NASA Gets Significant Cut in Final FY2024 Appropriations

NASA Gets Significant Cut in Final FY2024 Appropriations

House and Senate appropriators released their final agreement on six FY2024 appropriations bills today including the one that funds NASA, Commerce-Justice-Science. The agency will get $24.875 billion, half a billion less than its FY2023 spending level of $25.384 billion and more than $2 billion less than President Biden’s request of $27.185 billion. Support for the Artemis program remains strong along with Mars Sample Return, but funding will be a challenge for both.

The CJS bill is one of six in the group of FY2024 appropriations bills that will expire on March 8 pursuant to the most recent Continuing Resolution. House and Senate appropriators released all six bills and their accompanying explanatory statements this afternoon. Although the bills haven’t passed either chamber yet, they represent bipartisan, bicameral agreement and likely will be the final word for FY2024.

NASA will get $24.875 billion, a substantial cut from the $25.384 billion appropriated for FY2023 especially considering inflation.

Source: Explanatory report accompanying the FY2024 CJS appropriations bill.

With House Republicans demanding deep cuts to federal spending and the resulting Fiscal Responsibility Act, NASA knew it would not be getting the $27.2 billion requested by President Biden for FY2024. The question has been how deep the cuts would be especially for the Artemis program to return astronauts to the Moon and the robotic Mars Sample Return mission.

Source: NASA FY2024 budget request documentation.

Artemis fared pretty well all things considered. The FY2024 request was $7.971 billion, an increase from $7.469 billion in FY2023.  The agreement allocates $7.666 billion. The explanatory report “notes the strong support for the Artemis missions that will establish the first long-term human presence on the Moon, accomplishing the Presidential direction carried in Space Policy Directive-1.”

The bill provides “up to the fiscal year enacted level” for Orion and SLS including $600 million for the upgraded version of SLS, Block IB, and $1.88 billion for Human Landing Systems (HLS) “including full funding for NASA to meet all contractual obligations for both HLS providers in fiscal year 2024.” Lockheed Martin and Boeing are the prime contractors for Orion and SLS respectively. SpaceX and Blue Origin are the two HLS providers selected by NASA to build the systems to get astronauts from lunar orbit down to and back from the lunar surface. The agreement also provides $379.9 million for spacesuits both for the Artemis program and the International Space Station.  Axiom Space and Collins were selected to develop those spacesuits.

Funding for the Mars Sample Return mission to bring back samples of Mars being collected right now by the Perseverance rover is a bit murky. The request was $949 million, but NASA conceded at the time they knew it was not enough. An independent review last fall cast doubt not only NASA’s cost estimating, but the plan — or architecture — for getting the samples back to Earth overall.

Senate appropriators expressed alarm about how the cost kept growing and approved only $300 million unless NASA could submit a plan to keep costs in check. Conversely, House appropriators approved the full request.

Worried that the final figure might be as low as $300 million, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA that manages the MSR program for NASA cut 8 percent of its workforce last month.

The final agreement expresses support for MSR and explicitly does not adopt the Senate language, but is vague on how much money MSR gets for FY2024. The explanatory statement says MSR gets “no less than” $300 million and “up to the President’s budget request.”   That’s quite a range, from $300 million to $949 million.  It also prohibits any further workforce reductions until NASA completes its review of the MSR program and reports to Congress on the path forward.

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