House Appropriators Want To Limit ARM Funding, Require Independent Assessment of Mars 2021

House Appropriators Want To Limit ARM Funding, Require Independent Assessment of Mars 2021

The House Appropriations Committee today released the draft report to accompany the FY2015 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill.  The bill was marked up at subcommittee level last week, the full committee will debate it tomorrow (May 8).   The draft report would limit the amount of money that can be spent on the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), require an independent assessment of the Mars Flyby 2021 concept, and fund the commercial crew program at $785 million — less than requested, but more than it received in the past.  It also expresses concerns about the operations costs of the International Space Station (ISS).

If approved by the committee and sustained during the many additional steps of the legislative process, under the terms of the report NASA funding for ARM would be “carefully constrained to prevent the occurrence of waste in the event the ARM never receives final approval.”  The agency would only be allowed to spend funds for activities that are applicable to other current NASA programs; extensible to potential future exploration missions such as the Moon, Mars or the moons of Mars (Phobos and Deimos); or “have broad applicability to other future non-exploration activities, such as in-space robotic servicing.”    No specific amount of money is mentioned.   NASA says that it is requesting $133 million for ARM as part of a total $160 million request for the Asteroid Initiative, which also includes the Asteroid Grand Challenge and additional funds for searching for asteroids.

Regarding the concept best known as the Mars Flyby 2021 mission, the report requires NASA to conduct an independent assessment of the technical, management, cost and schedule requirements and the impact it could have on the Orion and Space Launch System programs. The concept is to send astronauts to fly around (but not orbit or land on) Mars in 2021 by way of Venus.  It is championed by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, and former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin and former Boeing executive Jim Albaugh who published an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle yesterday explaining their rationale for it.  Griffin is the immediate past president and Albaugh the new president of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

The committee would provide $785 million for the commercial crew program.  NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden has been arguing strenuously for Congress to appropriate the full $848 million requested for FY2015.  The most the program has received in the past is the $696 million for the current fiscal year (FY2014).  The committee’s report says that the allocated funding will support “one industry partner’s advancement” to the next stage of the program (Commercial Crew Transportation Capability or CCtCAP).   NASA has insisted from the beginning that it wants to have at least two companies in competition with each other for the program rather than choosing only one in order to keep prices down.   Bolden insists that he needs the full $848 million in FY2015 to ensure that there is competition and that a system will be available by the end of 2017. 

The draft report reduces funding for Space Operations by $20.4 million from the $3.905 billion request.   The $3.885 billion provided is a modest cut from the request and is $107 million more than FY2014 appropriations, but what is most interesting is that the committee directs that none of the reduction be taken from ISS research or from crew and cargo transportation.  All must come from the ISS operations budget.  “The Committee remains concerned that annual ISS operations costs are too high, particularly in light of NASA’s proposal to extend the life of the Station through 2024.”  It also criticizes NASA for allocating too little funding for ISS research and requires NASA to develop a strategy for increasing funding for “actual physical and biological research” over the next five years.  The report notes that the apparent increase in funding for ISS research in the FY2015 request is only because money that was in the ISS operations budget for in-space robotic servicing was transferred into the research account.

Overall, the committee would provide NASA with $17.896 billion, $435 million more than requested by President Obama, as proposed in the subcommittee draft.

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