Trump Administration Proposes Half Billion Dollar Cut to NASA for FY2020

Trump Administration Proposes Half Billion Dollar Cut to NASA for FY2020

The Trump Administration released its FY2020 budget request today.  For NASA, the request is $21.019 billion, a $481 million cut from its FY2019 budget.  NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tried to put a positive spin on it by comparing it to last year’s request since by that measure it is a 6 percent increase, but it is actually a 2.2 percent reduction from current funding.

The request again proposes terminating the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), two Earth science programs (PACE and CLARREO-Pathfinder), and NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement (formerly the Office of Education).  Congress rejected all of those proposals during the FY2019 budget cycle.

The FY2020 request and future year “run-out” compared with the FY2018 and FY2019 appropriations are shown in this NASA table.

Source: NASA

Speaking to employees at Kennedy Space Center this afternoon, Bridenstine called it a “very good” budget that supports NASA’s programs in aeronautics, science and exploration. He urged NASA employees to engage with the public via social media to explain what NASA is doing and why because it can achieve its goals only if “all of America buys in.”

Avoiding any mention of the programs being proposed for termination, he heralded what will be accomplished with the programs that are supported, including a human return to the Moon.  As he often points out, he views reusability as a sine qua non for creating a sustainable program of human space exploration.  NASA is often criticized by advocates of reusable systems under development by commercial companies for its funding of the expendable Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion crew spacecraft.  In a bit of news today, Bridenstine said Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for Orion, is working on making part of Orion reusable by the time it flies its fourth mission — Exploration Mission-4 (EM-4).

When EM-4 will take place is unclear.  The first test launch of SLS/Orion without a crew, EM-1, is currently scheduled for next year and a chart included in NASA’s budget material today keeps it there.

Source: NASA

However, Marshall Space Flight Center Director Jody Singer said last week that the schedule is being reassessed and budget documentation released by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) today was vague.  It asserts only that the “first uncrewed test launch,” which is EM-1, will take place “in the early 2020s.”  The OMB document also reveals that plans to upgrade SLS to its more capable “Block 1B” configuration with the Exploration Upper Stage are being deferred and suggests that SLS is no longer envisioned for placing elements of the Lunar Gateway into lunar orbit. Instead it will be used only to launch crews.

Lunar Gateway elements would be launched on competitively procured vehicles, complementing crew transport flights on the SLS and Orion. This approach would accelerate commercial lunar delivery capabilities critical to U.S. exploration objectives and speed up the timeline for lunar surface exploration. — OMB, FY2020 Budget of the U.S Government

Canada is the first international partner to commit to working with NASA to build the Gateway.  It already is a partner in the International Space Station (ISS) program.  Today, the European Space Agency (ESA) issued a press release saying that it and other ISS partners have “endorsed” plans to build the Gateway and ESA may make a commitment to participating at its next Ministerial Meeting in November.  Bridenstine and ESA both showed this notional slide of the Gateway and which ISS partner is interested in which element.  Bridenstine added, however, that he wants to involve other countries as well as the ISS partners in future human exploration.

Source: NASA

Bridenstine also focused on the importance of NASA earth and space science programs, particularly as they relate to supporting human exploration (heliophysics, robotic missions to the Moon and Mars) or being enabled by it (astrophysics telescopes on the far side of the Moon).  He stressed that the Administration is committed to completing the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which suffered more cost overruns and delays last year, as well as funding the Mars 2020 robotic rover and a Mars sample return mission. Funding is also provided for the Europa Clipper mission to study Jupiter’s moon Europa.  Like last year, however, NASA wants to launch it on a commercial rocket, not SLS as required by law.  OMB asserts that using a commercial rocket will save $700 million.

As a former Navy pilot, he also enthused about NASA’s aeronautics research, especially the X-59 low-boom supersonic demonstrator.

NASA Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jeffrey DeWit and Deputy CFO Andrew Hunter will hold a teleconference at 5:00 pm ET today to discuss the proposal. It will be broadcast on NASA’s website.  A package of slides and other summary information are already posted on NASA’s budget website.

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