Lawmakers have given preliminary approval to a NASA budget that will provide $406 million to the Commercial Crew Development program, a 52 percent decrease from the $850 million requested by the Obama Administration. The amount exactly splits the difference between the $312 million the House proposed and the $500 million the Senate wanted to spend.
The overall spending plan is $17.8 billion, which is $100 million less than the Senate wanted but above the House’s proposed $16.8 billion budget. The Obama Administration had requested $18.7 billion. Key priorities in the Congressional plan include the Space Launch System, the Orion Multi-purpose Crew Vehicle, and the James Webb Space Telescope.
NASA has said that a $500 million CCDev budget would cause commercial crew operations to the International Space Station would slip from 2016 to 2017. That would mean continuing to purchase flight services from the Russians for another year at approximately $450 million dollars annually.
It is not clear what impact the reduced spending would have on the schedule. In addition, it’s not clear how many proposed systems NASA could support with this level of funding. The space agency has said it wants multiple, redundant access to orbit.
NASA officials and outside supporters had urged Congress to support the Administration’s full CCDev request, arguing that it would be better to spend money on American companies now rather than send more money to the Russians later.
The appeals had a limited effect on Congressional appropriators, who chose to put the bulk of NASA’s money into other programs. The heavy-lift Space Launch System would receive $1.86 billion while the Orion crew vehicle would be funded at $1.2 billion. Lawmakers also voted to continue funding the over budget and behind schedule James Webb Space Telescope, which the House has proposed cancelling. Just how much money would be spent on the telescope is unclear.
Below are some of the highlights of the NASA budget plan, courtesy of the House Appropriations Committee:
- $3.8 billion for Space Exploration, which is $30 million below last year. This includes funding
above the request for NASA to meet Congressionally mandated program deadlines for the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Space Launch System.
- $4.2 billion for Space Operations, which is $1.3 billion below last year’s level. The agreement
continues the closeout of the Space Shuttle program for a savings of more than $1 billion.
- $5.1 billion for NASA Science programs, which is $155 million above last year’s level. The
agreement accommodates cost growth in the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) by making commensurate reductions in other programs, and institutes several new oversight measures for JWST’s continuing development.
- Language prohibiting NASA or the Office of Science and Technology Policy from engaging in bilateral activities with China unless authorized by Congress.