House Subcommittee Boosts NASA Budget, Ignores Supplemental Request

Astronauts on a future lunar walk. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The House commerce, justice and science subcommittee approved a fiscal year 2020 budget for NASA that increases the space agency’s budget while ignoring a $1.6 billion supplemental budget request from the Trump Administration that NASA says is required to land astronauts on the south pole of the moon in 2024.

The House measure would boost NASA’s budget from $21.5 billion to $22.32 billion, an increase of $820 million. The amount is below the Trump Administration’s total request of $22.62 million for fiscal year 2020 (FY 2020). That would be an increase of $1.1 billion over NASA’s current budget.

In March, the administration proposed cutting the space agency’s budget by $488 million to just over $21 million. Last week, the administration requested an additional $1.6 billion in order to move up the moon landing by four years from 2028 to 2004.

The table below shows a comparison of the different proposed budgets.  Funding levels for a number of programs are not yet clear.

NASA BUDGET & FUNDING REQUESTS
(In Thousands of Dollars)
PROGRAMFY 2019FY 2020 PBR
FY 2020 PBR W/ SUPP
FY 2020 HOUSE CJS SUB
EXPLORATION5,050,8005,021,7006,396,400 5,129,900
Space Launch System2,150,0001,775,4002,450,000
Orion1,350,0001,266,200 1,425,000
Exploration R&D958,0001,580,000962,100
— Lunar Orbital Platform450,000821,400500,400
— Human Research145,000140,000
— Advanced Cislunar and Surface Capabilities116,500363,000
Exploration Ground Systems592,800400,100592,800
Space Operations4,639,1004,285,700
4,285,700
— Commercial ISS and Low Earth Orbit Activities 40,000150,000
SCIENCE6,905,7006,303,7006,393,7007,161,300
— Planetary Science2,758,5002,622,1002,712,100
— Earth Science1,931,0001,779,8001,779,800 2,000,000+
— Astrophysics1,191,600844,800844,800
— James Webb Space Telescope304,600352,600352,600
— Heliophysics720,000704,500704,500
SPACE TECHNOLOGY
926,9001,014,3001,146,3001,291,600
AERONAUTICS725,000666,900666,900700,000
STEM ENGAGEMENT (Previously Education)110,00000 123,000
SAFETY, SECURITY & MISSION SERVICES
2,755,0003,084,6003,084,6003,084,600
CONSTRUCTION & ENVIRONMENTAL COMPLIANCE AND RESTORATION
348,200600,400600,400497,200
OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL
39,30041,70041,70041,700
TOTALS:21,500,00021,019,00022,619,00022,320,000

The House measure provides $5.1 billion for exploration programs, far below the nearly $6.4 billion requested by the Administration to accelerate the moon landing.

Legislators boosted funding for the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft. In its original request, the Administration had proposed $650.6 million cuts in both programs and the Exploration Ground Systems that support them.

The Administration’s supplemental request includes $651 million to restore cuts to SLS and Orion. However, it did not give a breakdown of how that funding would be divided between the programs.

The Administration had proposed cutting funding for Exploration Ground Systems to $400.1 million in order to to shift funding to other priorities. It’s not clear whether any of that money is restored in the supplemental request. The House legislation keeps funding  for the program steady at $592.8 million.

House appropriators rejected the Administration’s plan to boost the Exploration Research and Development budget by $662 million to $1.58 billion. They instead provided a $4.1 million increase to $962.1 million.

Legislators also boosted the Science budget by $255.6 million to $7.16 billion. The Administration’s original and supplemental requests would provide $6.39 billion, a reduction of $512 million below the current budget.

The House measure includes $592.6 million for a spacecraft that will orbit Jupiter’s moon Europa, but no funding for a subsequent lander. The legislation requires that NASA launch both missions using SIS. The Administration wants to use cheaper commercial launch vehicles.

Legislators boosted the Space Technology budget by $145.3 million to $1.29 billion. The measure provides $180 million for the RESTORE-L satellite servicing mission that will refuel the aging Landsat 7 Earth imaging satellite. The committee also included $125 million for the development of nuclear thermal propulsion technologies.

The House subcommittee also rejected the Administration’s request to zero out NASA’s $110 million STEM Engagement program. The legislation would boost spending on the program to $123 million.

At first glance, it appears that the Democratic-led House is more comfortable with a slower approach to returning astronauts to the moon. Legislators have been skeptical about the need to accelerate the program by four years.

However, it is worth noting that the administration’s $1.6 billion supplemental request came only days before the subcommittee’s markup of the bill. House Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said the supplemental request contained far too little information for legislators to act.

“While I am a supporter of challenging human space exploration endeavors that can take us to the Moon and eventually to Mars, based on the limited information provided to Congress it is impossible to judge the merits of the President’s budget amendment,” Johnson said in a statement.

“We don’t know how much money will be required in total to meet the arbitrary 2024 Moon landing deadline or how that money will be spent,” she added. “We don’t know how much additional money will subsequently be required to turn the crash program to get astronauts to the Moon by 2024 into a sustainable exploration program that will lead to Mars. And we don’t know what NASA’s technical plan for its lunar program is.”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the space agency is developing a budget and a roadmap for the accelerated lunar program.

The budget numbers are subject to change as the legislation works its way through the House Science Committee. and the full House. The Republican Senate, which is more supportive of the president’s priorities, has not weighed in on NASA’s budget yet.