Revised Senate Bill Kinder to Commercial Space, R&D Efforts Than Original Draft

I found a copy of the revised Senate authorization bill for NASA that is  dated July 20.  The commercial and technology development programs are better funded than in the original draft of the bill, although the figures still fall below what the Obama Administration proposed.

Relevant budget lines from the REVISED bill:

Exploration, $3,868,000,000

  • Orion Program: $1.12 billion for a multipurpose crew vehicle, and associated program and other necessary support;
  • Heavy-lift Vehicle: $1.63 billion for Space Launch System and associated program and other necessary support; (not in President’s budget request)
  • Commercial Cargo: $300 million (President’s request: $312 million)
  • Commercial Crew: $312 million (President’s request: $500 million)
  • Exploration Technology Development: $250 million (President’s request: $1.2 billion, with $652 million for technology demonstrations and $559 million for heavy-lift and propulsion development; )
  • Human Research: $155 million (President’s request: $215 million)
  • Robotic Precursor Studies and Instruments: $100 million (President’s request: $125 million)

Aeronautics – $929.6 million

  • Aeronautics: $579.6 million
  • Space Technology: $350 million (President’s request: $572 million)

As you can see, the Senate bill would fund commercial cargo at nearly the amount requested. This would allow additional funding to be provided to SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation, which are building new rockets and freighter to send supplies to the International Space Station.

The commercial crew budget gets $300 million, less than the half billion dollars proposed by the Administration. It’s not everything they asked for, but it is still a substantial amount. It might be enough for a good start.

NASA’s $1.2 billion technology development program take a hit, with the Exploration Technology Development budget cut to $250 million. However, the figure is misleading, because $559 million of that $1.2 billion budget had been intended for heavy-lift vehicle research work. That money has been shifted into the HLV development program.

So, the budget for new technology (minus heavy lift) has been reduced from $652 million to $250 million. That’s a significant cut, but a quarter billion dollars is still a lot of money to get started on some new technologies.

There is also $350 million in the aeronautics budget for space technology, less than the $572 million requested. The human research budget is also sliced by $60 million.

The Senate also nearly full funds NASA’s plans for robotic precursor studies and instruments designed to pave the way for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit. The bill would provide $100 million, a slight reduction from the $125 million request.

Although far less than what the Administration requested, the R&D funding levels are probably what Sen. Bill Nelson was referring to when he promised “robust” expenditures in these areas.

All-in-all, the budget numbers in the revised authorized bill are much better than in the original draft, which had funded exploration technology, commercial cargo and crew, robotic precursors, and space technology at significantly lower levels.


Exploration – $3.99 billion

  • $1.3 billion for a multipurpose crew vehicle, and associated program and other necessary support; (full-scale Orion program)
  • $1.9 billion for Space Launch System and associated program and other necessary support; (heavy-lift vehicle development – new program)
  • $75 million for Exploration Technology Development;
  • $215 million for Human Research;
  • $144 million for Commercial Cargo;
  • $312 million for Commercial Crew Development activities and studies related to commercial crew services; and
  • $44 million for Robotic Precursor Studies and Instruments.

Aeronautics – $804 million

(Reduction from $1.15 billion request)

  • $579.6 million for Aeronautics Research;
  • $225 million for Space Technology (President’s request: $572 million request)

We’ll have to see what happens, especially with the House bill being quite different in its priorities. But, in looking over the revised numbers, the Senate bill could be a decent compromise after all. It doesn’t give the Administration everything it wants, but it might be enough.

  • JohnHunt

    It would be nice to see how this compares with last years’ budget. It would also be nice to see this graphed out over time with different colored lines representing different parts of the budget.

    Commercial space still takes up only 3.2% of NASAs budget. I believe that there is so much potential with commercial space that it should get something like 15% of NASAs budget and be operated in a COTS/CRS/CCT-like manner. Companies only get paid as they achieve certain mile stones.

    I think that NASA’s goal of commercial space should be for the economic development of cis-lunar space (including the lunar surface). In particular, achieving the delivery of large quantities of lunar-derived oxygen (for fuel) to LEO will change everything.

    I also think that the commercial items should be separated into another category which would be “Space Development”. Space exploration yields valuable “intangibles”. But space development should be looked at from a long-term RoI perspective. Robotic missions should be classified as being primarily science-for-the-sake-of-science versus prospecting-for-the-sake-of-later-development. It’s somewhat arbitrary but none-the-less helpful to make these judgment calls.

    With the current paradigm, after the ISS is ended, what will NASAs involvement be in facilitating the development of commercial space? In my mind the answer is perfectly clear – the development of cis-lunar space (i.e. between LEO and including the lunar surface). Is there commercial potential there? Yes! As with COTS/CRS, there is both a NASA “market” (i.e. providing services which helps NASA exploration activities) as well as a strictly commercial market (e.g. lunar-derived fuel to assist LEO –> GEO transfer, metals to LEO, hotels & tourism, power generation, and even lunar rock collectibles – don’t laugh!).

    The commercial perspective on returning to the Moon is fairly different than the Ares V / Altair approach. The cheapest way of returning to the Moon would be to use existing or near-existing launchers, use teleoperated robots initially, and live off the land. A Falcon 9 Heavy can orbit a small Earth Departure Stage and a second Falcon 9 Heavy can land enough payload on the lunar surface for any single component of lunar development. I personally think that the budget should hold back on risking the very expensive development of a heavy-lift vehicle and look at what can be accomplished using Falcon 9 Heavies and lunar-derived oxygen for fuel.