by Douglas Messier
The White House wants Congress to provide more money for the Artemis moon landing program, and to save about $1.5 billion by dropping the requirement that NASA launch the Europa Clipper mission to Jupiter’s icy moon on the Space Launch System (SLS).
The requests came in an Oct. 23 letter regarding the FY 2020 budget to Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) from Russell Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
“The Administration appreciates the Committee’s continued support for space exploration, reflected in the $22.8 billion provided in the bill for NASA, which includes an increase of $680 million for lunar-focused exploration programs,” Vought wrote.
“However, the $1.6 billion provided for exploration research and development (R&D) is insufficient to fully fund the lander system that astronauts would use to return to the Moon in 2024. Funding exploration R&D at the $2.3 billion level requested in the FY 2020 Budget is needed
to support the Administration’s goal of returning to the Moon by 2024,” he added.
Earlier this year, the Trump Administration announced it was moving the planned return of astronauts to the moon from 2028 to 2024. The plan has encountered skepticism on Capitol Hill, especially in the Democratic-led House.
The Senate FY 2020 funding bill for NASA still must be reconciled with one approved in the House, which provides little of the money requested by the Administration for the Artemis program.
Vought wrote that SLS is vital for the Artemis program, and it is far too costly for the Europa Clipper mission. Jupiter’s moon Europa is believed to contain an ocean under its ice-covered surface.
“The Administration is deeply concerned that this mandate would slow the lunar exploration program, which requires every SLS rocket available,” the OMB acting director said. “Unlike the human exploration program, which requires use of the SLS, the Europa mission could be launched by a commercial rocket.
“At an estimated cost of over $2 billion per launch for the SLS once development is complete, the use of a commercial launch vehicle would provide over $1.5 billion in cost savings,” Vought added.