NASA Budget To Soar Over $20 Billion in Final FY2018 Appropriations

NASA Budget To Soar Over $20 Billion in Final FY2018 Appropriations

The House Appropriations Committee released its version of the final FY2018 “omnibus” appropriations bill this evening.  It provides $20.7 billion for NASA, an increase of almost $1.1 billion over FY2017.  Almost all of NASA’s programs would benefit from the increase, but science, education, and a second mobile platform for the Space Launch System are big winners.  NASA is currently operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) that expires at midnight on Friday.  Congressional leaders are hoping the omnibus bill will be passed by then.

The omnibus, or consolidated, appropriations bill combines funding for most government agencies.  NASA is part of Division B, Commerce-Justice-Science.

The $20.736 billion recommended for NASA is $1.083 billion more than what NASA received for FY2017 ($19.653 billion) and an increase of $1.644 billion over the Trump Administration’s FY2018 request ($19.092 billion).

The following are a few highlights from the bill and accompanying report language.  All comparisons are to FY2017 appropriations unless otherwise specified.

Science would get $6,221.5 million, an increase of $456.6 million.  Report language explicitly states the bill “reiterates the importance of the decadal survey process and rejects the cancellation of scientific priorities” they recommend.

That may be a reference to a proposal by the Trump Administration in the FY2019 budget request to terminate the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), the top priority for a large flagship mission recommended by the most recent decadal survey for astrophysics.  Congress has been very supportive of WFIRST in the past and this bill would increase funding from the FY2018 request of $127 million to $150 million. Overall, astrophysics would get $850 million, compared to $750 million in FY2017.  The bill fully funds the James Webb Space Telescope, which has its own budget line item separate from the rest of astrophysics, but also continues to include the $8 billion cap on development costs.  NASA is expected to release the results of an independent review next week that may indicate that the project will exceed that cap.

Planetary Science also would get a significant increase:  $2.228 billion compared to $1.846 billion in FY2017.  The bill continues to direct NASA to build two spacecraft to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa — an orbiter/flyby and a lander. It provides $595 million to build both and continues to direct that they be launched on NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) by 2022 and 2024 respectively.   At the direction of Congress, NASA is currently building the orbiter/flyby spacecraft, called Europa Clipper, but asserts it cannot be launched until 2025 and on a commercial rocket, not SLS.  It is not building the lander despite past congressional direction to do.  The bill also provides $660 million for robotic Mars exploration, including funds to support a Mars sample return mission.  Mars sample return and Europa were the two highest priorities for flagship missions in the most recent decadal survey for planetary science.

Earth science fares quite well compared to the FY2018 request.  In total, it would be funded at $1.921 billion, the same amount as in FY2017.  The Trump Administration had proposed cancelling five earth science missions:  PACE, CLARREO-Pathfinder, OCO-3, the Earth-facing instruments on DSCOVR, and the Radiation Budget Instrument (RBI) that was to be placed on NOAA’s JPSS-2 spacecraft.  Instead, the bill funds the first four.  (NASA has again proposed cancelling them in the FY2019 budget request).  NASA terminated RBI on its own in January.  Report language directs NASA to “preserve the significant investment made to date when closing out the program” and report to Congress on how it plans to obtain the data that RBI would have collected.

Space Technology gets an increase from $686.5 million in FY2017 to $760 million in FY2018.  It includes $130 million for the  RESTORE-L satellite servicing technology development and demonstration mission, rejecting the Trump Administration’s proposal to restructure it as a technology development program only (without a demonstration).  It also specifies $75 million for nuclear thermal propulsion.

The biggest change in the Exploration account is the addition of $350 million to build a second mobile launch platform for the Space Launch System (SLS) at Kennedy Space Center.  There is only one now and it would have to be modified to accommodate the larger upper stage that will be used after the first SLS launch.  It will take 33 months to make those modifications so advocates want to build a second platform to accelerate when the second launch can take place.  SLS and Orion are funded at the same level as in FY2017 ($2.15 billion and $1.35 billion respectively), and Exploration Ground Systems (separate from the second mobile launch platform) gets an increase from $429 million to $545 million.  In total, Exploration would be funded at $4.790 billion, compared to $4.324 billion in FY2017.

The bill restores $100 million for Education, the same amount that was provided in FY2017.  The Trump Administration wanted to eliminate NASA’s Office of Education and the four programs it funds, requesting only enough money for close-out costs.  Instead, this bill provides $18 million for EPSCoR, $40 million for Space Grant, $32 million for MUREP, and $10 million for SEAP.   (The Trump Administration has also proposed eliminating this office and those programs in the FY2019 request).

The bill continues to include the so-called “Wolf amendment,” originally written by former Congressman Frank Wolf, prohibiting NASA from engaging in bilateral space cooperation with China unless certain conditions are met and Congress is notified.

The following table from the report accompanying the bill shows how the NASA funding would be allocated:

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