As the first week of February edges closer it would seem that the fiscal year 2011 NASA budget request, which all and sundry expected to reveal the new US human spaceflight vision, will do no such thing

This re-tweeted tweet care of the well informed Jeff Foust and this article in The Huntsville Times suggest that like the FY2010 budget, and its Review of US human spaceflight plans, the new spaceflight vision will be part of a second appropriations submission to Congress. In the FY2010 summary on page EXP-2 it said:

*Following the human spaceflight review, the Administration will provide an updated request for Exploration activities reflecting the review’s results. FY 2010 and outyear funding levels for Exploration activities shown here represent the budget request if there were no changes to ongoing activities.

Oh well that didn’t happen. This time around, rather than following anymore reviews, its probable that the “updated request” for FY2011 will come after that Congressional debate required for canning the Constellation programme – assuming the deliberations result in that

Hyperbola got the distinct feeling that this process could take a lot longer than anyone expected way back in October after a chat with NASA administrator Charles Bolden in Korea

NASA budget requests have come late most years in recent history so the likelihood of the FY2011 budget kicking in in October this year is very low. The FY2010 budget projection gives the Ares I crew launch vehicle an extra $1 billion in FY2011 and this sum has been announced as extra funds for NASA by Florida Senator Bill Nelson for FY2011. But it is not clear if that is soley for Constellation

Instead NASA will start FY2011 with a FY2010 budget. Good for Constellation because its still getting funding, not so good for the “commercial” programmes – even if that means another $39 million instead of the $12 million the FY2010 budget projected for commercial for FY2011

While the cargo transport work with Orbital Sciences and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) is probably safe with the contracts that have been signed the crew taxi prospects are looking decidely dim. The Commercial Crew Development initiative is still stalled with an expected November announcement for multiple funded space act agreements bumped to God knows when

The main beneficiary of no new vision before the FY2012 budget is the Constellation programme and its Ares I. Between now and the result of the inevitable Congressional debate its advocates are going to be pushing hard. Already we see the NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel giving Ares I the thumbs up

With no other crew transport booster is being funded (OK there is SpaceX’s Falcon 9 but while no launch abort system work is underway I won’t class this as a crew vehicle launcher) Ares I has a clear advantage. Whatever technical issues it has had in the past its advocates will emphasise the work done to resolve them and the growing gap between the paper rockets and NASA’s “program of record”

Even the test flight zombie option for Ares I works in its favour. Whatever the Ares V Lite upper stage is Ares I proponents will argue for upper stage test flights using the Ares I solid rocket booster first stage

Combine the advances that could be made for the five segment first stage between now and any actual new vision decision and the outcome of a new upper stage specification and you will have people saying that the Ares I first stage could launch the (now rumoured RL-10 powered) Ares V Lite upper stage with a diminished Orion on top

Remember you heard it here first