Senate Cuts $400 Million From NASA Technology Request

An electric propulsion engine. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Senate has whacked $400 million out of two budget areas designed to allow NASA to develop new space technologies.  However, proposed expenditures are significantly above the level proposed by the House and the minimal amount urged by the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.

Space Technology

Program

Senate

President

Difference

SBIR and STTR$184,100,000$184,000,000-$100,000
Partnership Development and Strategic Integration$30,000,000$33,000,000-$3,000,000
Crosscutting Space Technology$210,400,000$497,100,000-$286,700,000
Exploration Technology$212,500,000$310,000,000-$97,500,000
TOTALS:$637,000,000$1,024,000,000-$387,000,000

Exploration

Program

Senate

President

Difference

Exploration and Development$275,000,000$288,500,000-$13,500,000

The majority of the funding — $387 million — was cut from the President’s request for space technology funding. The remainder — $13.5 million — was sliced from the Exploration and Development budget that is part of the space agency’s Exploration Directorate.

There were relatively small reductions in the SBIR and STTR programs, which provide technology development grants to companies and universities. The Crosscutting Space Technology and Exploration Technology budgets were both cut sharply. The Exploration and Development budget was reduced by $13.5 million to $275 million. The President’s requested $288.5 million for this program, while the House has proposed spending $289 million.

Although far less than the President requested, Congress has been receptive to increasing funding for the Space Technology budget. Funding for those programs was only $275.2 million in FY 2010.

The Senate bill will likely please the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, which last week sent a letter to Congress signed by 45 companies, non-profits and research universities urging that the Space Technology program be funded “at a level of at least $535 million plus costs to cover the NASA labor transition.” The House has proposed spending $375 million on the program.

Senators said they wish they could spend more on space technology development.

“The Committee regrets not being able to fund this promising new program more robustly and has prioritized funding for ongoing activities,” legislators wrote in their budget document. “Within Crosscutting Space Technology, the Committee encourages NASA to prioritize ongoing efforts funded in fiscal year 2011 under the auspices of Space Technology using Space Operations funds. The Committee recommends Space Technology continue to fund satellite servicing at the fiscal year 2011 level. This funding will contribute to the planned competitive demonstration mission and shall be managed by the Space Operations mission directorate.”

The satellite servicing effort is interesting. There is an experiment aboard the International Space Station that will test procedures for the robotic refueling of satellites.  The Senate budget describes the project:

Satellite Servicing.—Within the amounts provided, $75,000,000 shall be to continue efforts to use the next generation of human space flight architecture to service existing and future on-orbit observatory- class scientific spacecraft, as well as spacecraft owned by the Department of Defense and other Government agencies. The activities to be undertaken shall be a joint project of the Space Operations, Space Technology, Science, and Exploration mission directorates and shall include technology demonstrations for both robotic and human servicing. These funds will augment existing Space Technology funds for these activities. Space Operations shall be responsible for the overall direction and management of all agency satellite servicing activities.

The Senate budget needs to be reconciled with the House budget before it it sent to President Barack Obama for his signature.