Trump Proposes $481 Million Cut in NASA FY 2020 Budget

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Updated March 11, 2019 @ 11:41 am PDT

The Trump Administration has proposed a $21 billion budget for NASA that is $481 million below the $21.5 billion budget Congress approved last month.

NASA’s spending plan for fiscal year 2020 shifts funding toward the construction of a Lunar Gateway and the return of astronauts to the moon’s surface by 2028.

The request includes cuts in three programs — Space Launch System (SLS), Orion spacecraft and exploration ground systems — that are the foundation of the return to the moon and are considered sacrosanct to Congress.

The Administration is also targeting NASA’s Science, Space Operations and Aeronautics programs for budget cuts. It also proposes to end the space agency’s $110 million STEM Engagement program.

Spending on SLS would be cut by $374.6 million with the Orion program absorbing a $83.3 million reduction. The budget for Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) that support SLS and Orion would also fall by $192.7 million.

(In Thousands of Dollars)
Space Launch System2,150,0002,150,0001,775,400(374,600)
Exploration R&D395,000958,0001,580,000622,000
— Lunar Orbital Platform?450,000821,400371,400
— Human Research?145,000140,000(5,000)
— Advanced Cislunar and Surface Capabilities?116,500363,000246,500
Exploration Ground Systems545,000592,800400,100(192,700)
Space Operations4,751,5004,639,1004,285,700
— Commercial ISS and Low Earth Orbit Activities ?40,000150,00090,000
— Planetary Science2,227,9002,758,5002,622,100(136,400)
— Earth Science1,921,0001,931,0001,779,800(151, 200)
— Astrophysics850,4001,191,600844,800(346,800)
— James Webb Space Telescope533,700304,600352,60048,000
— Heliophysics688,500720,000704,500(15,500)
760,000926,9001,014,300 87,400
STEM ENGAGEMENT (Previously Education)100,000110,0000 (110,000)
TOTALS:20,736,14021,500,00021,019,000 (481,000)

NASA said the cuts are a result of deferring work on an upgraded version of SLS.

“The Budget defers upgrades to the SLS known as ‘Block 1B’, which are not needed for missions planned during the first half of the 2020s,” NASA said in a budget document. “Funding is instead focused on completion of the initial version of the SLS and supporting a reliable SLS and Orion annual flight cadence. Deferring the Block 1B upgrades also enables accelerating other exploration activities critical to landing astronauts on the Moon in the 2020s.”

SLS Block 1 can lift 70 metric tons into low Earth orbit (LEO). SLS Block 1B is being designed to lift 105 metric tons to LEO.

In another blow to SLS, the Administration is proposing to save more than $700 million by launching the Europa Clipper orbiter on a commercial rocket. Current law requires the orbiter and a subsequent lander to Jupiter’s frozen world to be launched on SLS.

Given the strong bipartisan support in Congress for the SLS, Orion and EGS, it seems unlikely that legislators will approve a collective cut of $650.6 million. They might also fear that deferring work on the SLS Block 1B would make it easier to cancel the program in the future.

In fact, Congress has previously rejected the Administration’s efforts to slash NASA’s budget. Legislators have instead given the space agency increases.

Shift to the Moon

The space agency’s Exploration Research and Development budget would be increased by $622 million from $958 million to $1.58 billion.  Within that budget, spending on the Lunar Gateway would increase by from $450 million to $821.4 million.

“Gateway funding focuses on developing a small way station that will orbit the Moon and enable lunar landers and surface activities, to include a Power and Propulsion Element by 2022, and habitation, airlock, and logistics elements thereafter,” NASA said in budget document.

Funding for Advanced Cislunar and Surface capabilities (ACSC) would also rise from $116.5 million to $363 million, an increase of $246.5 million.

“ACSC funding focuses on design analysis, technology maturation, system development and integration, and spaceflight demonstrations for a human lunar landing system,” the budget document said. “ACSC is developing human lunar landing, lunar robotic, and surface capabilities through commercial and international partnerships as well as in coordination with other NASA programs.

“This includes leveraging the [Science Mission Directorate] development of smaller landers for capabilities such as navigation and precision landing and investments through exploration technology and the lunar surface initiative,” the document added.

The $1 billion Space Technology budget (which the Trump Administration calls Exploration Technology) supports a new “Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative, which aims to spur the creation of novel technologies needed for lunar surface exploration and accelerate the technology readiness of key systems and components,” NASA said.

The space agency’s Science budget would be cut from $6.9 billion to $6.3 billion, which is a reduction of $602 million. The proposed cutbacks are spread across the planetary, Earth science, astrophysics and heliophysics programs. Only the James Webb Space Telescope would receive a boost.

“The Budget proposes to terminate the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) mission.

“Given delays and cost growth with the James Webb Space Telescope, the Administration is not ready to proceed with another multi-billion-dollar space telescope,” the budget document said.

The budget zeros out the space agency’s $110 million STEM Engagement program to redirect the funds to lunar exploration, a move Congress has rejected in the past. In NASA budget documents, the space agency said it would continue STEM and education efforts being done through other NASA programs.

The Safety, Security and Mission Services (SSMS) budget would be boosted by $329.6 million under the proposed budget.

“NASA is addressing its top SSMS priority by increasing facility maintenance activities at all Centers to reduce risk to missions. Increased funding will help reduce the significant backlog of facility maintenance projects and requirements,” the budget document said. “The FY 2020 request continues NASA’s increased investment in proactive maintenance initiatives such as the conditioned-based maintenance (CBM) program.”

The construction budget would also get a boost of $252.2 million. Projects included in the proposal include the Langley Research Center Flight Dynamics Research Facility, the Flight Electronics Integration Facility at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Stennis Space Center’s High- Pressure Industrial Water System.