House Appropriations Committee Sets NASA Spending at $19.5 Billion

 NASA astronaut Suni Williams exits a test version of the Orion spacecraft in the agency’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab in Houston. The testing is helping NASA identify the best ways to efficiently get astronauts out of the spacecraft after deep space missions. (Credit: NASA)
NASA astronaut Suni Williams exits a test version of the Orion spacecraft in the agency’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab in Houston. The testing is helping NASA identify the best ways to efficiently get astronauts out of the spacecraft after deep space missions. (Credit: NASA)

The House Appropriations Committee is marking up a FY 2017 spending bill today that would boost NASA’s spending by $215 million to $19.5 billion dollars. The amount is roughly $500 million more than the $19 billion requested by the Obama Administration.

Appropriators have zeroed out money for NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), instead instructing the space agency to focus on lumar missions applicable to sending astronauts to Mars.

“The Committee believes that neither a robotic nor a crewed mission to an asteroid appreciably contribute to the overarching mission to Mars,” appropriators said in their bill report. “Further, the long-term costs of launching a robotic craft to the asteroid, followed by a crewed mission, are unknown and will divert scarce resources away from developing technology and equipment necessary for missions to Mars, namely deep space habitats, accessing and utilizing space resources, and developing entry, descent, landing, and ascent technologies.

“NASA is encouraged to develop plans to return to the Moon to test capabilities that will be needed for Mars, including habitation modules, lunar prospecting, and landing and ascent vehicles,” the report stated.

Exploration $3.337 billion $4.183 billion
Orion$1.12 billion$1.35 Billion
Space Launch System1.310 billion $2 billion
Exploration R&D $477.3 million$404 million
Exploration Ground Systems$429.4 million $429 million
Space Operations
 $5.076 billion$4.89 billion
Space Technology
 $826.7 million
$739.2 million
Nuclear Thermal Propulsion TechnologyNot specified$35 million
Small Launch Technology Platform -0-$45 million
Science$5.6 billion $5.597 billion
Earth Science $2.032 billion$1.69 billion
Planetary Science $1.519 billion$1.846 billion
Astrophysics $781.5 million$792.9 million
Heliophysics $698.7 million
$698.7 million
James Webb Space Telescope$569.4 million
$569.4 million
Jupiter Europa Orbiter & Lander $49.6 million$260 million
Aeronautics$790.4$712 million
Low-boom flight demonstrator $55.9 million $61 million
Education$100.1 million$115 million
Safety, Security & Mission Services$2.837 billion$2.835 billion
Construction & Environmental Compliance & Restoration$419.8 million$398 million
Office of Inspector General $38.1 million$38.1 million
TOTAL:$19.025 billion
$19.5 billion

Legislators have designed $75 million under NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems program for development of a demonstration habitation module for deep-space missions.

The bill calls for spending $4.183 billion for deep-space human exploration, a boost of  $846 million over the President’s request. The Space Launch System (SLS), Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and associated ground systems would be funded at $3.78 billion. The request is for $2.86 billion.

The Appropriations Committee would reduce proposed exploration R&D spending by $73.3 billion to $404 million. The president has requested $477.3 million.

The measure does not specify the funding level for the commercial crew program, which part of the space operations budget. The administration requested $1.185 billion for FY 2017.

House Appropriators would fund space operations, which includes the International Space Station, at $4.89 billion. The request is for just under $5.1 billion.

The measure  re-prioritizes the administration’s science priorities, boosting planetary science while reducing the request for Earth science. Appropriators have designated $260 million for an orbiter and lander, which is far above the $49.6 million requested.

“To support progress on this mission, NASA shall ensure that future funding requests are consistent with achieving a Europa Orbiter launch no later than 2022 and a Europa Lander launch no later than 2024, pending final mission configuration,” the report states. “NASA is encouraged to select the Lander payload during fiscal year 2017 to support the above launch window.

“The Committee reminds NASA that Public Law 114–113 directed NASA to submit long-term plans for maximizing the use of the SLS. NASA shall include the Europa Orbiter and Lander missions in this plan, as directed elsewhere in this report and accompanying bill,” the report added.

Legislators also want NASA to encourage the use of SLS by other users.

“As part of this effort to develop a long-term plan to use SLS to the fullest extent possible, NASA shall make SLS available on a cost reimbursable basis for non-NASA payloads, as appropriate,” the measure reads.

Legislators would cut the $826.7 million for space technology to $739.2 million, a reduction of $87.5 million. They also stipulated that $45 million go to a small satellite launch vehicle program the administration did not request.

“The recommendation provides no less than $45,000,000 for sub-orbital and orbital technology demonstration of small launch technology platforms able to carry a 200–300 kilogram small satellite into low Earth orbit. The small launch technology demonstration platform shall leverage existing government derived small launch technologies to the maximum extent possible.” [Emphasis added]

It appears that at least part of this funding would be put toward further development of the Super Strypi, a small-satellite launch vehicle that failed last year during its inaugural launch from Hawaii.

Eric Berger over at Ars Technica reports that Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) has placed a similar provision for $30 million in the Senate Appropriations bill. Sources say the money would benefit companies seeking to continue development of Super Strypi.