Senate Appropriators Propose $22.75 Billion for NASA in FY2020, Some Extra for Artemis

Senate Appropriators Propose $22.75 Billion for NASA in FY2020, Some Extra for Artemis

The Senate Appropriations Committee began marking up its version of the FY2020 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill that funds NASA today. The eagerly anticipated action is seen as a bellwether of Senate support for NASA’s Artemis program to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024. The results appear mixed, with some but not all of the extra $1.6 billion NASA requested in May. It is an improvement compared to the House version, however, which did not include any of the $1.6 billion. Overall the agency did slightly better in the Senate committee than in the House, with a top-line of $22.75 billion compared to $22.32 billion.

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), chairman, Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittee

The Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee’s markup is just one of many steps toward final passage. Full committee markup is on Thursday.

NASA’s original request on March 11 was $21.0 billion, but the White House submitted a supplemental $1.6 billion request on May 13 that raised it to $22.6 billion. The extra funds are needed to meet the Trump Administration’s goal of putting astronauts back on the Moon by 2024, which was announced on March 26, two weeks after the original request.

In his opening statement today, CJS subcommittee chairman Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) was enthusiastic about Artemis.

“This year the Administration took a bold step to accelerate the goal of returning American astronauts to the moon by 2024.  This mission, Artemis, will cement America’s leadership status in human space exploration. Within the funding provided NASA will be able to make significant progress in fulfilling the accelerated goal of returning astronauts, including the first woman, to the Moon by 2024.” — Sen. Jerry Moran

NASA has been developing some of the systems for many years, including the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion crew spacecraft. More recently it won approval to build a small space station (Gateway) that will be placed in lunar orbit as a transfer point for crews headed to the lunar surface, and purchase services to place NASA payloads on the surface using small commercial robotic spacecraft — the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program.  All of those activities were funded in the original request.

The $1.6 billion supplemental added more money for SLS and Orion, CLPS, and technologies to support lunar surface precursor capabilities. But the largest share, $1 billion, is to develop Human Landing Systems (HLS) to ferry crews between the Gateway and the lunar surface.

The subcommittee approved $744 million instead. That $256 million reduction could impact NASA’s plans to acquire the landers, which it plans to do through public-private partnerships. Designing, building and testing spacecraft to land people on the Moon in just 5 years is a daunting task.  NASA just assigned management of the HLS program to Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL, home state of Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R).

The bill also adds $300 million for the Exploration Upper Stage (EUS), a more capable upper stage for SLS.  NASA did not request any EUS funding in FY2020, choosing to defer work on it because of delays in the SLS itself.

SLS and EUS are built by Boeing and, like the landers, managed at Marshall.  Critics of NASA’s current plan for getting astronauts to the lunar surface argue that NASA does not need the Gateway if it uses the more powerful SLS/EUS combination. Landers are still needed, but their design might be quite different in that scenario.  Doug Cooke, a former NASA official who is now a consultant to Boeing, described that mission architecture at a House hearing last week.  Whether that is the plan the Senate prefers may become clear during full committee markup, though the bill does fund the Gateway at $500 million in FY2020.

Moran also praised NASA’s other programs. “NASA and its missions inspire us and the next generation of scientists and engineers. The bill provides robust funding for aeronautic research and science missions in the study of the Sun, the far reaches of the universe, and everything in between.”

For the third year in a row, the subcommittee rejected the Trump Administration’s proposal to terminate the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) and three Earth science missions (PACE, CLARREO-Pathfinder, and the Carbon Monitoring System).  In all, it approved $6.9 billion for NASA’s science program, the same as FY2019, but $519 million more than requested.  It also again rejected the proposal to terminate NASA’s STEM education programs.  The House similarly rejected those proposed terminations.

Republicans and Democrats provided separate summaries of the subcommittee’s actions. Taken together, while not comprehensive, they provide some insight into their decisions.

  • $6.2 billion for Exploration, including $2.586 billion for SLS ($300 million is for EUS), $1.4 billion for Orion, $500 million for Gateway, and $744 million for HLS
  • $6.9 billion for Science:
    • $1.9 billion for Earth science, including $161 million for PACE, $18 million for CLARREO-Pathfinder, and $10 million for the Carbon Monitoring System
    • $2.6 billion for planetary science, including an unspecified amount for a 2026 Mars Sample Return mission
    • $1.2 billion for astrophysics, including $445.7 million for WFIRST
    • $423 million for the James Webb Space Telescope
    • $735 million for Heliophysics
  • $784 million for Aeronautics
  • $112 million for STEM Engagement
    • $47 million for Space Grant
    • $22 million for EPSCoR
    • $33 million for MUREP
    • $10 million for SEAP
  • $1.076 billion for Space Technology, including $180 million for RESTORE-L

Once the bill is approved by full committee on Thursday, it ordinarily would go to the Senate floor for a vote,  but how the FY2020 appropriations process will unfold remains unclear. Ultimately the House, Senate, and White House will have to agree, so there is a long way yet to go.

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