NASA To Get $24 Billion for FY2022, More than Last Year But Less Than Biden Wanted

NASA To Get $24 Billion for FY2022, More than Last Year But Less Than Biden Wanted

Almost halfway through FY2022, Congress is poised to pass an FY2022 omnibus appropriations bill that includes funding for NASA along with all the other departments and agencies. The agreement gives NASA $24.041 billion, a $770 million increase over FY2021, but $760 million less than the $24.802 billion President Biden requested. Though unrelated to appropriations, the bill also includes legislation to extend NASA’s Enhanced Use Leasing authority for one more year. The House passed the bill very late March 9 and the Senate on March 10.

The final total is a bit of surprise. Both appropriations committees individually recommended increases above the request. The House Appropriations Committee approved $25.040 billion and the Senate Appropriations Committee recommended $24.837 billion. Neither bill passed their respective chambers.

In fact, the Senate Appropriations Committee did not even report out a Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill. Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) released the Democratic versions of all the 12 regular appropriations bills because Republicans would not work with them and time was running out. Democrats asserted Republicans on both sides of the Hill refused to negotiate on this final package or submit their own proposals for many weeks, one of the main reasons this deal (H.R. 2471) is so late. FY2022 began on October 1, 2021, more than five months ago.

In short, there are no dramatic changes, just modest cuts or increases here and there. All of NASA’s human spaceflight, science, technology, aeronautics and STEM education programs, as well as agency operations, are funded, which is to say Congress does not require that any be terminated though the less-than-requested funding in some areas could have an impact.

Illustration of SpaceX’s Starship Human Landing System on the Moon. Credit: Space X

NASA succeeded in getting full support for its Human Landing System (HLS) program this year. HLS is needed for the Artemis program to return astronauts to the Moon. Last year, Congress appropriated only 25 percent of the request, which meant the agency could choose only one HLS contractor. It wanted two to ensure redundancy and competition. SpaceX won the contract, prompting protests by its competitors that slowed the program for seven months.

This year, Congress is providing the amount requested, $1.195 billion. However, that still is enough only for one contractor. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson hoped to get more HLS funding through the infrastructure bill, but that didn’t work out. Nelson said in October to expect a “big boost” for HLS in the FY2023 request instead.

That FY2023 budget request has not been sent to Congress yet. Although the law says the next year’s budget request is to be submitted on the first Monday in February, it rarely is, especially when Congress is late finishing appropriations for the current year. Expectations were high that the FY2023 budget request would be sent up this month, but the war in Ukraine may require modifications to the defense portion.

In the explanatory statement, Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee appropriators told NASA to provide a plan explaining how HLS will meet goals like redundancy and competition within the amount they are providing for FY2022 and whatever is in the FY2023 request.

Human Landing System (HLS) .-The agreement provides not less than $1,195,000,000 for HLS, including no less than the requested amount for the Lunar Lander office. With these funds, in addition to enabling a human landing during the Artemis III mission, NASA is expected to make real investments in development that promote competition for the sustainable lander phase rather than additional studies. The agreement urges NASA to enable a routine cadence of human transportation services to and from the Moon with multiple providers, as practicable. Within 30 days of enactment of this Act, NASA is directed to deliver a publicly available plan explaining how it will ensure safety, redundancy, sustainability, and competition in the HLS program within the resources provided by this Act and included in the fiscal year 2023 budget request. NASA shall also provide to the Committees a description of all resources needed in fiscal years 2023 through 2026 to accomplish these goals.

Last fall, Nelson split the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, which oversaw all of the Artemis program along with the International Space Station and other activities, into two: the Space Operations Mission Directorate and Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate. The agency asked permission to begin transitioning its budget accounts for the Artemis program to reflect the change, with some money in each Mission Directorate depending on whether it supports operational activities or development.

The Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft in the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center, March 2022. Credit: NASA

Congress said no to that, at least for now since the first SLS/Orion flight, Artemis I, still has not taken place (the current plan is to launch this June if a “wet dress rehearsal” test goes as planned).  Appropriators want a detailed plan for how the transition will happen before signing on, but did not prevent NASA from presenting its FY2023 budget request that way. One thing they want to see is how shifting money from development to operations will free-up funds to develop additional capabilities for lunar and Mars exploration.

Appropriators fenced 60 percent of the funding for Artemis elements other than SLS and Orion, as well as Commercial LEO Development and most robotic lunar missions, until NASA sends them a multi-year plan for SLS flights to build Gateway lunar space station, commence partnerships with commercial entities to land rovers and people on the Moon, and conduct science on the Moon.  Only 40 percent on the allocated funding may be obligated until the plan is submitted.

In all, Congress provides $6,791.7 million for NASA’s Exploration account, which funds Artemis, compared to the $6,880.5 billion requested, a cut of $88.8 million.

  • Orion: $1.406.7 million, the same as the request
  • SLS: $2,600.0 million. The request was $2,487.0 million. Of the amount provided, $600 million is for “concurrent development” of the more powerful Block IB version of SLS that requires the Exploration Upper Stage.
  • Exploration Ground Systems: $590 million, the same as the request. Up to $165.3 million is for a second Mobile Launch Platform (MLP-2) for SLS, which is needed for the more powerful and physically larger and heavier Block IB. The appropriators express concern about the “extraordinary projected cost increase for MLP-2” that could affect other activities in this budget account, but simply grant NASA authority to transfer money to cover it.
  • Exploration Research and Development: $2,195.0 million (of which $1,195.0 million is for HLS). The request was $2,396.7 million, so this is a reduction of $201.7 million due in part to the Human Research Program being transferred to the Space Operations account. The other programs within this account are the Gateway, Advanced Cislunar and Surface Capabilities, and Advanced Exploration Systems. The report does not say where the cuts are to be made.


The International Space Station. A mosaic created from images taken by the departing Crew-2 crew aboard SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour, November 8, 2021.

Space Operations pays for the International Space Station and its crew and cargo transportation services, along with the “Commercial LEO” program to facilitate development and launch of commercial space stations to replace the ISS, NASA’s ground- and space-based communications networks, and the Launch Services Program that acquires launches for NASA spacecraft. The report says NASA’s request to move the Human Research Program (HRP) from Exploration into this account was approved. The request for HRP was $130.2 million. The total for Space Operations is $4,041.3 million, a bit more than the $4,017.4 request.

For the first time, Congress is providing the requested level for Commercial LEO, $101.1 million. In the two prior years for which funding was requested, it allocated only about one-tenth of the request, which was $150 million each of those years. In its report on the bill, the Senate Appropriations Committee remarked that NASA “finally” had provided a rationale and roadmap for the program. Except for that program, this report does not break down how the Space Operations funding is to be spent.

Infographic for the NASA-ESA Mars Sample Return campaign of three missions to collect samples of Mars’ surface (NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover already there), retrieve them with a NASA/ESA Sample Retrieval Lander, and return them to Earth on an ESA/NASA Earth Return Orbiter. The target launch date for the latter two is 2026. Credit: ESA

NASA’s science programs were slated for a considerable increase in the President’s request. This is one of the two programmatic accounts where Congress is making most of the cuts (the other is Space Technology). The request was $7,931.4 million while Congress is appropriating $7,614.4 million, a $317 million cut. That’s still more than $300 million above the FY2021 level ($7,300.8 million), but Congress also is requiring NASA to fund programs like SOFIA that were not part of the request. No programs were terminated, so NASA will have quite a balancing act to do.

Compared to the request, Earth Science was cut $185.3 million, Planetary Science $79.6 million, Astrophysics $6.7 million (but must absorb the $85.2 million addition for SOFIA), Heliophysics $18.8 million (and must absorb the additional $15 million for space weather), and Biological and Physical Sciences $26.6 million.

  • Earth Science: $2,064.7 million. The request was $2,250.0 million. The report does not specify where the cuts are to made. Instead the bill provides “up to the request level” for Earth Science Research and Analysis, Decadal Survey and Future Missions, PACE, CMS, Earth Venture Class Missions, NISAR, and GeoCARB, and “no less than the request” for CLARREO and GLIMR. The Biden Administration’s “Earth System Observatory” set of missions is part of the Decadal Survey and Future Missions line item.
  • Planetary Science: $3,120.4 million. The request was $3,200.0 million. As with Earth Science, no programs are curtailed and no direction is given as to where to make the cuts. The appropriators express strong support for the Mars Sample Return mission, “NASA’s highest priority planetary mission,” which NASA is pursuing in cooperation with the European Space Agency. The only funding figures spelled out in the report are affirming the requested levels for Lunar Discovery ($497.3 million) of which $107.2 million is for the VIPER lunar rover, and $14.2 million for Icy Satellites Surface Technology for a future Ocean Worlds lander mission (like Europa Lander). The request for the latter was $5 million.
  • Astrophysics: $1,393.5 million. The request was $1,400.2 million. Two notable provisions are concern about rising costs for the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (formerly WFIRST) and continuation of the SOFIA airborne infrared telescope. NASA conceded last year the costs for Roman are increasing because of COVID-related delays. Congress previously  set a cost cap of $3.2 billion, but raises it to $3.5 billion in this report, calling it a “firm” cap that NASA is to use in its future execution of the program. As for SOFIA, NASA wants to terminate the program and the most recent Decadal Survey from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Astro 2020, agreed. The appropriators acknowledged the Decadal Survey’s recommendation — and ignored it, directing NASA to fund SOFIA at $85.2 million. Since it was not in the request and Congress is not providing extra money, other astrophysics programs will have to be cut to compensate. Coupled with the overall decrease, the astrophysics division will be short by almost $92 million.
  • James Webb Space Telescope: $175.4 million, the same as the request. The telescope is now at its destination and undergoing mirror alignment and instrument activation, with scientific operations expected to commence around June.
  • Heliophysics: $777.9 million. The request was $796.7 million. The only significant change is an increase for Space Weather Science and Applications from the request of $9.9 million to $25 million. That increase will have be absorbed by other heliophysics programs along with the overall $18.8 million reduction.
  • Biological and Physical Sciences: $82.5 million. The request was $109.1 million. The report makes no comments about this other than the funding level.
Illustration of a spacecraft powered by Nuclear Thermal Propulsion. Credit: NASA

The Space Technology request of $1,425.0 million was a $325 million increase over FY2021. Congress did not agree and is approving level funding at $1,100.0 million. The request did not include any money for one of Congress’s favorite space technology efforts, nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP). Not surprisingly, Congress added $110 million for NTP, as it has in the past. NASA is convinced NTP is needed to send humans to Mars. The Space Technology budget will have to absorb that plus-up along with the cut back down to its FY2021 level.

Illustration of NASA’s X-59 Quiet Supersonic Technology (“low boom”) demonstrator. Credit: NASA

NASA requested $914.9 million for Aeronautics, an increase from $828.7 million in FY2021. Congress is allocating $880.7 mission instead, a cut of $34.2 million from the request.

A major aeronautics initiative is the X-59 Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator for quiet supersonic flight over land. The report does not specifically address funding for this program, but directs NASA to include “established non-military supersonic test corridors” for flight tests.  It also provides “up to” $311.7 million for the Integrated Aviation Systems Program and “not less than” $50 million for hypersonics technology.

STEM Engagement will get $137 million — $54.5 for Space Grant, $26 million for EPSCoR, $43 million for MUREP, and $13.5 million for SEAP.  That is slightly less than the request of $147 million overall.

NASA’s institutional accounts do OK. Safety, Security and Mission Services get $3,020.6 million, close to the $3,049.2 million requested, while Construction and Environmental Compliance and Remediation will receive $410.2 million, a little more than the $390.3 million requested. The report calls the “gulf” between the amount requested and the cost of projects that are “shovel ready and needed” to be “vast and disappointing.”

NASA’s Office of Inspector General gets $45.3 million instead of the $46.0 million requested.

The bill also continues the restrictions on bilateral space activities with China, the so-called “Wolf Amendment.”

All of that is in Division B, but there is another section, Division HH, of miscellaneous provisions unrelated to appropriations. Two are space-related.

The NASA Enhanced Use Leasing (EUL) Extension Act, introduced by Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) and Brian Babin (R-TX) is included. The original bill, H.R. 5726, passed the House on December 8, 2021, but the bill number was repurposed as a voting rights bill that did not pass the Senate. EUL authority allows NASA to lease underutilized facilities on NASA property to the private sector, state and local governments, and universities, and use the money for facilities maintenance, capital revitalization, and real property improvements. It ended on December 31, 2021 and the original House bill extended that for 10 more years, but all the language was stripped from the version of the bill that ultimately passed the House. This bill extends it for one more year, a compromise with the Senate that wanted a shorter extension.

The bill also allows the transfer of the Congressional Gold Medal to Katherine Johnson to her daughter, Katherine Goble Moore. Johnson was one of the “Hidden Figures,” women African American mathematicians critical to the early days of the U.S. space program.

NASA and the other departments and agencies have been operating under Continuing Resolutions (CRs) at their FY2021 levels since October 1. The latest CR expires on Friday and since this agreement was not released until just after midnight March 9 and the House passed it close to midnight the same day, the House also passed another CR until March 15 in case the Senate needed more time.

However, the Senate passed the bill just after 10:00 pm ET on March 10, so the new CR is not needed.

The bill now goes to the President for signature.


Note: this article has been updated to reflect House and Senate passage.

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