Untangling the Numbers in NASA’s Supplemental Budget Request

Credit: NASA

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In seeking a $1.6 billion increase in NASA’s budget for fiscal year 2020 to land astronauts on the moon in 2024, the Trump Administration has claimed that “no NASA programs were cut” to accommodate the new spending.  However, to quote Obi-wan Kenobi, this is only true from a certain point of view.

The Administration’s original FY 2020 request would cut NASA’s current $21.5 billion budget by $488 million while shifting funds from other space agency programs to the Artemis lunar program. Thus, the claim of no cuts can likely be interpreted as no reductions beyond what the Trump Administration has already proposed.

Further, the overall increase is not as large as it sounds. The supplemental request would increase NASA’s budget by $1.1 billion from its current $21.5 billion to $22.6 billion.

Congress, which will ultimately decide spending levels, has not weighed in on either the original budget request or the supplemental one. It’s worth keeping in mind that legislators have ignored Trump’s previous attempts to reduce NASA’s budget.

Let’s dive into the numbers a bit deeper by looking at the budget request the Trump Administration submitted in March.

(In Thousands of Dollars)
Space Launch System2,150,0002,150,0001,775,400(374,600)
Exploration R&D395,000958,0001,580,000622,000
— Lunar Orbital Platform?450,000821,400371,400
— Human Research?145,000140,000(5,000)
— Advanced Cislunar and Surface Capabilities?116,500363,000246,500
Exploration Ground Systems545,000592,800400,100(192,700)
Space Operations4,751,5004,639,1004,285,700
— Commercial ISS and Low Earth Orbit Activities ?40,000150,00090,000
— Planetary Science2,227,9002,758,5002,622,100(136,400)
— Earth Science1,921,0001,931,0001,779,800(151, 200)
— Astrophysics850,4001,191,600844,800(346,800)
— James Webb Space Telescope533,700304,600352,60048,000
— Heliophysics688,500720,000704,500(15,500)
STEM ENGAGEMENT (Previously Education)100,000110,0000 (110,000)

So, let’s take a look at the major areas that the initial request cuts. These include:

  • Science: -$602 million
  • Space Launch System (SLS): -$374.6 million
  • Space Operations: -$353.4 million
  • Exploration Ground Systems: -$192.7 million
  • STEM Engagement: – $110 million (zeroed out)
  • Orion Multi-purpose Crew Capsule: – $83.3 million
  • Aeronautics: – $55.1 million

The proposed cuts in SLS, Orion and the Exploration Ground Systems needed to support them totaled $650.6 million. NASA, however, says that SLS and Orion are crucial to landing astronauts at the south pole of the moon on the third flight of the system in 2024.

In the amended request, NASA restores $651 million in cuts to SLS and Orion. The budget document does not include details on the Exploration Ground Systems.

In the original request, the Administration increased spending on the orbiting Lunar Gateway by $371.4 million to $821.4 million. The supplement request eliminates $321 million of that increase.

NASA officials said on Monday they would be scaling back the initial gateway to a power/propulsion module and a small habitat module with docking ports. The plan is to have astronauts fly to the gateway and transfer to a lunar lander that is already docked at the facility.  A male and female astronaut would then travel to the lunar south pole to make the first landing since Apollo 17 in December 1972.

The budget shifts the full build out of the Lunar Gateway into the 2024-2028 period. NASA officials said international partners and even private companies would be welcome to add to the facility before  then. International partners — including Canada, Japan, Europe and Russia — are expected to provide additional modules and robotic capabilities to the gateway.

The supplemental request designates $1 billion to accelerate work on the lunar lander. In March, the Trump Administration requested $363 million for Advanced Cislunar and Surface Capabilities.

“This acquisition strategy will allow NASA to purchase an integrated commercial lunar lander that will transport astronauts from lunar orbit to the lunar surface and back,” NASA said in its summary.

NASA is also requesting an additional $132 million ” to advance key precursor capabilities on the lunar surface. This includes various exploration technologies like solar electric propulsion and a demonstration converting polar ice to water.”

The Science budget, which was cut $602 million in the initial request, would receive $90 million “to enable increased robotic exploration of the Moon’s polar regions in advance of a human mission,” NASA added.

How all this will go over with Congress remains to be seen. On the plus side, supporters of SLS and Orion will be pleased to see cuts in those two programs restored. They will also be happy to with NASA’s assurances that these programs are vital to landing astronauts on the lunar surface.

However, legislators have expressed skepticism about landing astronauts on the moon by 2024, which is four years earlier than originally planned.

Members of Congress have also expressed dismay over the proposed $602 million in the Science budget. Even with $90 million restored for lunar science, a reduction of more than $512 million may not sit very well.

It is worth noting that Congress has resisted the Trump Administration’s previous attempts to cut the Earth Science budget. The initial request cuts $151.2 million from that program.

Congress has resisted the Trump Administration’s previous attempts to zero out the STEM Engagement budget.

On Monday, NASA officials said the moon program would inspire students to study STEM subjects. They also said they did not know where the additional money would come from to fund the supplemental appropriation.

Hours later, The Washington Post provided a partial answer: Pell grants that provide tuition assistance to poor students attending colleges and universities.

It will be interesting to see how well that goes over with Congress.

  • Robert G. Oler

    there is Moon 2024 in name only 🙂 its going no where

  • Jeff Smith

    We’ll see… I expect to see the first round of press releases and sound bites this week. Then comes the hearings in the weeks to follow. Some will offer their opinion early on, some will wait to deliver it in person. We’ll know how the committee members react soon enough.

    The President proposes, Congress disposes.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Jeff Bezos entire “show” in my view was based on saying “look at me” in terms of alternate ways if an alternate lunar effort “took hold” in terms of actually trying to do something

    the sad thing is that a lunar effort properly done would 1) give the space station something to do, 2) give private vehicle developers in the US a “customer” while they wait out hoping for some market to develop and 3) focus the US space program

    the problem to me is that right now the entire “industrial complex” has more or elss ground to a halt. SLS is frozen in time, Crewed Dragon is dead for at least a year..Boeing might be moving some…and Jeff’s rocket…I am sure more is going on then we know but zounds it is awfully quiet

  • savuporo

    I’m absolutely howling at everything under science getting cut, EXCEPT JWST which gets a boost.

    Rewarding failure and poor behavior ?

  • Jeff Smith

    If there’s a big contract on the horizon, now is the time to start your marketing campaign. LM at Space Symposium. Now BO in DC itself. The audience is very specific.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Jeff…yes and to me they are both taking interesting approaches…which with a little thought…might push some synergy of design and use

    I am a big critic of Orion but Lockmart I am persuaded has done some pretty solid work in developing the basic systems of the vehicle ie the command and control with the ECLSS which probably are adaptable to just about any vehicle.

    its not hard for me to envision a Bezos landing stage which is initially expendable (or remainable on the lunar surface and maybe refuelable in the future) but couple that with a Lockmart upper/ascent/crew stage which also might be reusable and appear in different forms ie a hab module or a crew vehicle…

    it doesnt also take to much squinting to see a bigelow module on top of Bezos lander

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    This $90 million sounds like payloads for the CLPS landers. The companies probably need a nice promotional video to show clients (space scientists), Congress and the general public.

    The Science budget, which was cut $602 million in the initial request,
    would receive $90 million “to enable increased robotic exploration of
    the Moon’s polar regions in advance of a human mission,” NASA added.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Unforunately JWST is too far along to cut since Congress is a firm believer in the sunk cost fallacy. But it does makes sense to kill future telescopes like the WFIRST until NASA finds a way to keep costs with the budget, or are more honest in their budgeting up front.

  • Luis

    In my view, morph Orion into a reusable in-space shuttle that ferries crews between Earth and moon. Couple that with a refuelable ACES stage.

    Agree that an ascent stage and hab can largely benefit from work already done on Orion.

    The pieces I think are coming into place, if only NASA is allowed to use them wisely.

  • Robert G. Oler

    exactly..its not hard to see several architectures that work as you suggest. a reusable upper stage fueled from earth through the space station…a crew transfer vehicle…etc

    the parts are as you suggest coming together its just a question of someone breaking the political gridlock…

  • mike shupp

    NICE reporting, Doug, and many thanks for providing such detail.

    One possible complication, however, is that Democrats and Republicans may fail to agree on other budget areas — 5 billion dollars for building a wall along the Mexican border, f’rinstance — leading to another federal sequestration. The one before lasted several years, I recall, and I can see this one stretching out to Jan 2021 real easily. And if the NASA budget is frozen for some time with just 1.6 billion/year for Artemis, I think that pretty well kills the Moon-in-2024 idea.

  • Vladislaw

    “Crewed Dragon is dead for at least a year.”

    What insider from Boeing told you this?

  • duheagle

    Generally agree except for the D2 downtime. That isn’t going to last more than 3 – 4 months, tops.

    The best thing about the Artemis program, as it is now called, is that it has shaken up pretty nearly everything having to do with manned spaceflight at NASA. As everything is now up in the air, the possibility exists to move things about so that, when things settle down in a new configuration, that configuration will be a much better one.

  • duheagle

    None, I’m sure. No one at Boeing would know.

    But Boeing has taken most of a year working out its own LAS problems and, to RGO, Boeing is the measure of all things. So if it is taking Boeing a year or more to fix its LAS problem, then it must certainly require at least as much time for the slapdash tribe of wild men at SpaceX to fix their own LAS problem – which in RGO’s estimation is a much worse problem anyway.

  • duheagle

    The name now seems to be Artemis. As to its speed and/or fate, you seem to be singing a rather different tune in some more recent comments above. Different enough that I even mostly agree with you – there, not here.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    The Congressional hearings will be our first indication if Congress buys into a lunar policy. If they do, it might survive the Trump admin.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    It’s probably going to 2028 or 2030.

  • savuporo

    There is township called Moon in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. NASA might make a field trip there by 2024.

    Coincidentally there is also a Mars borough in Butler County, Pennsylvania. I heard certain mr. Musk is doing a field trip there in early 2030ies

  • Jeff Smith

    My bet is the land/ascent vehicle is a gonna be a winner-take-all in the end because it’s complicated and NASA wants it done ‘quickly’ (whatever that ends up meaning in this case). NASA has married companies before on contracts, but only when it HAS to, and even then it’s never smooth (Rocketdyne/Bell on LEM ascent engine, Sunstrand and Playtex on space suits, Rocketdyne and P&W on SSME). On top of that, I bet LM will get the contract this time around. LM is just too good at getting contracts, and their concept uses existing hardware that it’ll be difficult design for NASA to skip on.

    Blue has a solid concept, but so much of it doesn’t exist today: BE-7 development could drag on; they showed a lander, not an ascender; their capsule has never flown IN SPACE; etc. Blue gets some CLPS money, and they can keep developing it. Like it or not, their system will be seen as higher risk and longer to develop. Blue may very well rule the Lunar logistics chain in the long run, but their concept will need lots of development work before it’s really considered finished.

  • Cluebat Vanexodar

    Screw Gateway.
    I hope commercial uses Moon Direct and sells them the iron and titanium they need to build it.

  • The other painless cut to planetary science is the re-hosting of Europa Clipper to a commercial launcher instead of an SLS Block 1. That has to be worth about $1.5B over the next 4-5 years.

  • Paul_Scutts

    This is all, in the Bard’s words, “much ado about nothing” … until … metal is being bent for the Lunar Electric Rovers (LER’s) as conceptually tested in 2009/2010. Rovers, in pairs, that will each support two astronauts for thirty days with Lunar surface rated integrated space suits. Each rover should have a combination of fuel cells/small nuclear fission reactors for continuous (day/night) power generation and can be remotely operated from Earth. Rated at about three metric tons each, they would have to be driven off the Blue Moon lander by way of light weight ramps. IMO, until this starts happening, this talk of human return to the Moon is just smoke and mirror fantasy.

  • savuporo

    Has anyone studied what the cost to Europa Clipper would be, if it was done in say, 3 EELV launches, just to be neutral ? 2 propulsion stages and a spacecraft, docked

  • There have been three trajectory plans, and all of them use a single launch:

    1) Launch with SLS Block 1, straight to Jupiter transfer. Time of flight: 3 years.

    2) Launch with a D4H or FH, then use Venus-Earth-Earth gravity assists: Time of flight: 7.5 years, but with bad thermal problems.

    3) Launch with an expendable FH and a Star 48 kick stage, then use a single Earth gravity assist. Time of flight: less than 6 years (and perihelion that’s far enough out to avoid all kinds of thermal problems).

    Figure $150M for the FH launch, and $40M(?) for the Star 48. Make it a round $200M in launch costs. Last I looked at the budget (which was before all this), if you added up what was likely to be spent FY20-28 for SLS and its ground systems, and divided by the plan of record number of missions, SLS came out to something like $2.2B a pop.

  • savuporo

    and all of them use a single launch

    Thats the problem right there.

    Because every flagship class mission is always so expensive, where launch cost is down in the noise, dual or triple launch architectures should ALWAYS be evaluated

  • ThomasLMatula

    Meanwhile SpaceX is working on its prototypes. Looks like Starhopper is getting for round 2, May 28-30.


    County approves another round of SpaceX road closures
    By Mark Reagan | Staff Writer | Posted
    6 hours ago.

  • duheagle

    If they buy into the Artemis lunar policy, it won’t have to survive the Trump administration at least for the initial one or two missions. If Mike Pence succeeds Trump in office, Artemis would also be good to go for more missions.

  • duheagle

    Nice idea. But the larger Blue Moon could land a pair of these and set them down without ramps – just use a pair of larger center-mounted davits on swivels in place of the four smaller sets around the deck edge.

    A drive train based on cryo-fed fuel cells and Tesla motor technology would be an interesting potential collaboration for Musk and Bezos. Probably won’t happen, though. The SpaceX SHS (Super Heavy-Starship) would allow much bigger vehicles to be landed and a Tesla-SpaceX collaboration on their design and construction would be much easier to arrange.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Actually there won’t be any cuts in Pell Grants to poor students since the $1.6 Billion is coming out of the $9 billion surplus that has accumlated in the Pell Grant program since 2011. So basically President Trump has found a way to fund this without cutting any programs or borrowing more money, but simply using money that has been sitting around for years unspent.

    Yes, a sequestration is very likely so it looks like it will be up to the commercial sector to pull it out. That is probably why Dr. Gerstenmaier discussed in today’s townhall how NASA was going for an open architecture with published standards for the docking interfaces, vehicle atmospheres and other key systems. Open standards will make it easy to integrate private systems like SpaceX and Blue Origin into the mix even if they were not selected in the procurement process originally.

  • savuporo

    JWST has been “too far along” for at least 10 years now. Keeps going like credit card bill that is just too big to even attempt to pay back

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yep. They really should change the name as given his career and focus on getting results I find it hard to see James Webb tolerating a program that was that far behind and over budget if he was running NASA.

  • Sounds great for about ten years from now. Meanwhile, if that’s what’s required to get Europa Clipper to fly, might as well cancel it and start over, because it’s not going to conform to that architecture.

    Cancelling it might indeed be the right course. But it’s not currently the plan.

  • windbourne

    He makes things up.

  • windbourne

    why would you use Orion for that? The very idea of that is ghoulish.
    A BA-330 weighs about double that of Orion and could easily support 12 ppl going to/back from the moon.
    The Orion has a volume of less than 10 m^3 while the BA-330 is well, 330 m^3.

  • windbourne

    As some of you blast this, I agree that NASA’s plan will likely NOT get us to the moon. In fact, I suspect that all of this will be canceled by 2021, if not 2020.
    The fact is, we are about to waste billions more going to Boeing, L-Mart, ULA, etc, and yet, before these companies even start laying metal, SX will have their first prototype into orbit.

  • Robert G. Oler

    30 years experience in the industry and 22 years as a test pilot

    no one is going to feel safe in that vehicle for a awhile

    would you?

  • Robert G. Oler


  • Robert G. Oler

    Jeff…maybe…the problem is that a “descent vehicle” in particular is likely to have to work with a “lot” of different company payloads…and the smart thing would be to treat it not as a vehicle…but as a rocket stage in concert with say a long lived upper stage …to make all this work in a given time span

    LM will get something particularly if Orion dies…but I have come to be impressed with some of the work on the systems they have done with Orion.

  • Robert G. Oler

    they need to get their capsule to stop blowing up

  • therealdmt

    I’d much rather stick with WFIRST and kill James Webb (so to speak!).

    As you say though, Congress is definitely a believer in sunk costs

  • savuporo

    Not sure why ten years from now is any different. We have been docking things on orbit since Gemini-Agena

  • windbourne

    and yet, if SX/NASA said that D2 was ready to fly in, I would do it.
    I have no doubt that when SX/NASA says that they are ready, then it will be safe.

  • windbourne

    well, before claiming that it will not last 3-4 months, lets see what is going on.
    If they had enough sensors around and can pinpoint to the problem, then yeah, a couple of months.
    BUT, if they did not have a sensor in the fault area, then it could be a long time.

  • therealdmt

    Well, the country is pretty evenly divided. Trump may well not be re-elected. Of course he may, but he may not. And speaking of may, it’s now May 14, 2019 and the election is in 17 months, 21 days.

    The 2020 budget, congressional buy-in or no, is unlikely to signed into law on time (i.e., a continuing resolution can be expected, and even a shut down would hardly be unprecedented). Last time around, the 2019 budget finally came into effect in mid-February. The year before that, the 2018 budget bill was signed in late March of 2018. A repeat of that kind of schedule would give the new budget about 7 months or so to be in force before the next election. A program that’s been funded for only 7 months would hardly be unkillable for a new president (and, in such case, likely new Senate majority) with his/her own priorities to enact.

    Basically, Trump, elected back in fall of 2016, is proposing this pretty late in his first term. However, a Moon return has been a general US objective for a long time. Accordingly, if there were to be a change in administration, I’d anticipate more of a re-scheduling (perhaps back to 2028 unless there seems to be serious competitive pressure from the Chinese) and rejiggering than an outright cancellation. And perhaps yet another re-branding, lol.

    Serious progress on Starship (and/or possibly New Glenn & Blue Moon) could give cause for a major re-think though

  • therealdmt

    First, good point about the Pell grants — nobody seems to be seeing that this is money that isn’t even being spent. There’s no cuts to recipients involved. I don’t like the coverage on this as it makes it seem like NASA is taking away money from underprivileged people. It’s a bad look for NASA in terms of it being able to maintain broad bipartisan support.

    Meanwhile, regarding the overall NASA budget, Doug is merely stating that the President’s proposed NASA budget contained cuts to various programs, and then he’s making a supplemental request for more money for a specific program over that previous budget request.

    But the thing is, the previous budget request was never going to be passed into law by Congress. It was merely a starting point, and they (Congress) were always going to add back in the Earth Science sats, WFIRST and the STEM Engagement, plus of course boost the numbers for SLS and Orion. So, ignoring SLS and Orion for the moment, NASA’s 2020 budget was likely to be larger than the president requested, and now he’s requesting a new program on top of THAT. $1.6 billion doesn’t seem like so much, but it’s 1.6 over a starting point that was only imaginary. Once you figure in a more realistic starting point before Artemis, the cost involved starts to add up

    Hmm. Tough choices may have to be made on other programs within NASA (like WFIRST) that Congress previously had no intention of cutting. Or they could just partially fund the effort and say 2026 would be a more reasonable goal, something like that. Or kill it. I think Congress might go about 3/4ths in?

    What do you think?

  • Robert G. Oler

    I think NASA is thinking about that…right now

    they more or less said that D2 was safe to fly when it went up to the space station…had it blown up there….

  • Robert G. Oler

    taken together with the Amos 6 failure…its clear that just about any part of SpaceX systems can fail catastrophically at any time and they will call it “testing” sigh

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, although the mass is the same the lower gravity on the Moon makes the use of davits very practical.

  • Vladislaw

    Just like no one is going to feel safe in a Boeing airplane after those two went down. Or no one will feel safe in a vehicle type that goes up in flames .. or a boat that sinks on and on and on .. .

    guess what .. people feel safe no matter how many times people die in mechanical transportation.

  • Robert G. Oler

    as soon as the FAA clears the airplane for flight, it will be flooded with passengers

    You dont get it I think …

    SpaceX has now lost three vehicles…catastrophically on “things” that they claimed were OK…ie that there was supposdly no known issue with

    all under their vaunted “automated” systems

    the Max was lost due to equipment failure that the pilots failed to handle properly

    there is massive difference. SpaceX issue is more like the Comet