Senate Appropriators Increase NASA Budget, Save SOFIA, Transfer Two Programs from NOAA to NASA – UPDATE

Senate Appropriators Increase NASA Budget, Save SOFIA, Transfer Two Programs from NOAA to NASA – UPDATE

UPDATE, June 6, 2014:   The final version of the report is now posted on GPO’s website, but not the bill.  See link in last paragraph.

ORIGINAL STORY, June 5, 2014: The Senate Appropriations Committee approved its FY2015 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill today.  The bill would increase NASA’s FY2015 budget by $439 million to $17.9 billion.  While that figure is very similar to what the House approved, it would be allocated within NASA quite differently in some cases.   Among the differences, the Senate committee would transfer two programs – Jason-3 and DSCOVR – to NASA from NOAA and increase NASA’s earth science budget accordingly. obtained a copy of the committee’s report on the CJS bill and we’ve updated our fact sheet on NASA’s FY2015 budget request with the Senate committee’s recommendations.

President Obama requested $17.461 billion for NASA in FY2015, a figure rejected by both Senate and House appropriators.   The House approved an increase of $435 million, to $17.896 billion.  The Senate committee recommends an even $17.900 billion.  Here are some of the major changes.

  • Astrophysics:  SOFIA and WFIRST. Like the House, the Senate committee rejected the Obama Administration’s plan to mothball the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).  The 747-based observatory is a joint project between NASA and its German counterpart, DLR.  The Administration proposed cancelling it because NASA could not afford its 80 percent share of the roughly $100 million/year operating costs.   It requested only $12 million for FY2015 as part of a close-out plan, with no funding projected for future years.   The House disapproved that plan and provided $70 million.  The Senate committee also disapproves and provides $87 million.  SOFIA’s FY2014 funding was $84 million.  Like last year, the Senate committee also added money for work on the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), identified by the National Research Council’s astrophysics Decadal Survey as the top priority for the next large space observatory after the James Webb Space Telescope.  The committee provides $56 million.
  • Planetary Exploration:  Europa.  FY2015 is the first year that NASA is requesting funds — $15 million — for planning a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa.  Congress was way ahead of NASA on this one, adding money in FY2013 ($75 million, which became $69 million after adjusting for rescissions and the sequester) and FY2014 ($80 million).   The Senate committee does not increase funding for Europa (the House added $85 million), but expressed its support and directed NASA to design the mission to use the Space Launch System (SLS) as its launch vehicle.
  • Earth Science.  The Senate committee substantially increased NASA’s earth science budget, in part because it transferred two programs to NASA from NOAA: Jason-3, an ocean altimetry mission, and DSCOVR, a space weather mission.  Both are cooperative programs that involve NOAA, NASA and other domestic and international agencies.  They both have long histories, but NOAA has been managing the programs most recently.  The Senate committee would put NASA in charge and adds money to NASA’s budget resulting in a total of $25.6 million for Jason-3 and $24.8 million for DSCOVR.  (NOAA requested $25.656 million for Jason-3 and $21.1 million for DSCOVR.)  The Senate committee also eschews NASA’s efforts at finding innovative methods for providing continuity of Landsat data.  It directs NASA to proceed with a new Landsat mission for launch no later than 2020 and a cost of no more than $650 million (including launch) that would “maximize the utilization of non-recurring engineering efforts from Landsat 8.”
  • SLS and Orion.  The Senate committee substantially increases funding for SLS:  $1.70 billion compared to the request of $1.38 billion.   The House provided $1.60 billion.  The Senate committee also increases funding for Orion:  $1.200 billion compared to the $1.053 billion request.  The House provided $1.140 billion.   The Senate committee directs NASA to establish a “reliable and realistic” Joint Confidence Level (JCL) for both programs to ensure that the programs do not “incur a higher risk profile than other major missions.”  If the JCL is less than NASA’s standard 70 percent, NASA must justify and document the reasons and nevertheless provide the committee with a funding profile needed to achieve a 70 percent JCL.  (A JCL is an estimate of the probability that a program will meet its budget and cost targets.  The higher the probability, the more money needed in the early stages of the program.)
  • Commercial Crew.  NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden made winning congressional approval of the full $848 million request for commercial crew a top priority to ensure that NASA can support two competitors in the next phase of the program rather than only one.  The Senate committee recommends $805 million (the House approved $785 million).  While not the full request, either the Senate or House figure is more than Congress has approved in the past.  The Senate committee has extensive language on the use of Space Act Agreements versus Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR)-based contracts and requires NASA to provide certain information to allow increased transparency.
  • Space Technology.  The Senate committee cuts the request for Space Technology substantially from $705.5 million to $580.0 million although some of that reflects a transfer of funds for satellite servicing from the Space Technology account to Space Operations (the report does not specify how much).  The report language does not explain the rationale for the cut, but says the priority should be Cross-Cutting Space Technology.

At the markup today, committee chairwoman Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said that she was working with Senate leadership to bring several appropriations bills to the floor for consideration during the week of June 16.  Her committee marked up this CJS bill as well as the Transportation-HUD bill today, so they presumably will be part of that package.

Update, June 6:  The final version of the report, S. Rept. 113-181, is now posted on GPO’s website and accessible via the committee’s site.  The bill is not posted there yet.

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