A Closer Look at NASA’s FY 2015 Budget Prospects

Capitol BuildingAfter years of flat and declining budgets, it looks like NASA will get a funding boost this year from an unexpected source — Congress.

The FY 2015 budget measures coming out of the Senate and House actually boost the President’s proposed $17.46 billion spending plan by about $400 million. The Senate would spend an even $17.9 billion, while the House spending plan is just slight under that level at $17.896 billion.

The table below shows funding under the Obama Administration’s request and amounts set by the Senate and House Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) appropriations committees.

NASA FY 2015 SPENDING PLANS
(in thousands of dollars)
PROGRAMPBRSENATE CJS
HOUSE CJS
Exploration3,976,0004,367,7004,167,000
Space Launch System1,380,3001,700,0001,600,000
Orion1,052,8001,200,0001,140,000
Exploration Ground Systems351,300351,300315,000
Commercial Crew848,300805,000785,000
Exploration R&D343,400311,400327,000
Space Operations3,905,4003,830,8003,885,000
Science4,972,0005,200,0005,193,000
Earth Science1,770,3001,831,900$1,750,000
Planetary Science1,280,3001,301,7001,450,000
Astrophysics607,300707,800680,000
James Webb Space Telescope645,400645,400645,000
Heliophysics668,900671,200668,000
SOFIA12,00087,00070,000
Education15,00042,00030,000
Space Technology705,500580,200620,000
Aeronautics551,100 551,100666,000
Education88,900108,000106,000
Cross Agency Support2,778,600 2,778,6002,779,000
Construction
 446,100446,100446,000
Office of Inspector General37,00037,50034,000
TOTALS:17,460,600 17,900,00017,896,000

EXPLORATION

SLS & Orion

The House and Senate both boosted Exploration spending to more than $4 billion, with most of the increase for the Space Launch System (SLS and Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV). The Senate provides a combined $2.9 billion for both programs, which is $160 million more than the House provides. Congress has always been more enthusiastic about these programs than the White House, which tried to cancel them.

Commercial Crew

nasa_commercial_crew_spacesuit
Despite sharply deteriorating relations with Russia, neither the House nor the Senate was willing provide the full $843.3 million the Administration requested for commercial crew, which is designed to eliminate U.S. dependence on Russian Soyuz vehicles for rides to the International Space Station.

The Senate measure comes closest to the request at $805 million, while the House provides $785 million. Whether either of those amounts would allow NASA to fly astronauts to ISS on a commercial basis by the end of 2017 remains to be seen.

The answer will depend, in part, on what NASA decides to do in the next funding round, which is scheduled to be announced in August. The space agency is likely to eliminate at least one of the three companies — Boeing, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX — that are now competing in the program. NASA wants to maintain competition as long as possible.

House members want NASA to down select to one provider, and for that company to pony up a greater share of the program cost. They believe $785 million is sufficient to keep a single provider on schedule.

Sen. Richard Shelby
Sen. Richard Shelby

“Consistent with prior direction, NASA shall take all steps necessary to incentivize further private investment in the program, including, to the maximum extent possible, taking the industry partners’ level of proposed private investment into account as a selection criterion for CCtCap,” the legislation states.

Senate appropriators want commercial crew and cargo providers to provide “certified cost and pricing data” relating to its contracts. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), a strong critic of commercial crew, claims the provisions are about providing transparency on costs for both programs.

The Space Access Society has criticized the move, accusing Shelby of failing to do anything about cost transparency issues with the Space Launch System, which is being developed by the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.

We believe this is actually about control,” the society in an Action Alert. “Specifically, about bringing control over all NASA space transportation development back to the Alabama-based NASA old guard faction that’s running SLS, about bringing control over all NASA space transportation funding back under Senator Shelby’s thumb, and also about maintaining his control over Defense space transportation funding. Affordable timely manned space-transport development and the US taxpayer meanwhile get thrown to the wolves.”

Moon, Mars and Asteroids

This conceptual image shows NASA’s Orion spacecraft approaching the robotic asteroid capture vehicle. The trip from Earth to the captured asteroid will take Orion and its two-person crew an estimated nine days. (Credit: NASA)
This conceptual image shows NASA’s Orion spacecraft approaching the robotic asteroid capture vehicle. The trip from Earth to the captured asteroid will take Orion and its two-person crew an estimated nine days. (Credit: NASA)

The House is still not convinced that NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) makes much sense or is on the road map to the ultimate goal of getting astronauts to Mars.

“To date, NASA has only defined one explicit step on the roadmap—the ARM—and even that step requires additional consideration,” the committee wrote. “The Congress still has outstanding questions and concerns about the ARM’s costs and feasibility, as well as its strategic relevance and potential to generate external support from the public and international collaborators….

“NASA may only expend funds on those portions of the ARM mission that are also applicable to other current NASA programs, clearly extensible to other potential future exploration missions, such as to the Moon, Phobos/Deimos or Mars, or have broad applicability to other future non-exploration activities, such as in-space robotic servicing,” the report reads.

The House also wants NASA to conduct a high level independent assessment of using SLS and Orion to send astronauts on a round-trip to Mars in the early 2020’s.

House appropriators also want NASA to spend no less than $20 million from the Exploration Research and Development (R&D) budget to support future lunar mission activities.

“These activities shall include discussions with international and commercial partners on potential joint lunar activities; a study of the technical, budgetary and schedule requirements for a future manned lunar mission; and public-private partnerships to develop lunar transportation and landing technologies,” the report states. “All public-private partnerships conducted with these funds shall require the private partner to contribute a substantial portion of shared costs.”

Space Technology

With his feet secured on a restraint on the space station remote manipulator system's robotic arm, NASA astronaut Mike Fossum holds the Robotics Refueling Mission payload. The four tools on the test device cut and manipulated wires, unscrewed caps, opened and closed valves and transferred fluid demonstrating that a remote-controlled robot can service and refuel a satellite. Photo credit: NASA
With his feet secured on a restraint on the space station remote manipulator system’s robotic arm, NASA astronaut Mike Fossum holds the Robotics Refueling Mission payload. The four tools on the test device cut and manipulated wires, unscrewed caps, opened and closed valves and transferred fluid demonstrating that a remote-controlled robot can service and refuel a satellite. Photo credit: NASA

Both the Senate and House make reductions in the Administration’s $705.5 million request for Space Technology. The House is more generous at $620 million, while the Senate provides $580.2 million.

The Senate measure would direct NASA to spend  $130 million on satellite servicing technology.  The work would jointly conducted by the Space Technology and Space Operations directorates.

“Funds should be used for: space technology developments including continued work related to demonstrations on the International Space Station; continuing a Restore Pathfinder mission to be achieved no later than 2017 and which may be used for either a low-earth orbit or geostationary orbit servicing of government assets only; and recommendations for a Restore mission beyond 2017,” according to the committee report.

The Senate legislation directs NASA to place an increased focus on Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants to firms with fewer than 50 employees.

Within the funds provided for Crosscutting Space Technology Development, the Committee provides $17,000,000 for Flight Opportunities.

SCIENCE

This self-portrait of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on Feb. 3, 2013, plus three exposures taken on May 10, 2013. (Credit: NASA)
This self-portrait of NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on Feb. 3, 2013, plus three exposures taken on May 10, 2013. (Credit: NASA)

The Senate and House would boost science spending above the Administration’s $4.972 billion request. The Senate measure provides $5.2 billion, with the House comes in slightly lower at $5.193 billion.

Planetary Science

Senate and House appropriators would boost the proposed amount to be spent on planetary exploration. The Administration proposed $1.28 billion; the Senate measure stipulates $1.3 billion, while the House is even more generous at $1.45 billion.

The House bill includes $100 million for “pre-formulation and/or formulation activities for a mission that meets the science goals outlined for the Jupiter Europa mission in the most recent planetary science decadal survey.”

The Senate measure doesn’t provide any specific funding to explore Jupiter’s frozen moon.  However, Senators do have a launch vehicle in mind.

“The Committee believes that any planning for a Europa mission should seek to maximize the scientific return and utilize the capabilities of NASA’s own heavy lift launch vehicle. The Committee directs NASA, in setting the baseline Europa mission highlighted in the decadal survey, to use the Space Launch System as the launch vehicle,” the report states.

Earth Science

The Senate would boost spending on Earth science above the requested amount, while the House would cut the Administration’s $1.77 billion request by $25.3 million.

Senators want to transfer two programs — Jason-3 and the Deep Space Climate Observatory [DSCOVR] — from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to NASA.

“The Committee provides additional funds on top of the requested amounts for these two missions to account for funding that had been requested within NOAA, which results in $25,600,000 for Jason-3 and $24,800,000 for DSCOVR,” the Senate report states. “NASA is directed to complete the construction and launch of these important Earth science missions on schedule and on budget, which NASA is already facilitating on behalf of NOAA. NASA shall continue to partner with NOAA to transfer operational components of both programs as planned.”

SOFIA

Both the House and Senate have rejected NASA’s proposal to mothball the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a flying observatory built into a 747 aircraft. The Senate would provide $87 million, an amount roughly equal to what the program is receiving in the current fiscal year.

The House measure provides $70 million, “which should be sufficient to support the aircraft’s fixed costs (flight crews, required maintenance, etc.) as well as a base level of scientific observations. NASA shall continue seeking third-party partners whose additional funding support would restore SOFIA’s budget to its full operational level.”

Spaceport Infrastructure

Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center
Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center

21st Century Launch Complex Program

The Senate wants NASA to redirect some of the spending on its 21st Century Launch Complex program from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Over the past year, Orbital Sciences Corporation has begun to fly ISS cargo flights from Wallops.

“There are now growing capacity issues at WFF that, if not resolved, could soon prevent the center from taking on small and large missions due to limitations associated with spacecraft processing and fueling facility and associated facilities that need to be addressed,” the report states. “Therefore, the Committee provides the increased funding to fill maintenance gaps at the WFF launch complex, and further directs NASA to take to consideration the full potential of all NASA-owned launch complexes.”

The Senate committee would provide $33.9 million for the program, which is $8 million above the President’s request.