the GSMT program.” There’s nothing about where the GSMT should be built (or developed) in the Statement itself.