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A Closer Look at NASA’s FY 2018 Budget

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
March 23, 2018
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by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Despite a last minute threat of a veto, President Donald Trump signed an $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill on Friday that boosts NASA spending by about $1.1 billion to $20.7 billion.

So, with the fiscal year nearly half over, let’s take a closer look at NASA’s FY 2018 budget, which the Administration had tried to cut. The table below lays out the numbers from the omnibus bill, the Administration’s request and the FY 2017 budget.

NASA FY BUDGET (thousands of dollars)
Human Exploration & Operation 4,184,000 3,934,100  4,790,000 855,900
  — Orion 1,330,000 1,186,000 1,350,000 164,000
  — Space Launch System 2,127,100 1,937,800 2,150,000 212,200
  — Exploration Ground Systems 471,900 460,400 545,000 84,600
  — Second Mobile Launch Platform N/A N/A 350,000 350,000
  — Exploration R&D 157,200 350,000 395,000 45,000
Space Operations 4,942,500 4,740,800 4,751,500 10,700
Science 5,762,200 5,711,800  6,221,500 509,700
  — Earth Science 1,907,700 1,754,100 $1,921,000 166,900
  –Planetary Science 1,827,500 1,929,500 2,227,900 298,400
  –Astrophysics 1,352,300 816,700 850,400 33,700
  –James Webb Space Telescope 569,400 533,700 533,700 0
  –Heliophysics 674,700 677,800 688,500 10,700
Space Technology 826,500 678,600 760,000  81,400
Aeronautics 656,000 624,000 685,000 61,000
Education  100,000 37,300 100,000 62,700
Safety, Security and Mission Services 2,768,600  2,830,200 2,826,900   (3,300)
Construction and Environmental Compliance and Restoration:   375,600 496,100  562,240  66,140
Office of Inspector General 37,900 39,300  39,000  (300)
TOTALS: 19,653,300  19,092,200  20,736,140 1,643,940

The omnibus bill boosts NASA’s by just under $1.1 billion over the FY 2017 level. The total is $1.64 billion more than what the Trump Administration requested for this fiscal year.

Human Exploration & Operation

Artist’s conception of Space Launch System in Vehicle Assembly Building (Credit: NASA)

These programs get an increase of $606 million over FY 2017 and $855.9 million over the president’s request.

The SLS and Orion programs are seeing slight increases over FY 2017. The measure comes with the stipulation that SLS have a lift capability of not less than 130 metric tons. It also stipulates that at least  $300 million of the SLS budget will be spent on Exploration Upper Stage development.

which shall have a lift capability not less than 130 metric tons and which shall have core elements and an Exploration Upper Stage developed simultaneously:

The largest increase in human exploration is for Exploration Ground Systems. The omnibus bill provides $895 million, including $350 million the Administration did not request for the construction of a second mobile launch platform.

The additional funding “will enable an acceleration in the launch schedule for Exploration Mission-2,” according to a House budget document. “The funds also will allow flexibility for future NASA and other Federal agency missions that will require heavy-lift capabilities beyond those of current launch vehicles as well as enable a sustainable Space Launch System (SLS) launch cadence.”

Exploration research and development also receives a boost from $157.2 million in FY 2017 to $395 million in the omnibus bill. The amount is $45 million more than the administration’s request.

Space Operations

The omibus measure cuts spending for ISS, commercial crew, and related programs from $4.94 billion to $4.75 billion. Budget documents do not provide an explanation for the reduction or a breakdown of spending for individual programs.

Space Technology

Space Technology is receiving $760 million, which is $66.5 million less than in FY 2016 and 81.4 million more than requested. Key programs being funded under this budget include:

  • $130 million for RESTORE-L satellite servicing mission;
  • $75 million for nuclear thermal propulsion work;
  • $25 million is for additive manufacturing research;
  • $20 million is for the Flight Opportunities Program; and,
  • $5 million for innovative nano-materials work.


This artist’s rendering shows a concept for a future NASA mission to Europa in which a spacecraft would make multiple close flybys of the icy Jovian moon, thought to contain a global subsurface ocean. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The Science budget get boosted by a half billion dollars over the president’s request to $6.2 billion. Nearly $300 million of the increase comes in the Planetary Science budget. Budget documents included the following breakdown for planetary missions:

  • $660 million for Mars programs;
  • $595 million for the Europa Clipper orbiter and lander;
  • $335.8 million for the Discovery program;
  • $90 million for the New Frontiers program;
  • $66 million for Near Earth Object observations;
  • $35 million is for Near-Earth Object Camera (NEOCam); and,
  • $23 million for Mars helicopter technology demonstration activity.

The law stipulates that NASA launch the Europa orbital mission no later than 2022, followed two years later by the Europa lander. Both missions must be launched on SLS vehicles.

Congress rejected the Administration’s proposal to cut the Earth Science budget and cancel five missions.  Instead, NASA has received a modest $13.3 million increase and four of the five missions were funded. The law funds the follow missions:

  • $175.8 million for LandSat 9;
  • $147 million for the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, and ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission;
  • $55.4 million for  the NASA-Indian Space Research Organization Synthetic Aperture Radar Mission;
  • $17 million for the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) Pathfinder;
  • $9.7 million to launch the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3); and,
  • $1.7 million for the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR).

The fifth mission the Trump Administration proposed cancelling was the Radiation Budget Instrument (RBI), which was to have flown aboard Joint Polar Satellite System-2 (JPSS-2) satellite. NASA elected to remove RBI from the spacecraft due to cost and schedule issues.

“NASA is directed to preserve the significant investment made to date when closing out the program and to retain appropriate options to utilize the instrument in the future,” the House document states. “Further, NASA shall report to the Congress within 180 days of the enactment of this Act on plans to ensure the collection of energy budget data beyond the JPSS-1 Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) instrument.”

The law provides $150 million for the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) mission. The Trump Administration has proposed canceling WFIRST as part of its FY 2019 budget it proposed last month.

Legislators also provided $98.3 million for the Hubble Space Telescope, $85.2 million for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) program, and an additional $15 million for exoplanet discovery technology development.


Congress ignored the Trump Administration’s proposal to close down the NASA Education program. Legislators kept the budget flat at $100 million, which breaks down as follows:

  • $40,000,000 for Space Grant;
  • $32,000,000 for the Minority University Research and Education Project;
  • $18,000,000 for the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research; and,
  • $10,000,000 for STEM Education and Accountability Projects.