Wednesday, November 17, 2004

That Vision Thing

by Tom Bozzo

Yesterday, a NASA X-43A research aircraft briefly flew at Mach 9.8 (roughly 7,000 mph), shattering a speed record for aircraft powered by air-breathing engines set by another X-43A in March.

"These developments will also help us advance the Vision for Space Exploration, while helping to advance commercial aviation technology," Administrator O'Keefe said.

What's next? Notes the Washington Post (but not the NYT):
NASA has no plans for further scramjet [the X-43A engine type] missions...

Comment: Between FY2004 and FY2005, NASA's aeronautics R&D budget authority request declined by more than 10 percent, adding to earlier declines under Bush administration stewardship. The exact amount is difficult to determine because of a shift to "full cost" accounting in FY2004, which management types love because it allocates all overheads to functional categories, and which many (most?) economists (me included) hate with the fury of a thousand supernovae because there is no causal basis for the allocations.

The aeronautics R&D budget has been pressured by manned spaceflight expenditures for a long time. Libertarians like to look to the Ansari X Prize as a model for private R&D funding, but reality is that the available aerospace R&D funding from eccentric billionaires is so far very small relative to the cost of developing aircraft. Meanwhile, U.S. competitiveness in civil aviation technology has greatly eroded if not completely evaporated. Can this be a good thing?
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