House Appropriators Detail FY2024 NASA Spending Priorities, MSR Fares Better Than in Senate

House Appropriators Detail FY2024 NASA Spending Priorities, MSR Fares Better Than in Senate

The House Appropriations Committee has posted the report to accompany the bill that includes FY2024 funding for NASA. The Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee approved the bill months ago and top-level funding levels were made public at the time, but details usually are not provided until a bill passes the full committee. That never happened. With the House getting ready to take up the bill soon, the report is now out. One program that fares much better in the House than in the Senate version is Mars Sample Return.

The House Appropriations CJS subcommittee approved the bill in July with NASA getting $25.366 billion for FY2024, slightly less than the $25.384 billion in FY2023 and substantially less than President Biden’s request of $27.185 billion. The Senate Appropriations Committee marked up their bill at about the same time with a slightly lower level, $25.000 billion. The Senate bill has not proceeded further.

The House is endeavoring to get all FY2024 appropriations bills passed before Thanksgiving. The House Appropriations Committee never completed markup of the CJS bill — it only went through subcommittee markup — but it is now posted on the House Rules Committee website and open to proposed amendments until Monday, November 6. The Rules Committee says it “may meet the week of November 13” to get ready for floor action.

The Rules Committee has the version of the bill as introduced and a comparison showing differences with the version it is considering. The differences are to the bill itself, not the report. Only the bill has legal standing, but the report details how the House Appropriations Committee wants the money spent.

In the report, one major difference between the House and Senate Appropriations committees is that the Senate was pretty harsh about the costs of the Mars Sample Return program, saying they were “alarmed” that after providing $1.739 billion for MSR already, the schedule continues to slip and the “increasing fiscal and human resources” needed for MSR are causing delays in other science missions. They provided just $300 million of the $949 million requested and directed that the program must stay within the $5.3 billion lifecycle cost outlined in the 2022 planetary science Decadal Survey by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. That was even before the September report from a second Independent Review Board concluding the costs will be much higher than NASA estimated.

By contrast, House appropriators were bullish on the MSR program, providing all $949 million requested and telling NASA to ensure its FY2025 request includes funding to ensure the mission launches no later than 2030.

House appropriators also supported the VERITAS mission that was postponed by NASA because the money was needed to cover additional costs for Psyche, telling NASA to launch it by the end of the decade instead of 2031 as NASA currently plans.

Despite those recommendations, the House appropriators called for cutting the overall planetary science budget from the $3.4 billion requested to $3.1 billion, less than the $3.2 billion it had for FY2023. One specific cut is the $30 million NASA wanted to augment its participation in ESA’s Rosalind Franklin ExoMars Rover. The committee “does not support the requested funding.” Earth science would also get a steep cut from $2.5 billion requested to $2.0 billion compared to the $2.2 billion it had in FY2023. Astrophysics, heliophysics and biological and physical sciences would also experience cuts compared to the request. In total, science would get $415.0 million less than FY2023, and $880.8 million less than the FY2024 request.

In human spaceflight, House appropriators approved the full request of $7.91 billion for Exploration, but Space Operations would get $4.3 billion, $190 million less than the request although that’s $94.6 million more than FY2023.

House appropriators fully supported the Artemis program, including Orion, the Space Launch System with development of Block 1B, two commercial Human Landing Systems, and spacesuits from two commercial providers. However, one of the changes made to the version of the bill being considered by the House Rules Committee is a substantial cut to funding for the second Mobile Launch Platform needed for SLS Block 1B. The bill as introduced specified up to $501.8 million for MLP-2, but the Rules Committee version lowers that to $273.2 million.

The report from the House Appropriations Committee supports NASA’s request to build a Deorbit Vehicle for the International Space Station. NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel emphasized last week that a Deorbit Vehicle is not optional. The report doesn’t mention how much is allocated for Commercial LEO Destinations (CLDs) that are supposed to replace the ISS around 2030. The request was $228 million.

In Space Technology, the appropriators direct NASA to establish an Office of Nuclear Propulsion and Nuclear Power within the Space Technology Mission Directorate and provide up to $50 million for nuclear electric propulsion. The appropriations committee report does not identify an amount for nuclear thermal propulsion, but the bill itself specifies $110 million. As introduced, the bill goes further, identifying $45 million for reactor development, $45 million for fuel material development, and $20 million for non-nuclear systems development an acquisition, but that language is struck in the version the House Rules Committee is considering.

This snip from the House Appropriations report shows the committee’s overall recommendations.


This article has been updated.

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