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House Subcommittee Boosts NASA Budget, Ignores Supplemental Request

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
May 20, 2019
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Astronauts on a future lunar walk. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The House commerce, justice and science subcommittee approved a fiscal year 2020 budget for NASA that increases the space agency’s budget while ignoring a $1.6 billion supplemental budget request from the Trump Administration that NASA says is required to land astronauts on the south pole of the moon in 2024.

The House measure would boost NASA’s budget from $21.5 billion to $22.32 billion, an increase of $820 million. The amount is below the Trump Administration’s total request of $22.62 million for fiscal year 2020 (FY 2020). That would be an increase of $1.1 billion over NASA’s current budget.

In March, the administration proposed cutting the space agency’s budget by $488 million to just over $21 million. Last week, the administration requested an additional $1.6 billion in order to move up the moon landing by four years from 2028 to 2004.

The table below shows a comparison of the different proposed budgets.  Funding levels for a number of programs are not yet clear.

(In Thousands of Dollars)
EXPLORATION 5,050,800 5,021,700 6,396,400  5,129,900
Space Launch System 2,150,000 1,775,400 2,450,000
Orion 1,350,000 1,266,200  1,425,000
Exploration R&D 958,000 1,580,000 962,100
— Lunar Orbital Platform 450,000 821,400 500,400
— Human Research 145,000 140,000
— Advanced Cislunar and Surface Capabilities 116,500 363,000
Exploration Ground Systems 592,800 400,100 592,800
Space Operations 4,639,100 4,285,700
— Commercial ISS and Low Earth Orbit Activities 40,000 150,000
SCIENCE 6,905,700 6,303,700 6,393,700 7,161,300
— Planetary Science 2,758,500 2,622,100 2,712,100
— Earth Science 1,931,000 1,779,800 1,779,800  2,000,000+
— Astrophysics 1,191,600 844,800 844,800
— James Webb Space Telescope 304,600 352,600 352,600
— Heliophysics 720,000 704,500 704,500
926,900 1,014,300 1,146,300 1,291,600
AERONAUTICS 725,000 666,900 666,900 700,000
STEM ENGAGEMENT (Previously Education) 110,000 0 0 123,000
2,755,000 3,084,600 3,084,600 3,084,600
348,200 600,400 600,400 497,200
39,300 41,700 41,700 41,700
TOTALS: 21,500,000 21,019,000 22,619,000 22,320,000

The House measure provides $5.1 billion for exploration programs, far below the nearly $6.4 billion requested by the Administration to accelerate the moon landing.

Legislators boosted funding for the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft. In its original request, the Administration had proposed $650.6 million cuts in both programs and the Exploration Ground Systems that support them.

The Administration’s supplemental request includes $651 million to restore cuts to SLS and Orion. However, it did not give a breakdown of how that funding would be divided between the programs.

The Administration had proposed cutting funding for Exploration Ground Systems to $400.1 million in order to to shift funding to other priorities. It’s not clear whether any of that money is restored in the supplemental request. The House legislation keeps funding  for the program steady at $592.8 million.

House appropriators rejected the Administration’s plan to boost the Exploration Research and Development budget by $662 million to $1.58 billion. They instead provided a $4.1 million increase to $962.1 million.

Legislators also boosted the Science budget by $255.6 million to $7.16 billion. The Administration’s original and supplemental requests would provide $6.39 billion, a reduction of $512 million below the current budget.

The House measure includes $592.6 million for a spacecraft that will orbit Jupiter’s moon Europa, but no funding for a subsequent lander. The legislation requires that NASA launch both missions using SIS. The Administration wants to use cheaper commercial launch vehicles.

Legislators boosted the Space Technology budget by $145.3 million to $1.29 billion. The measure provides $180 million for the RESTORE-L satellite servicing mission that will refuel the aging Landsat 7 Earth imaging satellite. The committee also included $125 million for the development of nuclear thermal propulsion technologies.

The House subcommittee also rejected the Administration’s request to zero out NASA’s $110 million STEM Engagement program. The legislation would boost spending on the program to $123 million.

At first glance, it appears that the Democratic-led House is more comfortable with a slower approach to returning astronauts to the moon. Legislators have been skeptical about the need to accelerate the program by four years.

However, it is worth noting that the administration’s $1.6 billion supplemental request came only days before the subcommittee’s markup of the bill. House Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said the supplemental request contained far too little information for legislators to act.

“While I am a supporter of challenging human space exploration endeavors that can take us to the Moon and eventually to Mars, based on the limited information provided to Congress it is impossible to judge the merits of the President’s budget amendment,” Johnson said in a statement.

“We don’t know how much money will be required in total to meet the arbitrary 2024 Moon landing deadline or how that money will be spent,” she added. “We don’t know how much additional money will subsequently be required to turn the crash program to get astronauts to the Moon by 2024 into a sustainable exploration program that will lead to Mars. And we don’t know what NASA’s technical plan for its lunar program is.”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the space agency is developing a budget and a roadmap for the accelerated lunar program.

The budget numbers are subject to change as the legislation works its way through the House Science Committee. and the full House. The Republican Senate, which is more supportive of the president’s priorities, has not weighed in on NASA’s budget yet.

5 responses to “House Subcommittee Boosts NASA Budget, Ignores Supplemental Request”

  1. Andrew_M_Swallow says:

    Not including the $1.6 billion supplemental budget request feels finishing the jobs you are working on before starting a new one. The Committee now has a baseline to start from. It was also too early to add in the extra money because NASA is still working out what it is going to do.

    • duheagle says:

      It’s certainly true that NASA is making Artemis up as it goes along. Even so, I think the process of shaking down the Artemis program and budget estimate will get done more quickly than Congress will pass an FY 2020 budget – if it ever does.

  2. MzUnGu says:

    Geezzz…What you know. You should vote Republicans if you want more aerospace dollars. LOL

  3. duheagle says:

    Given the hyper-partisan craziness of the Dem House, this was entirely predictable. But the Senate gets a say too. Then it goes to conference where the real budget gets hashed out – assuming that a new actual budget, and not a continuing resolution, is even possible. This process has a long way to go yet.

  4. voronwae says:

    I kind of feel as if in a few years, assuming we fund several years of studies and finally arrive at a careful decision to choose either LockMart or Boeing to build a lander, we’ll be faced with a choice of going forward with a $15B lander versus the parallel missions of Blue Origin and SpaceX and whatever other lander choices exist in a few years.

    Then we’ll decide we need to keep funding this $15B lander up to $20B, because this one, after all, was designed to go all the way to the lunar surface, versus those commercial landers which were only designed to go as far as the lunar surface.

    And the unexpected extra weight of this lander will require an enhanced version of the SLS EUS, plus a new TLI stage, which will need careful study…

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