Biden Requests Another Big Increase for NASA, Wants Space Tug to Deorbit ISS

Biden Requests Another Big Increase for NASA, Wants Space Tug to Deorbit ISS

For the third year in a row, President Biden is requesting a significant increase in NASA funding, apparently undeterred by the results in the last two years. Although Congress increased NASA’s budget over prior year funding, it was not as much as requested. This time he is asking for $27.2 billion, a $1.8 billion increase or 7.1 percent more than the $25.4 billion appropriated for FY2023. Among the highlights is a request to develop a new space tug to deorbit the International Space Station at the end of its lifetime instead of relying on Russian spacecraft as currently planned.

NASA is not alone. Most agencies in the discretionary portion of the federal budget would get increases if Congress were to approve the request, which seems unlikely considering House Republicans’ determination to reign in federal spending to reduce the deficit.

FY2024 President’s Budget Request. Source: OMB

The White House released a “skinny” version of the FY2024 request today with top-line numbers, but not many details. The full request will be sent to Congress on Monday.

The introductory section of the report sets the request in the context of the President’s priorities. From his first days in office Biden has shown his enthuasism for international cooperation in space and for Mars exploration. That comes through loud and clear in the budget request with NASA getting a shout-out for programs that deepen alliances with allies.

Excerpt from the President’s Budget Request for FY2024, p. 41.

The two Mars missions are the U.S.-led Mars Sample Return mission and the ESA-led program known as ExoMars when it was an ESA-Russia collaboration. ESA terminated its partnership with Russia on ExoMars after Russia invaded Ukraine even though the jointly-built spacecraft was very close to launch. ESA and NASA have been discussing how they might be able to salvage ESA’s part of the mission, the Rosalind Franklin rover, which was about to be shipped to Russia’s launch site when the invasion took place.  The information released today says the request is $949 million for Mars Sample Return, but does not specify the amount for completing ExoMars.

The space tug would be used to deorbit the International Space Station at the end of its lifetime, currently expected in 2030. NASA’s deorbit planning to date has relied on Russian Progress spacecraft to lower the ISS’s orbit so it will reenter the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean where any surviving pieces would fall harmlessly. Although the ISS is the one area of space cooperation relatively unaffected by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, the United States apparently does not want to remain reliant on Russia for safely disposing of the 440 Metric Ton space station.  NASA hopes there will be other uses for the space tug, such as supporting the commercial space stations that will replace the ISS. The request is $180 million for FY2024.

The FY2024 request includes $180 million to begin developing a  space tug to deorbit the ISS at the end of its lifetime instead of relying on Russian Progress spacecraft. Image credit: NASA (mosaic of images taken by departing Crew-2, November 8, 2021).

The request supports other NASA programs across the board. Those mentioned today in OMB’s documentation are:

  • Artemis: $8.1 billion, a $500 million increase over FY2023. [OMB’s $8.1 billion figure appears to be a combination of $7.971 billion for Deep Space Exploration in the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate plus $223.5 million for Commercial Lunar Payload Services in the Science Mission Directorate.]
  • Green Aviation: $500 million for a suite of technologies necessary to reach net-zero carbon emissions from the aviation sector by 2050.
  • Earth Science: $2.5 billion, including the next generation of Landsat satellites and the Earth System Observatory.
  • STEM Programs: $158 million, a $14 million increase over FY2023.
  • Space Technology: $1.39 billion, a $190 million increase over FY2023.
  • Orbital Debris: $39 million to better understand the debris environment and explore mitigation approaches.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson will address the “State of NASA” at 3:00 pm ET today. More details about the budget will be available on Monday and a media telecon with NASA Associate Administrator Bob Cabana and Chief Financial Officer Margaret Vo Schaus will take place Monday at 1:00 pm ET.


This article has been updated.

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