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

    I dont even think it makes it to then

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, it is just the typical Boeing PR effort to make themselves look perfect. For example Boeing is now saying all four of the their drop tests were successfully. Note that SpaceX, with nearly a decade of actual expereience recoverying capsules from space by parachutes, has done 19 drop tests to date.


    Parachute development a challenge for commercial crew
    by Jeff Foust
    May 12, 201

    “Boeing’s statement that all its parachute tests were successful seemed to be at odds with comments from others. Gerstenmaier, speaking with a couple reporters after the May 8 hearing, was asked if Boeing had also suffered anomalies in its parachute testing program. He said they had, but didn’t discuss specific events.”

  • ThomasLMatula

    By the time any humans fly in it SpaceX will have tested most of the bugs out of it.

    By contrast Boeing is planning to fly humans in their Starliner after only 5 parachute drop tests, a single pad abort test (no launch abort test) and a single demostration flight in which they are not only testing their capsule,but a brand new dual engine upper stage for the Atlas V. Given this is Boeing’s first capsule you have to wonder what bugs are hiding in it that their simulations won’t root out.

  • ThomasLMatula

    The pilots from American Airlines didn’t seem to see it that way.


    Audio reveals pilots angrily confronting Boeing about 737 Max feature before second deadly crash

    By Jason Hanna and Gregory Wallace, CNN
    Updated 9:32 AM ET, Wed May 15, 2019

    “The pilots indicated they weren’t aware of the 737 Max’s computerized stability program — the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS.

    “We flat out deserve to know what is on our airplanes,” a pilot is heard saying.”

    “I don’t know that understanding this system would have changed the outcome of this,” the Boeing official says. “In a million miles you’re going to maybe fly this airplane, and maybe once you’re going to see this ever.”

    and there is this…

    “Boeing did not perform a flight test of a scenario where the system malfunctioned, CNN has reported.”

  • Robert G. Oler

    By the time any humans fly in it SpaceX will have tested most of the bugs out of it.”

    hopefully all the ones that cause it to go bang

    “By contrast Boeing is planning to fly humans in their Starliner after only 5 parachute drop tests”

    something that is showing no wiff of problems

    its actually a pretty conservative design…its essentially an Apollo CM upgraded

  • Robert G. Oler

    actually my boss at Boeing was the guy who is on the tape.

    I’ve heard the entire tape sometime ago 🙂

    lets start here

    “”Boeing did not perform a flight test of a scenario where the system malfunctioned, CNN has reported.”

    thats not true. or its partially true

    Boeing never performed a test where 1) the stab trim cutout switches were not switched off…that is the checklist item…ie they tried to fly the airplane with the MCAS continually trying to correct for a non existant stall warning brought on by an equipment failure…nor did they continue to try and fly the airplane with the switches left off and the airplane at “climb power” and accelerating

    why would they do that? both are catastrophic

    “”The pilots indicated they weren’t aware of the 737 Max’s computerized

    stability program — the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation

    System, or MCAS.”

    OK then 1) they didnt read either their FCOM or 2) do the IPAD training program. I have AA’s FCOM and I have the same IPAD training program that they have

    its clearly mentioned, its clearly described and it is clearly covered as a malfunction ALONG with SPEED TRIM, MACH TRIM and switch failure.

    an average line pilot would not be able in the time given to decide which had failed…Mach trim, speed trim MCAS or the trim system itself

    “”I don’t know that understanding this system would have changed the
    outcome of this,” the Boeing official says. “In a million miles you’re
    going to maybe fly this airplane, and maybe once you’re going to see
    this ever.”

    a statement I (and by the way the technical pilots at ALPA) agree with

    being able to figure out if it was speed Trim, Mach trim, MCAS or the trim system itself failure…would mot have changed the outcome of either accident.


  • Robert G. Oler

    it is a much worse problem…their capsule is in small pieces now ie it destroyed the vehicle

  • Robert Sutton

    And of course we know what else is in Allegheny and what fell on Mars

  • Robert Sutton

    Well does this mean it will run a

    It might need some magic.

  • Robert Sutton

    Watching the presentation I couldn’t help but feel that the military way might fall by the way
    But then I thought of the Truth

  • mike shupp

    Main thing is, you probably don’t chop 4 years off a major manned space program with 1.6 billion bucks per year. In the context of the federal budget, that’s chump change — and if that kind of spending increase might have had a measurable impact, I think both the Bush and Obama administrations would have coughed up the money. Neither did, nor did Congress, which has had plenty of time to listen to NASA bigwigs opining on budgets and schedules.

    Given that, I don’t see Artemis as a serious proposal. I think at best, it’ll boil down to sending a couple of astronauts on a single lunar flyby, a la Apollo 8, with no nonsense about a “lunar gateway” or even “flags and footsteps on the Moon” redux. I don’t see a lunar base on the other side of this, not even by 2028, I don’t see making rocket propellant from the water at the Moon’s south pole or any other form of ISRU, I don’t see expeditions to Mars or human expansion throughout the cosmos. Not from this.

  • windbourne

    i would not say that SLS costs are in the noise. Far too expensive.
    And yes, multiple launches from say an FH makes perfect sense.

  • windbourne

    technically, FAA cleared it for flight, already. Now, they have to re-clear it (and hopefully this time, they are the ones doing it, not a Boeing-hired DER).

  • windbourne

    when AA pilots 30,000-40,000+ hrs, are coming to the manufacturer and saying that something is wrong with the aircraft, a smart manager would listen.

  • Robert G. Oler

    not so much no

  • Robert G. Oler

    no one at AA who has that amount of time is flying the Max …at min maybe 8000 hoursmax 12000 then they move on to larger iron…

    sorry I have 33000 hours and about 12000 Test flying everything from Mach 2 plus Tomcats to the STS Gulfstream trainer, the vomet comet and test on the B737, B767 and B777

    sorry …. you are wrong on almost everything 🙂 Robert rated in every Boeing flying but the B747 and a test pilot in all of them…grow up

  • savuporo

    SLS hasnt launched any flagship missions, has it ? Historically, for almost every flagship class mission the launch costs have been less than 10%

  • Robert G. Oler

    also I have flown the CST 100 full flight sim… its a Boeing…no problems

  • windbourne

    There are plenty of right seats loaded with guys that are ex military and have 30-40K and even 50K hrs, but who are too old to fly left ( per FAA ).
    You obviously do not understand what is going on with the commercial world.
    Again, you are wrong, like always.

  • windbourne

    also I have flown the CST 100 full flight sim… its a Boeing…no problems


  • windbourne

    FAA turned over the testing and approval to the airlines. THAT was the mistake esp with the MBA idiots that are now in charge at Boeing.
    Boeing hired several DERs who approved all this under pressure from ppl like your boss (you know, the one on the tape?).

    Had FAA NOT turned it over, and simply did the RIGHT THING, then this would never have happened.

    So, yeah, very much.

  • windbourne

    historically, we have never paid 2-3B for a sat launch, except on the shuttle launches (such as for the hubble).

  • Robert G. Oler

    LOL none of that is accurate

    come on dont be stupid

  • Robert G. Oler


    you dont have a clue what you are talking about

    use your brain

  • duheagle

    Yes. A bit like some Nevada cathouse owner naming his establishment after Billy Graham.

  • duheagle

    Closely followed by their second prototype, which, it was just revealed yesterday, is also under construction, but in FL rather than TX.

  • duheagle

    Once SpaceX finishes sorting out the issue that led to the explosion, sure.

    Now getting on a 737 MAX on the other hand…

  • duheagle

    Boeing was more fortunate than anything else that it did not precede SpaceX in the shredding of a capsule prototype. Hypergolic propellant spills don’t generally end so benignly.

    But I am confident both teams will find and fix their erstwhile unsuspected issues – SpaceX with its accustomed dispatch, and Boeing with its accustomed delays.

  • Paul_Scutts

    Thanks for your reply, Richard. My concern, re Blue Moon use, is not the weight, it’s the necessary dimensions of the LER’s. Being portable habitats, they are quite long and I’m guessing that they would considerably overhang the BM table tops. That would mean that they would have to be positioned upon the tops prior to descent and then the problem of getting them off after landing. However, they are all very clever people and I’m sure something could be worked out. The real problem dynamic in all of this is time. Regards, Paul.

  • duheagle

    Exactly like the Comet. Later versions of Comet worked well and had long service lives. But Comet’s initial lead in jet transport was lost to the early failures. Given that SpaceX is competing against today’s sclerotic Boeing and not the vigorous Boeing of the Dash 80 era, that particular aspect of Comet’s history is probably not in the cards for a replay. If D2 has a relatively short service life it will be because SHS renders it redundant, not because all-conquering Boeing sweeps all before it.

  • windbourne

    Wow. Are you ever ignorant of what is happening.

  • duheagle

    You probably shouldn’t have read Finnegan’s Wake in high school.

  • duheagle

    I think eliminating the deck and just providing cradles for the wheels – plus any necessary bracing if these, as you seem to suggest, would overhang the normal deck boundaries, would be a fairly cheap and easy customization to do. Might even save enough overall mass to allow for modestly higher mass for the rovers. Ditto the pair of larger davits in place of eight smaller ones.

  • Robert G. Oler

    wrong quote…that was Admiral Radford…he was managing war procurement..and did an amazing job of it…he stopped things like the MOntana class BB’s, about jet fighters he remarked (loosely) “the next war this war will be won with Piston engines”, rockets samething

    he recovered from that mistake…he was the second chairman of the JCS.

    come on do better

    as for the rest of it…you have the same problem no real information

  • Robert G. Oler

    on what the Max? sorry no I am part of the folks who will sign off on it returning to flight.

    on the other hand you are a mouse roaring 🙂

  • Robert G. Oler

    if St. Elon cannot make D2 work..the odds on any future projects are thin

  • duheagle

    SpaceX can walk and chew gum at the same time. Given the number and variety of their recent misadventures, however, I”d say it’s now an open question as to whether Boeing can even walk.

  • windbourne


    Reports about the plane’s certification have revealed a process in which Boeing, not the regulator, was calling many of the shots, and self-certifying the safety of many features.

    Plenty more where that came from.

  • windbourne

    Oh, so you work for FAA or perhaps EASA?
    I could have sworn that you work for/with Boeing.

  • duheagle

    And when SpaceX fixes D2, what, I wonder, will be your next complaint? I take it as a matter of certitude that you will have one.

  • duheagle

    Actually, it seems we both misremembered. The quote was, “The bomb will never go off. I speak as an expert in explosives.” The speaker was Adm. William D. Leahy who had been CNO before Adm. King and who was Franklin Roosevelt’s Chief of Staff during WW2.

    The point was that long experience is not relevant when it doesn’t bear on the issue at hand.

    As for information, I have the same info you do. Neither of us knows the actual etiology of the D2 explosion. For no obvious reason, you have chosen to believe the D2 explosion renders the whole capsule perpetually suspect and that SpaceX is incapable of finding its cause and fixing it in a reasonable period of time. I, on the other hand, look at SpaceX’s record in chasing down and fixing the causes of previous failures going all the way back to the F1 era and see zero reason to expect anything different anent this latest incident.

  • duheagle

    That’s actually SOP at the FAA. The agency always relies heavily on manufacturer technical personnel in doing its certifications because the FAA, itself, lacks both the breadth of expertise and even suitable numbers on its technical staff to do this work on its own. People who have gone to the trouble and expense of getting an aerospace engineering education seem, for some reason, to actually want to design things, not vet the designs done by others. Go figure.

  • duheagle

    I don’t recall SpaceX calling the Amos-6 mishap “testing.” The propellant loading procedure in place at the time of Amos-6 had been tested many times and had always previously worked. Amos-6 happened when the procedure was being used operationally.

    The D2 explosion, though, definitely occurred during a test. Or do you actually dispute that?

  • duheagle

    Given that the D2, while at ISS, had not yet experienced an ocean recovery, was not subject to brutal vibration and didn’t have its LAS activated, that’s a what-if that doesn’t seem to have much plausibility. Certainly massively less than the what-if of Starliner exploding after its own failed LAS test.

  • duheagle

    SpaceX massively instruments its test articles and even its operational missions have thousands of telemetry channels. That’s how both the CRS-7 and Amos-6 problems were run to ground and both those incidents happened during operations, not testing.

    If, in the massively improbable case of SpaceX not having sufficient data from the failed D2 test to accurately pinpoint the failure’s cause, I think the company would simply pick the next D2 off the line, add even more instrumentation and re-run the test. If a second explosion occurred, that would implicate the vibration level as the external cause and allow a better shot at nailing down the internal vibration sensitivity that was the internal cause of the failure. If no second explosion occurred, that would implicate possible seawater incursion from the recovery process – perhaps in synergistic combination with the vibration – and lead the investigation in a different direction or directions. In no case do I see SpaceX letting unnecessary grass grow under its feet in running the D2 problem to ground.

  • Emmet Ford

    Actually, that’s a lot more plausible. I’m sure most Nevada cat house owners are evangelicals.

  • duheagle

    The country has been pretty evenly divided, but I think Trump’s greatest assistance in getting re-elected is going to be the Democrats’ multiple unforced errors that will have the effect of moving the American electorate toward Trump by more than enough to secure a second term.

    A previous such error of fairly longstanding was the Democrats’ effective abandonment of what was once the biggest component of its electoral support, blue-collar workers. It took awhile but these folks finally got the message very clearly that the coastal elites who now dominate the Democratic Party have nothing but scorn and contempt for people who lack college degrees and work in skilled trades. This “Anbar Awakening” across the upper midwest was the largest single contributor to Trump’s 2016 victory.

    Another error was the attempted coup by senior Obama-era FBI and intelligence agency people via the whole cooked-up Russian collusion fabrication and subsequent lawfare campaign. The DNC and much of the media rode that horse far enough to get the House back, but not a lot else. In the wake of the implosion occasioned by the nothing-burger Mueller Report, a lot of the most flagrant media tub-thumpers for this pernicious nonsense have seen their ratings tumble to community access cable levels.

    As fresh investigations of all the actual wrongdoing indulged by anti-Trump partisans within the Deep State get underway by DOJ and FBI people who are not abject toadies to the Democratic Party and the Clinton and Obama machines, the media wind will turn against a whole host of people who were formerly portrayed as good guys but will now be seen to be treasonous weasels. Much of the mainstream press will vigorously resist this, of course, but their credibility has taken a huge hit.

    As you note, the election is a year and a half away. Plenty of time for CNN’s and MSNBC’s former alleged gallery of heroes to be proven the devious snakes they were and are. This isn’t going to help any of the notional Democratic candidates for the party’s 2020 nomination as all have been enthusiastic cheerleaders for the whole sordid process.

    Another problem is the uncompromising open borders policy being pursued by the Democrats. A lot of black people were, and are, leery of Trump, but he still managed to get 8% of the black vote in 2016 including 13% of the black male vote.

    After a mere two years of rational economic policy and a renewed push to control U.S. borders, blacks are now enjoying the lowest unemployment rate they have had in decades. There are even organized movements among blacks, like Candace Owens’s Blexit, to peel blacks away from their former monolithic support of the Democratic Party.

    Blacks have understood for a long time that illegal immigration has been the biggest single driver of their high unemployment rates of recent decades. But for most of that time, voting Republican was no solution because past Republican candidates were all members of the Bi-Partisan Cheap Labor Caucus.

    Trump isn’t. I think Trump will roughly double his black support in 2020 compared to 2016. If Republicans can continue to peel away black support from Democrats, the Democratic Party will be effectively unable to ever again win the U.S. Presidency. Its ability to prevail even in its long-time coastal and urban fastnesses will also be compromised.

    Nor are U.S. citizens of Hispanic extraction fatally put off by Trump’s anti-illegal immigrant stance. He got more votes from Hispanics in 2016 than Mitt Romney did in 2012. Citizen Hispanics suffer disproportionately from illegal immigration almost as badly as do blacks.

    One more problem is the headlong gallop to the socialist left and the seeming disinclination of the freshly Democratic House to do anything but continue to indulge fantasies of bringing Trump down over imagined transgressions Robert Mueller failed to find during better than two years of hard looking.

    The obsessive-compulsive “Get Trump” stuff is already polling poorly and it is only likely to get worse as the hapless Pelosi has obviously lost any semblance of control over her increasingly crazed caucus.

    Then there is Climate Change (TM) hysteria. Most of the current crop of Dem presidential wannabes endorsed the Green New Deal, for example. That is not going to play well among ordinary Americans once they see the pile of cowflops that is actually inside the attractive wrappings.

    In short, I think Trump is all but a lock for re-election. I also think the Democrats are likely to lose the House again.

    So what does all that mean for the Artemis program? If the Dems lose the House, Trump, post-2020, doesn’t have to worry about reflexive Democratic opposition, just opposition in his own party based on the usual amount of parochial pork-grubbing.

    Also by Jan. 2021, the Falcon Heavy will have flown a few more times and the SpaceX SHS and Blue Origin New Glenn will likely have made their orbital debuts as well.

    SLS, I strongly suspect, will not have done so. The forces of reaction in both the Republican Congressional delegation, the legacy contractor companies and within NASA will, I think waste the next 18 months trying to salvage their business-as-usual slow-walk of SLS and anything else notionally Moon-related in the hope that Trump, Pence and Bridenstine will all be gone in 2021.

    By the time this hope is definitively dashed, the “Program of Record” will be too far behind the 8-ball to have any prayer of making the 2024 deadline. The private sector, in the meantime, will have put all sorts of new facts on the ground – and in orbit – so that cancellation of SLS will become politically feasible and a move to an all- or mostly-commercial-based Artemis program can proceed.

  • duheagle

    We part company on that one. Are you also under the impression that most bar owners are Mormons, most abortion clinics are owned by Catholics, most hog farmers are Muslims and most cattle ranchers are Hindus?

  • windbourne

    oh, we are in agreement. I do not think that this will last long. I’m simply saying that it is POSSIBLE for this to go longer than 3-4 months.

    But, personally, I have been impressed with Tesla’s QA since their first launch, combined with their test instrumentation. They must have sensors EVERYWHERE. That is the only way that they could have figured out CRS-7/Amos so quickly.

  • duheagle

    SpaceX, not Tesla.

    But, yes, SpaceX’s QA has always been good and has only gotten better in the wake of each failure. But what SpaceX has also clearly gotten better at over the years is figuring out where off-nominal results come from. I don’t expect the D2 explosion to cause any break in this pattern.