House To Take Up FY2024 Appropriations for NASA, NOAA, FAA on Wednesday

House To Take Up FY2024 Appropriations for NASA, NOAA, FAA on Wednesday

House Speaker Mike Johnson has scheduled House consideration of the first package of FY2024 appropriations bills tomorrow, March 6.  The collection of six bills, called a “minibus,” includes Commerce-Justice-Science that funds NASA and NOAA, and Transportation-HUD that funds the FAA and its Office of Commercial Space Transportation. The bills must be enacted by Friday midnight or their funding will run out.

Johnson will bring the 1,050-page Consolidated Appropriations Act, H.R. 4366, up on the so-called suspension calendar that avoids the Rules Committee but requires a two-thirds vote to pass instead of a simple majority. That means it needs bipartisan support like the four Continuing Resolutions passed so far to keep the government operating since FY2024 began on October 1, 2023.

The bill includes funding for departments and agencies funded in the Agriculture, Energy-Water, Interior, and MilCon-VA bills in addition to CJS and THUD.

The Biden Administration expressed its strong support for the bill this evening.

Excerpt from the Biden Administration’s Statement of Administration Policy on the FY2024 Consolidated Appropriations Act.

House Republicans are insisting on deep cuts to non-defense federal spending like the departments and agencies in this bill. Then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Biden reached agreement last summer in the Fiscal Responsibility Act on significant cuts to Biden’s FY2024 requested funding levels in return for suspending the debt limit.

Those cuts are quite evident for NASA.  The final agreement provides $24.875 billion for FY2024, more than $2 billion less than Biden’s $27.185 billion request. It also is half a billion less than NASA’s FY2023 funding level of $25.384 billion. Taking inflation into account, it’s a substantial reduction in purchasing power.

Final FY2024 spending for NASA. Source: congressional explanatory report to accompany the Commerce-Justice-Science bill.

NASA’s Artemis program to return astronauts to the Moon fared pretty well, and the robotic Mars Sample Return mission did better than many feared. Instead of being cut from the $949 million requested to the Senate Appropriations Committee’s recommendation of $300 million, the final agreement allows NASA flexibility to spend an amount between those two numbers.

NASA’s FY2024 budget request including out-year projections. Source: NASA budget documentation.

But NASA’s science program overall drops from $7.8 billion in FY2023 to $7.3 billion in FY2024. The request was $8.3 billion. Planetary science, which includes the Mars Sample Return program, is cut from $3.2 billion in FY2023 to $2.7 billion (the request was $3.4 billion). While Congress is cutting that budget overall, it also “encourages” NASA to launch the VERITAS mission to Venus by the end of the decade instead of NASA’s current plan of no earlier than 2031, specifically supports the NEO Surveyor asteroid-hunting mission at the requested level of $210 million and the Dragonfly mission to Titan at $360 million, more than the $328 million requested.

At a meeting of NASA’s Planetary Science Advisory Committee meeting yesterday, Planetary Science Division Director Lori Glaze urged the planetary community to stick together during these tough times and not break into factions fighting each other. Pointing out that they have gone through downturns in the past, but recovered in later years, she called for everyone to back the recommendations of the planetary science Decadal Survey from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine that sets priorities for this discipline and includes decision rules on what to do if funding doesn’t turn out as planned.

The Space Operations budget, which includes the International Space Station and efforts to facilitate commercial companies to build successors to it, will get $4.2 billion, about the same as FY2023, but $300 million less than the request of $4.5 billion.

The International Space Station. Credit: NASA

The final agreement makes no mention of the Deorbit Vehicle, or space tug, NASA requested for the first time in FY2024 to safely deorbit the ISS into the Pacific Ocean at the end of its lifetime around 2030. NASA estimates it will cost $1 billion and $180 million was requested for FY2024. NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel repeatedly stresses the urgent need to build such a capability. Lt. Gen. Susan Helms (Ret.), a former NASA astronaut and the new chair of ASAP, reiterated the panel’s concerns at their meeting last week. “The panel is adamant that a deorbit capability for the International Space Station has to come to fruition.” Worried the FY2024 appropriations bills might not include the requisite funding, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said money is included in an Administration request for supplemental domestic spending (separate from the national security supplemental), but there does not appear to be any movement on that bill so far.

Another program of interest is in the Space Technology account. The request included $227 million for the On-Orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing-1 (OSAM-1) mission, the same as FY2023, and Congress is poised to approve that amount. Report language goes on to direct NASA “to adjust the mission to ensure a 2026 launch” including reducing testing requirements and making technical changes “to meet these launch and budget requirements.” Last Friday, however, NASA announced plans to cancel the program entirely, which certainly seems to be at cross-purposes with Congress’s intent.

At NOAA, the Office of Space Commerce will get $65 million instead of the $88 million requested. FY2023 funding was $70 million.  The National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service, NESDIS, that builds and operates the nation’s weather and space weather satellites, will get $1.415 billion in the Procurement, Acquisition and Construction (PAC) account compared to the $1.679 billion requested. Its FY2023 funding was $1.330 billion.

FY2024 NOAA/NESDIS funding in the Procurement, Acquisition and Construction (PAC) account. Source: explanatory report to accompany the FY2024 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill.

The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, AST, will get the full $42 million requested for FY2024, about a $4 million increase over its FY2023 funding level of $38 million in the Operations Account. The FAA also funds commercial space activities in the Facilities and Equipment (F&E) and Research, Engineering and Development (RE&D) accounts. F&E funds Commercial Space Integration to facilitate integration of space launches and reentries into the National Airspace System and $1 million was approved for FY2024, the same as the request and down from $5 million in FY2023.  The RE&D account funds a Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation Safety and $2 million was approved, about one-third of the $6.2 million requested. For FY2023, $4.7 million was enacted.

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.