Untangling the Numbers in NASA’s Supplemental Budget Request

Credit: NASA

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In seeking a $1.6 billion increase in NASA’s budget for fiscal year 2020 to land astronauts on the moon in 2024, the Trump Administration has claimed that “no NASA programs were cut” to accommodate the new spending.  However, to quote Obi-wan Kenobi, this is only true from a certain point of view.

The Administration’s original FY 2020 request would cut NASA’s current $21.5 billion budget by $488 million while shifting funds from other space agency programs to the Artemis lunar program. Thus, the claim of no cuts can likely be interpreted as no reductions beyond what the Trump Administration has already proposed.

Further, the overall increase is not as large as it sounds. The supplemental request would increase NASA’s budget by $1.1 billion from its current $21.5 billion to $22.6 billion.

Congress, which will ultimately decide spending levels, has not weighed in on either the original budget request or the supplemental one. It’s worth keeping in mind that legislators have ignored Trump’s previous attempts to reduce NASA’s budget.

Let’s dive into the numbers a bit deeper by looking at the budget request the Trump Administration submitted in March.

(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)
STEM ENGAGEMENT (Previously Education)100,000110,0000 (110,000)

So, let’s take a look at the major areas that the initial request cuts. These include:

  • Science: -$602 million
  • Space Launch System (SLS): -$374.6 million
  • Space Operations: -$353.4 million
  • Exploration Ground Systems: -$192.7 million
  • STEM Engagement: – $110 million (zeroed out)
  • Orion Multi-purpose Crew Capsule: – $83.3 million
  • Aeronautics: – $55.1 million

The proposed cuts in SLS, Orion and the Exploration Ground Systems needed to support them totaled $650.6 million. NASA, however, says that SLS and Orion are crucial to landing astronauts at the south pole of the moon on the third flight of the system in 2024.

In the amended request, NASA restores $651 million in cuts to SLS and Orion. The budget document does not include details on the Exploration Ground Systems.

In the original request, the Administration increased spending on the orbiting Lunar Gateway by $371.4 million to $821.4 million. The supplement request eliminates $321 million of that increase.

NASA officials said on Monday they would be scaling back the initial gateway to a power/propulsion module and a small habitat module with docking ports. The plan is to have astronauts fly to the gateway and transfer to a lunar lander that is already docked at the facility.  A male and female astronaut would then travel to the lunar south pole to make the first landing since Apollo 17 in December 1972.

The budget shifts the full build out of the Lunar Gateway into the 2024-2028 period. NASA officials said international partners and even private companies would be welcome to add to the facility before  then. International partners — including Canada, Japan, Europe and Russia — are expected to provide additional modules and robotic capabilities to the gateway.

The supplemental request designates $1 billion to accelerate work on the lunar lander. In March, the Trump Administration requested $363 million for Advanced Cislunar and Surface Capabilities.

“This acquisition strategy will allow NASA to purchase an integrated commercial lunar lander that will transport astronauts from lunar orbit to the lunar surface and back,” NASA said in its summary.

NASA is also requesting an additional $132 million ” to advance key precursor capabilities on the lunar surface. This includes various exploration technologies like solar electric propulsion and a demonstration converting polar ice to water.”

The Science budget, which was cut $602 million in the initial request, would receive $90 million “to enable increased robotic exploration of the Moon’s polar regions in advance of a human mission,” NASA added.

How all this will go over with Congress remains to be seen. On the plus side, supporters of SLS and Orion will be pleased to see cuts in those two programs restored. They will also be happy to with NASA’s assurances that these programs are vital to landing astronauts on the lunar surface.

However, legislators have expressed skepticism about landing astronauts on the moon by 2024, which is four years earlier than originally planned.

Members of Congress have also expressed dismay over the proposed $602 million in the Science budget. Even with $90 million restored for lunar science, a reduction of more than $512 million may not sit very well.

It is worth noting that Congress has resisted the Trump Administration’s previous attempts to cut the Earth Science budget. The initial request cuts $151.2 million from that program.

Congress has resisted the Trump Administration’s previous attempts to zero out the STEM Engagement budget.

On Monday, NASA officials said the moon program would inspire students to study STEM subjects. They also said they did not know where the additional money would come from to fund the supplemental appropriation.

Hours later, The Washington Post provided a partial answer: Pell grants that provide tuition assistance to poor students attending colleges and universities.

It will be interesting to see how well that goes over with Congress.

  • windbourne

    uh no.
    Prior to about 4-6 years ago, FAA would send in DERs to go over all elements. Yes, these ppl count on us technical ppl, but for the work I used to do, I had FAA-backed DERS go over all of this.
    Under O, because of Aviation $ being sent to general fund and taken from FAA, it was decided that we could trust the manufacturing companies to hire and control the DERs. RIGHT THERE, is where FAA became a 3rd world aviation agency and EASA took the lead to trust.

    This is no different than when first reagan and then W gutted America’s Ag inspection system. I used to trust our food system enough that I ate my beef the CORRECT way, which is rare, next to bloody. The reason why ppl turn steaks into belt leather is because meat inspection is poor. At this point, I would rather get my food from Europe, than from an American store ( esp. Safeway; they import a TON of food from China; I have friends that remain in food inspection and the horror stories about CHina-origin food is …. ugh ).

  • duheagle

    If your entire frame of reference is NASA and the Program of Record, I’m inclined to agree. But I think internal pushback by Congress, contractors and parts of NASA will probably result in more delays and make it obvious that the initial notional Artemis architecture isn’t going to be anywhere near ready in time.

    But by the time Trump has his second inaugural, the SpaceX SHS and the Blue Origin New Glenn will likely have test flown at least once each and Blue Moon will be well along too. That opens up a lot of both political and technical space for re-doing Artemis on the fly and still making the 2024 flags and footprints deadline.

    Beyond 2022, I don’t think NASA will any longer have any really decisive control over the future pace of deep space human spaceflight, exploration, industrialization and settlement.

  • Emmet Ford

    No to all of those. We don’t have that many Hindus or Muslims. Mormons have the market cornered on ponzi schemes. Utah leads the nation. Catholics, well 20th century European fascism was the conservative wing of the Catholic church, an obvious truth that gets taught in no schools. Evangelicanism has nothing to do with Christianity. It’s a southern white identity group with other interests. Jesus, if he showed up, would not be welcomed. Wrong color.

  • ThomasLMatula

    At least none that Boeing will admit to.

  • ThomasLMatula

    The D2 has the same basic relationship to a Starship as a Curtis Jenny had to the DC-1.

  • duheagle

    DAR’s and DER’s have always been mostly contractors as far as I can tell. And I don’t think drawing a manufacturer paycheck is an innovation of the last few years.

    Nor did either Reagan or Dubya “gut” the ag inspection system. There were changes to it during both administrations as there have been under other administrations. I seem to recall that the Reagan-era reforms had to do with substituting medical-style screening of farm animals and finished meat products for the “look-and-sniff” inspections that had been normative since Teddy Roosevelt’s time. The Ag Dept. wasn’t happy because a lot of said testing could be automated or semi-automated and required far fewer inspectors.

    As with many American statists, you have a mostly uncritical view of European ways of doing things because they are more statist than the U.S. I worked in several parts of Western Europe in the mid- and late-70’s and I wasn’t especially impressed with European standards of food handling and hygiene. Many small shops had raw meat and raw produce out in the open air at room temperature. Needless to say, I neither bought nor consumed any such stuff.

    As I also have done, and continue to do, here, while in Europe I ate well-cooked meat and avoided raw vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. I’m not a big fan of bulk beef, but I never eat it rare – I don’t like rare beef. Most of my beef consumption is in the form of well-done ground beef or pre-cooked meatballs. Any bulk beef I consume is thoroughly slow-cookered. If you have problems with “belt leather” beef, it’s either very low-quality or improperly cooked.

  • duheagle

    Depends upon who “we” are, I suppose, and where “we” live. I live in the Greater L.A. area. There is no shortage of Hindus and Muslims in these parts. Nor of many other religions, races and ethnicities. Quite a few Sikhs around, for example.

    There is also no shortage of evangelical churches, many of them with notably non-white normative parishioners. Evangelical Christianity is the fastest-growing variant of Christianity in Latin America. Catholicism, for that matter, is the fastest growing variant of Christianity in Africa. It’s a decent bet the next Pope will be black as Catholicism is fading in Latin America but growing in Africa.

    Franco’s Spanish Falange was certainly Catholic to its core, but Italian Fascism was less centrally Catholic than it was nationalist and socialist. Before he invented Fascism and started trading for his own account, so to speak, Mussolini was a leading light of the European international socialist left. Hitler and the Nazis were hostile to Catholicism. They were happy enough to co-opt and use it where they could, but many Nazis were hostile to all forms of Christianity and wanted to bring back the gods of their Germano-Norse tribal barbarian pasts.

  • duheagle

    Oh stop your teasing and tell us all, please! Personally, I think it’s toothless rustics in bib overalls abducted by aliens and stranded.

  • duheagle

    I don’t think Allah is going to have much to say about it.

  • duheagle

    Oh, go on with your Blarney now!

  • Robert G. Oler

    walk chew gum blow up capsules..everything is fine

  • Emmet Ford

    There is no shortage of Hindus and Muslims in these parts.

    What you have in LA is a shortage of people who hate and loathe Hindus and Muslims. You have to go to other parts of the country to find those folks, parts of the country where, ironically, there are hardly any Hindus and Muslims. But there are lots of white Evangelicals.

    but Italian Fascism was less centrally Catholic than it was nationalist and socialist.

    Yeah, yeah. No one said they were “good” Catholics. But they were baptized Catholics, they were raised Catholics. And then they did what they did.

    Hitler and the Nazis were hostile to Catholicism.

    Hitler was a Catholic. The SS troups in the camps were 97% Catholic. I’m not arguing theology here. They were born Catholics, raised Catholic and went on to express a world view shaped by their upbringing in unpleasant ways. Dance as hard as you can. That’s what went down. Thems the ones wut did it.

  • Emmet Ford

    Oh, I forgot about the black evangelicals. Patty Hearst robbed banks.

  • publiusr

    Well, if it works, then the architecture can be used on HLLV scopes to make them even larger. We’ll see. I’m sure some interesting work arounds have been made–but a monolithic scope would have been much simpler.

  • savuporo

    Orbital assembly is a far more scalable path for large telescopes.

  • duheagle

    Is there some Web non-sequitur award you’re going for?

  • duheagle

    There are quite a large number of immigrant Hindus in the hospitality industry all over the country, including the South. Hindus, by the way, are not without their own race prejudices. That was the main theme in one of Denzel Washington’s early films, Mississippi Masala, which was about Hindus in – wait for it – Mississippi.

    Out here in CA, one also finds a lot of Hindus running convenience stores. Their main problem with race hatred seems to come from blacks, at least based on who gets shot and who does the shooting most of the time when these places get robbed. I don’t know if the blacks who do the shooting are practicing Evangelicals or not and I don’t know if religious differences are a significant motivating factor, but it might be. On the other hand, a lot of Korean and other Asian store owners, as well as Jews, are also killed by blacks doing robberies out here so one cannot absolutely rule that out.

  • duheagle

    Everything is not fine, but the things that aren’t fine are handle-able and are being handled.