Civil

Civil

BRIEF INTRODUCTION: U.S. Government Civil Space Agencies

The 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to conduct a civil space program, while assigning military space activities to the Department of Defense.

Over the decades, other U.S. government agencies have taken leadership roles in various aspects of civil space activities, but NASA remains by far the largest and most visible U.S. civil space agency. Others with significant roles in civil space include:

Other agencies also have roles in the space program. The President submits to Congress an annual “Aeronautics and Space Report of the President” that provides funding and programmatic information about all U.S. Government agencies involved in space activities. Use the tab Reports|NAS GAO Others|Other Reports for links to recent reports.

NASA

NASA is by far the largest civil space agency in the world, never mind the United States. It conducts both aeronautics and space activities, although aeronautics is a comparatively small (about $1 billion) portion of its budget. This website is devoted to space policy and thus does not discuss NASA’s aeronautics programs as critical as they are to the nation. For information on NASA’s aeronautics programs, visit the website of NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate.

NASA Organization.  NASA is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and has nine field centers around the country: Ames Research Center (Mountain View, CA); Armstrong Flight Research Center (Palmdale, CA, formerly Dryden Flight Research Center); Glenn Research Center (Cleveland, OH, formerly Lewis Research Center); Goddard Space Flight Center (Greenbelt, MD), which also operates Wallops Flight Facility (Wallops Island, VA), the Goddard Institute of Space Studies (New York, NY) and the Independent Verification and Validation facility in Fairmont, WV ; Langley Research Center (Langley, VA); Johnson Space Center (Houston, TX), which also operates White Sands Test Facility (White Sands, NM); Kennedy Space Center (Cape Canaveral, FL); Marshall Space Flight Center (Huntsville, AL), which also operates the Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana; and Stennis Space Center (near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi).  Many consider the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Pasadena, CA) as another NASA center, but it is a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) operated for NASA by the California Institute of Technology. Nonetheless, NASA is usually referred to as having 10 centers around the country, in addition to its headquarters in Washington, D.C.

NASA Headquarters has five programmatic “Mission Directorates” that manage the agency’s diverse portfolio of programs: Aeronautics Research (ARMD), Exploration Systems Development (ESDMD), Science (SMD), Space Operations (SOMD), and Space Technology (STMD).

NASA Budgets.  Tables at the back of the annual Aeronautics and Space Report of the President mentioned above show NASA’s total budget, and budgets for other agencies with space-related expenditures, for every year since FY1959 in both current and constant (adjusted for inflation) dollars. NASA has a budget website with its complete budget requests for each year since FY1999.

SpacePolicyOnline.com fact sheets are available on NASA’s budget requests in FY2011 through FY2020 tracing action each year as they worked their ways through Congress. They can be viewed and downloaded from the tab Reports|SpacePolicyOnline.com|Fact Sheets.

Overview of NASA’s Human Spaceflight Program From Bush to Obama to Trump to Biden. ESDMD and SOMD together manage NASA’s human spaceflight program. More details are provided elsewhere on this page, but because of strong interest in this specific aspect of NASA’s activities, this brief summary is provided.

The human spaceflight program went through a tumultuous period in the 2010s, but seems to have stabilized more recently.

When President Obama took office in 2009, NASA was embarked on President George W. Bush’s Constellation program to return astronauts to the surface of the Moon by 2020 and someday go on to Mars. The agency was building a big new rocket, Ares V, and a crew spacecraft, Orion, to achieve that goal.

Obama cancelled Constellation because it was unaffordable. He saw no need to return to the Moon’s surface and instead set a goal of sending humans to orbit (not land on) Mars in the 2030s, with an Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) by 2025 as a steppingstone. Congress did not agree, however, and in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act directed NASA to build a big new rocket anyway, the Space Launch System (SLS), and a crew spacecraft. NASA kept the Orion program, so during the Obama Administration efforts continued to build systems to enable human spaceflight beyond low Earth orbit.  The main differences from Bush’s Constellation program was the destination and timeline: Mars by the 2030s, not the Moon by 2020.

The Trump Administration cancelled ARM as one of its first space policy decisions and in December 2017 restored Bush’s goal of returning humans to the Moon before embarking on trips to Mars. One change was the Trump Administration’s emphasis on going to the Moon with international and commercial partners, not alone as in the 1960s. Another is that this time the goal is “sustainable” lunar exploration and utilization, not just a few “flags and footprints” missions.

Initially, NASA focused on getting astronauts back on the Moon by 2028, but in the middle of the Trump Administration, on March 26, 2019, plans were upended again. Vice President Mike Pence, in his role as Chair of the White House National Space Council, announced he was accelerating the timeline and directed NASA to land “the first woman and the next man” on the Moon by 2024, the end of a second Trump term if he won reelection. Trump had reestablished the National Space Council on June 30, 2017.  It was created in the 1989 NASA Authorization Act and implemented by President George H.W. Bush in an April 20, 1989 Executive Order. By law, the Space Council is chaired by the Vice President and Dan Quayle was its chairman throughout Bush’s term. Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama chose not to fund or staff the Council, however, using the National Security Council and Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop space policy instead. Trump decided to reinstate the Space Council and it was very active across the civil, commmercial, and national security space sectors under Pence’s leadership.

The new Moon-Mars program was named Artemis after Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology. Congress was supportive on a bipartisan basis, but skeptical about the timeline.

Many wondered what would happen to Artemis when Trump lost the 2020 election, but President Joe Biden brought stability by staying the course with Trump’s plan, including the 2024 goal although NASA subsequently conceded it will not happen at least until the end of 2025. Biden also retained the National Space Council, which now is chaired by Vice President Kamala Harris.

Congress remains supportive, but wants to make sure NASA does not lose sight of the longer-term goal of getting humans to Mars. Sustainable lunar exploration is fine, but not necessarilly by NASA. The 2022 NASA Authorization Act drives home the point that NASA is to use the Moon only as a proving ground to learn whatever is necessary to safely send people to Mars, not as an end point in itself.

More detail is provided below.

OBAMA’S EARLY YEARS: NASA’s FY2010, FY2011 and FY2012 Budgets

President Obama’s first budget request for NASA was for FY2010.  The request was $18.686 billion.  Final funding for NASA was incorporated into the FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which provided $18.724 billion for the agency.

One of the major points of contention was the future of the U.S. human space flight program.  In 2004, following the space shuttle Columbia tragedy, President George W. Bush announced a Vision for Space Exploration to return humans to the surface of the Moon by 2020 and someday go to Mars.  He also decided that the space shuttle program would be terminated as soon as construction of the International Space Station (ISS) was completed, expected in 2010.   The Moon/Mars program was named Constellation and by the end of Bush’s second term work was underway to build two new rockets, Ares I and Ares V, and a crew spacecraft, Orion, to fulfill that goal as well as to take astronauts to and from the ISS since the shuttle no longer would be available. A four-year gap was anticipated between the end of the space shuttle and the availability of the new Ares I/Orion system.

Shortly after he took office, Obama directed NASA to establish a blue ribbon panel, the Augustine committee, to develop options for the human spaceflight program. He did not make a decision about which option to take during the course of congressional deliberations on the FY2010 budget, so Congress included language in the FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 111-117, 123 STAT. 3143) prohibiting NASA from spending any funds to terminate Constellation or initiate a new program until Congress approved of such action through another appropriations act.

For FY2011, Obama requested $19.0 billion for NASA, 1.5% more than the FY2010 appropriation, but Congress provided $18.45 billion.  See our fact sheet on the FY2011 budget request for more details.

The FY2011 budget request, released on February 1, 2010, proposed dramatic changes to NASA’s plans for the future of the U.S. human spaceflight program  The Obama Administration retained Bush’s plan to end the space shuttle program as soon as construction of the International Space Station (ISS) was completed, but terminated its successor –Ares I/Orion — and the rest of the Constellation program.

Instead of NASA developing Ares I/Orion as the new system to ferry crews to and from ISS in low Earth orbit (LEO), the Obama Administration proposed that the private sector be assigned that task.  Under the Obama plan, NASA would focus on developing “game-changing” technologies to enable lower cost human spaceflight missions beyond LEO in the future while subsidizing private sector companies to develop new crew space transportation systems (launch vehicles and spacecraft). The Obama FY2011 budget request was for a total of $6 billion over five years (FY2011-2015) for that program, now called “commercial crew.”

The proposal was very controversial and the subject of many congressional hearings during 2010. President Obama made a speech at Kennedy Space Center on April 15, 2010 further explaining the plan, but it did little to ease congressional concerns.

Congress wanted NASA to develop a new crew space transportation system to service LEO as well as take astronauts to destinations beyond LEO. One concern was that private sector systems would not materialize and the “gap” between the end of the space shuttle program and the availability of a new U.S. crew space transportation system would be even longer than four years. The Obama Administration insisted that commercially-developed systems could be ready sooner than a government-developed system, shortening the gap.

A compromise was reached in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act (P.L. 111-267) in which NASA was directed to do both: build a new Space Launch System (SLS) and a Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (Orion was ultimately chosen as this vehicle) for use both in LEO and for yet-to-be-determined beyond LEO destinations, as well as help commercial companies build LEO crew space transportation systems. The law also supported President Obama’s request to extend operations of the ISS through at least 2020 (the Bush Administration had envisioned ending U.S. participation in the program in 2015).

Many view the authorization act as recommending insufficient funds to do all that NASA would be required to do, and the FY2011 appropriations level was even less than what was authorized.  (Authorization bills set policy and recommend funding, but only appropriations bill actually provide money.)

For FY2012, President Obama requested $18.7 billion for NASA, the same as the amount appropriated for FY2010 and slightly more than what it received for FY2011. Congress appropriated $17.8 billion, although an across-the-board rescission reduced that by $30 million for a final total of $17.77 billion, about $1 billion less than the request. See our fact sheet on NASA’s FY2012 budget request for more details.

The debate over the FY2012 NASA budget request mirrored the debate from FY2011. The Obama Administration and Congress remained at odds over the future of the human space flight program. The bipartisan leadership of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and its Science and Space Subcommittee was particularly strong in criticizing the Obama Administration’s FY2012 NASA budget request because they believed it contravened the compromise reached in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act (P.L. 111-267). They insisted that the law made it clear that the priority was for NASA to develop SLS and  the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV/Orion), while also permitting NASA to financially assist commercial companies develop commercial crew space systems. The FY2012 budget request, however, asked for more money than was authorized for commercial crew and less money than was authorized for SLS and MPCV/Orion.

The SLS was a particularly sore point between the Administration and Congress. The Senate Commerce committee went so far as to issue a subpoena to force NASA to provide documentation about its efforts regarding the SLS because they felt the Administration was dragging its feet. NASA was directed in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act to submit a report to Congress by January 2011 on the SLS and MPCV/Orion, but the agency submitted what it called an interim report and continually delayed release of the final version.  The issue came to a head in September 2011 following a story in the Wall Street Journal that asserted the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was having “sticker shock” over the price of the system. Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) — the architects of the 2010 NASA Authorization Act — demanded a meeting with the OMB director, Jacob Lew, and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden.  The SLS design was publicly released the next day, September 14,  in a hastily-called press conference in the Senate.

In the final appropriations bill, Congress increased the level of funding for SLS and MPCV/Orion, and approximately cut in half the requested funding for commercial crew. A significant cut was also made to NASA’s technology development programs. Congress increased funding for NASA’s troubled James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) program, which was severely over budget and behind schedule. The House Appropriations Committee recommended terminating JWST when it marked up the CJS appropriations bill (H. Rept. 112-169), but the Senate Appropriations Committee took the opposite approach (S. Rept. 112-78) and added money so the telescope could be launched in 2018 instead of years later (at that time it was supposed to launch in 2013, but did not actually launch until 2021). The Senate position prevailed in conference.

OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: NASA’s FY2013 Budget and The Sequester

For FY2013, President Obama  requested $17.711 billion for NASA, slightly less than the $17.770 billion the agency received for FY2012. The final amount and how it was allocated among NASA’s programs was not finalized until August 2013, 10 months into the fiscal year, because NASA’s budget, like most of the rest of the government, was subject to two rescissions and a sequester that made the final amounts much lower (about 7 percent in total) than they appeared in the report accompanying the appropriations bill. According to NASA’s FY2013 operating plan, the final total was $16.865 billion, another approximately $1 billion cut from the request. See our fact sheet on NASA’s FY2013 budget request for more information.

The sequester was pursuant to the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) that set limits on how much money Congress could spend for all discretionary programs (defense and non-defense). If Congress exceeded that amount, across-the-board cuts would automatically go into effect for every program, regardless of merit. The effects of the sequester on NASA and all the other departments and agencies convinced Congress and the Obama Administration to relax the limits for the rest of Obama’s term and into the Trump Administration, so FY2013 was the only year it was  implemented.

Human spaceflight remained controversial in FY2013 because of NASA’s request of $830 million for commercial crew, which SLS advocates once again argued violated the terms of the 2010 NASA Authorization Act where SLS and MPCV/Orion were to have priority.  For FY2013, commercial crew ultimately received $535 million instead.

However, the most controversial aspect of the FY2013 request was the reduction in funding for NASA’s planetary exploration program. The cuts proposed for FY2013 and the following four years meant that NASA had to withdraw from a cooperative program with the European Space Agency (ESA) to launch two probes to Mars in 2016 and 2018. They were the first in a series of probes over many years — a “campaign” — that eventually would lead to returning a sample of Mars to Earth. Probes can be launched to Mars every 26 months when the planets are properly aligned. That long-term commitment apparently was a factor in the reluctance of the Obama Administration to commit to the initial missions in 2016 and 2018. Planetary exploration is popular in Congress and some Members immediately criticized the cut. In December 2012, NASA announced that it would launch another Mars mission in 2020 using spare parts from the Mars Curiosity mission was already exploring the planet, but with new science instruments. (That became the Mars Perseverance rover that launched in 2020 and landed in February 2021 with the Ingenuity helicopter.)

OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: NASA’s FY2014 and FY2015 Budgets

For FY2014, the Obama Administration requested $17.7 billion for NASA. NASA’s FY2014 request included a new twist on the President’s directive that NASA send astronauts to an asteroid as the next step in human spaceflight.

His original proposal was to send astronauts to an asteroid, but NASA’s new plan, the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), would bring the asteroid to the astronauts. A robotic spacecraft would be sent to capture an asteroid and redirect it into lunar orbit where the astronauts would visit it. That initiative and other key aspects of the budget request are explained in an April 10, 2013 SpacePolicyOnline.com article.

After a tumultuous year of debate, which included a 16-day government shutdown (October 1-16, 2013) when Congress could not reach agreement on a FY2014 budget, NASA actually came out pretty well. The FY2014 Consolidated Appropriations Act (colloquially called “the omnibus”) provided $17.67 billion for NASA, just $70 million less than the request. Our FY2014 NASA budget fact sheet provides more detail.

Congress was not enthusiastic about the ARM proposal. It did not prohibit NASA from spending money on it ($105 million was requested, but not in a specific line item in the budget), but made it clear that NASA needed to do much more work to convince them that ARM was a good idea. Commercial crew fared somewhat better in FY2014:  it received $696 million compared to the $821 million request. SLS and Orion received increases; the space technology budget was cut.

For FY2015, Obama requested $17.461 billion for NASA, a reduction of $186 million from NASA’s FY2014 appropriation. The President also requested funds for an “Opportunities, Growth and Security Initiative” (OGSI) that totaled $56 billion across the government of which $886 million was for NASA.

Congress never formally considered the OGSI, but the final FY2015 appropriations bill added $549 million above the President’s request for the agency, a total of $18.010 billion.

The net increase represented additional funding for some programs (aeronautics, science — especially a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa and the SOFIA airborne observatory, SLS and Orion) and decreases for others (space technology, and commercial crew, for example).

NASA’s FY2015 funding was part of the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015 — colloquially called the CRomnibus.  For an explanation of the term CRomnibus and more details on NASA’s request and congressional action, see our fact sheet on NASA’s FY2015 budget.

OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: NASA’s FY2016 and FY2017 Budgets

President Obama requested $18.529 billion for FY2016, a substantial increase above the FY2015 appropriated level of $18.010 billion, which itself was a significant increase above the FY2015 request. For the second year in a row, Congress appropriated even more than the request:  $19.283 billion. For details, see our fact sheet on NASA’s FY2016 budget request.

Obama’s FY2017 budget request for NASA was very complicated because part of the money was supposed to come from mandatory spending rather than appropriated funds. The amount from appropriated funds–the only part Congress considered–was $18.262 billion. NASA has never received money from the mandatory part of the federal budget, which funds Medicare, Social Security, and interest on the national debt, for example. Congress labeled the money requested from mandatory spending, which would raised the request to $19.025 billion, a gimmick and ignored it.  In the end, for the third year in a row, Congress provided NASA with substantially more than the request — $19.653 billion.  For details, see our fact sheet on NASA’s FY2017 budget request.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION: NASA’s FY2018 and FY2019 Budgets

President Trump’s first budget request for NASA was for $19.092 billion, a reduction of $561 million from the FY2017 appropriated level. Of perhaps more concern was that the projections for the next four years (the “outyears”) were for a level budget without an increase even for inflation.  Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot told the Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee at a June 29, 2017 hearing that a level budget over that period of time would mean a loss of $4.5 billion in buying power.

Trump proposed significant cuts to NASA’s Earth science program, terminating five missions (PACE, RBI, CLARREO-Pathfinder, OCO-3 and the earth facing instruments on DSCOVR), and to NASA’s Office of Education, which would be eliminated along with all of its programs.  Congress rejected those proposals in the final FY2018 appropriations bill, which was signed into law on March 23, 2018, and significantly increased NASA’s budget.  Congress appropriated $20.7 billion, an increase of $1.6 billion over the request and about $1.1 billion more than FY2017.  It funded four of the five earth science missions (NASA had terminated the fifth, RBI, on its own) and the NASA education programs. It also added $350 million for NASA to build a second mobile launch platform for SLS to shorten the time between the first and second launches. SpacePolicyOnline.com’s fact sheet on NASA’s FY2018 budget request tracked the request as Congress deliberated over it.  Look for it under the tab Reports|SpacePolicyOnline.com|Fact Sheets.

For FY2019, Trump  requested $19.9 billion. Aware that Congress was going to fund the earth science and education programs he wanted to terminate in FY2018, he nevertheless again proposed they be eliminated.  He also proposed terminating the next large space telescope, the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST, later renamed the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope) so the money could be used instead for the Moon/Mars human space exploration program and for smaller astrophysics projects.  As with FY2018, the outyears were level-funded with no increase for inflation.  In fact, the budget would slightly decrease from $19.9 billion in FY2019 to $19.6 billion for FY2020 and beyond.  Congress rejected the proposals to terminate the earth science, education and WFIRST programs and appropriated $1.6 billion more than requested, a total of $21.5 billion.  SpacePolicyOnline.com’s fact sheet on NASA’s FY2019  budget request is located on this website under the tab Reports|SpacePolicyOnline.com|Fact Sheets.  

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION: NASA’s FY2020 and FY2021 Budgets –The Artemis Program Begins

For FY2020, Trump initially requested $21.019 billion, a $481 billion cut from the FY2019 appropriated level. He again proposed eliminating two earth science programs (PACE and CLARREO-Pathfinder), NASA’s education programs (which were renamed STEM Engagement by Congress), and WFIRST. He also proposed deferring work on an Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) for the Space Launch System (SLS) that would make it more capable for sending astronauts to the Moon and Mars.  The SLS schedule was slipping and he proposed deferring work on EUS so the prime contractor, Boeing, could focus on the initial version of SLS, which uses a different upper stage. The point was to focus on getting the first two flights off the ground rather than future capabilities.

On March 26, 2019, however, Vice President Pence, as chairman of the National Space Council, announced a major change for NASA’s human spaceflight program — the first astronauts to set foot on the Moon since the Apollo era were to do so four years earlier than NASA was planning, in 2024 not 2028.  That would mean the landing would take place during Trump’s second term if he was reelected.

The announcement came after Boeing revealed further delays to SLS that would push the first SLS flight from 2020 to 2021, now a three year delay from the commitment NASA made in 2014. Pence used strong words to warn “contractors” and NASA itself that they would have to change, not the goal of landing on the Moon by 2024.

In the succeeding months, the accelerated program was named Artemis after the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology. The Trump Administration touted the inclusion of women in the program this time, unlike Apollo where 12 men landed on the Moon. Pence and then-NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine incessantly asserted that the first Artemis mission would put “the first woman and the next man” on the Moon.

For another 10 months (until the FY2021 budget was released in February 2020), the Trump Administration would not tell Congress how much Artemis would cost. As a “downpayment,” on May 13, 2019, it submitted a supplemental request for an additional $1.6 billion, raising the total FY2020 NASA budget request to $22.616 billion.

Just over $1 billion of the $1.6 billion supplemental was for building human-capable landers — Human Landing Systems (HLS) — a sine qua non for taking people down to and back from the lunar surface. That brought the total HLS request to $1.4 billion, $383 million in the original FY2020 request plus $1.045 billion in the supplemental.

NASA decided to procure two HLS systems through Public-Private Partnerships, similar to the commercial cargo and commercial crew procurements that led to the systems that take cargo and crews to the International Space Station. Just as in those cases, NASA wanted two service providers, not just one, to ensure redundancy and competition.

NASA’s final FY2020 appropriations, part of the FY2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act, provided only $600 million for those landers, however, a lukewarm endorsement of the Artemis program largely because Congress was not convinced the 2024 timeframe was achievable. That level of funding allowed NASA to procure only one HLS, not two. In addition, the Act allowed only 40 percent of the funds allocated for many of the Artemis-related activities to be obligated until NASA submitted a plan to Congress on how the program would be executed.

The Artemis funding was part of the total of $22.629 billion for FY2020 allocated by Congress, very close to the amended request, but Congress again rejected the proposals to terminate PACE, CLARREO-Pathfinder, WFIRST, and the STEM Engagement program and restored funding for them. It also rejected deferring work on the EUS. More information is in our fact sheet on NASA’s FY2020 budget request available on this website under the tab Reports|SpacePolicyOnline.com|Fact Sheets.  

The request for FY2021 was $25.2 billion, a 12 percent increase over FY2020 to pay for Artemis. When the budget was released in February 2020, then-Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard asserted Artemis would cost $35 billion between FY2021 and FY2025, but did not provide details.  It apparently was the cost above and beyond what NASA already was planning to spend in those years, such as SLS and Orion that have been part of the NASA budget for many years. The request yet again proposed terminating science and education programs the Trump Administration knew were congressional priorities and deferring work on EUS.

Not surprisingly, the House-passed FY2021 CJS appropriations bill (part of a package of six appropriations bills including defense, H.R. 7617, that passed July 31, 2020) restored funding for the programs proposed for termination and deferral.  It also held NASA to its FY2020 funding level ($22.6 billion) instead of increasing the budget to pay for Artemis. It did not reject Artemis — it funded SLS, Orion, and included $628.2 million for HLS — but the request for HLS alone was $3.4 billion so NASA could procure two systems.

The Senate Appropriations Committee took no formal action on any of the FY2021 appropriations bills and none were considered by the Senate. Instead, the committee’s Republican leadership issued the versions of the bills it drafted and used those to negotiate a compromise with the House. Regarding NASA, the two chambers were largely in agreement.  The Senate Republican committee leadership proposal was $23.5 billion, not the 12 percent increase requested. Like the House, it restored funding for the programs proposed for termination and deferral, and cut the HLS request, in that case to $1 billion.

The final bill, incorporated into the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, provided $850 million for HLS, just one-quarter of the request. The total appropriation was $23.3 billion compared to the $25.2 billion requested.

BIDEN ADMINISTRATION: NASA’S FY2022 and FY2023 BUDGETS

On April 9, 2021, President Joe Biden released top-level numbers for the discretionary portion of his FY2022 budget request. The complete budget request was released on May 28, 2021.

For NASA, he requested $24.7 billion, a 6.6 percent increase over FY2021. Somewhat surprisingly, the request endorsed President Trump’s goal of putting astronauts back on the Moon by 2024 despite widespread skepticism that the date was achieveable. The request included $1.195 billion for HLS, enough to fund only one system even though NASA continued to insist two contractors are needed to ensure redundancy and competition. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson hoped to get $5.4 billion for HLS added to separate legislation to fund infrastructure improvements, but that did not happen.

Unlike the Trump budget requests, the Biden Adminstration did not seek to terminate science or STEM Engagement programs with the exception of the SOFIA airborne infrared telescope. NASA wanted to cancel it because its scientific return was not worth the more than $80 million per year operating costs. The FY2022 request included a substantial increase for the Science account overall, including more money for Earth science (climate change is a top priority for the Biden Administration) and for a Mars Sample Mission.

The House Appropriations Committee reported its CJS bill on July 14, 2021 but it never passed the House. Like the previous year (FY2021), the Senate Appropriations Committee took no formal action on its appropriations bills. Now under Democratic leadership, the committee released the Democratic versions of that and the other appropriations bills on October 18, 2021.

Both committees approved increases above the President’s request: $25.04 billion in the House ($240 million above the request), $24.837 billion in the Senate ($35.8 million above the request).

However, the final FY2022 appropriations bill, which passed the House on March 9, 2022 and the Senate the next day, allocated less: $24.041 billion. That is a reduction of $760 million from the request, but still a $770 million increase over FY2021.  No major changes were made to the request other than requiring NASA to continue funding SOFIA. Congress specified $85.2 million for the program and since it did not add that money, the agency had to cover the cost by taking reductions elsewhere.

For FY2023, Biden requested another substantial increase for NASA, $25.974 billion compared to the $24.041 billion in FY2022. Congress approved an increase, but not that much: $25.384 billion.

The request continued to support the Artemis program and robust funding for science, technology, and aeronautics. Even with all that, however, some science programs did not make the cut. The SOFIA airborne infrared telescope was to be terminated (which NASA has been attempting to do for several years without success), planning for a Mars Ice Mapper cancelled, and the NEO Surveyor asteroid-hunting telescope cut significantly and delayed at least two years. In FY2022, NASA projected NEO Surveyor would need $174 million in FY2023 to be ready for launch in 2026, but the request was only $39.9 million.

The House Appropriations Committee approved its version of the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill on June 21, 2022, allocating $25.45 billion to NASA, half a billion less than the request. Nonetheless, the committee added $55 million for NEO Surveyor and encouraged NASA not to delay the launch, although even with the increase the total would have been $94.9 million, far less than the $174 million needed to stay on schedule.

The Senate Appropriations Committee did not release bills through the normal markup process for the third year in a row. Instead, the Democratic leadership released its versions of all 12 appropriations bills on July 28, with no official Republican input. The practice started when the Senate was under Republican control in 2020 (FY2021) and Republicans released their version without Democratic agreement. For FY2022 the Democrats were in control in the Senate and did the same thing. For FY2023 the committee’s Democratic leadership approved NASA’s full request, but made changes in how the funding was allocated to various programs. Like the House committee, it encouraged NASA not to delay NEO Surveyor and added some funding.

The government operated under Continuing Resolutions between October 1 and December 29. The FY2023 Consolidated Appropriations bill, or “omnibus,” combining all 12 regular appropriations bills passed the Senate on December 22, 2022, the House on December 23, and the President signed it on December 29 just before the 117th Congress ended. House Appropriations Republicans refused to participate in negotiations on the bill hoping to delay action until the 118th Congress when they would be in control of the House. Senate Appropriations Republicans led by retiring Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) did not agree, however, and brokered the deal with House and Senate Democrats.

The final bill essentially supported everything NASA was doing. Some programs got more than requested, like NEO Surveyor ($90 million instead of the $39.9 million requested), but many were cut apparently simply because appropriators decided other activities within the CJS jurisdiction had higher priority. Congress did not restore funding for SOFIA or Mars Ice Mapper and the science budget overall was cut $193 million from the request ($7.795 billion versus $7.988 billion), with four of the five Science divisions getting cuts and only planetary science getting a slight increase. The Artemis program, including Orion, SLS and its Exploration Upper Stage, Exploration Ground Systems (including Mobile Launcher 2), and HLS were fully supported.

BIDEN ADMINISTRATION: NASA’S FY2024 BUDGET REQUEST

On March 13, 2023, President Biden submitted his complete FY2024 budget request to Congress (a “skinny” version with top-line numbers was released on March 9). The request for NASA is $27.2 billion, a 7.1 percent increase over FY2023. Although that may seem like a substantial increase, it essentially keeps pace with inflation.

The request supports NASA’s existing programs in human spaceflight, earth and space science, aeronautics, and space technology. NASA has bipartisan support in Congress, but with the Republican-controlled House of Representatives calling for deep spending cuts to reduce the deficit as discussed below, the outlook for NASA and all other agencies in the non-defense discretionary portion of the budget is cloudy.

One new initiative is funding for a space tug to deorbit the International Space Station at the end of its lifetime around 2030. NASA estimates it could cost $1 billion. The request for FY2024 is $180 million. The plan so far has been to use three Russian Progress spacecraft for that task. Progress not only delivers cargo to the ISS, but is routinely used to boost the ISS’s orbit to compensate for atmospheric drag or to maneuver around space debris. Although the U.S.-Russian-European-Japanese-Canadian ISS partnership has held together since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the future is uncertain. All the partners committed to operating the ISS through 2024, but the United States proposed extending that to 2030. At the time the budget request was submitted, Europe, Japan and Canada had agreed, but Russia had not. It later did agree to support ISS through 2028, but that is two years short of the new operational timeline. Progress spacecraft therefore may not be available to deorbit ISS in 2030, at least not through the partnership agreement, hence the need to develop a deorbit tug.

The $8.3 billion request for the Science Mission Directorate is a record high, but tensions are mounting within the science community because the demands on those resources are also at a record high. The planetary science budget, in particular, is under strain because of cost growth in existing programs like Europa Clipper and Psyche plus expected growth in the high-priority Mars Sample Return mission, still in the formulation stage. NASA decided to pay for the cost growth in Psyche, a spacecraft that will study an asteroid by that name, by taking money from a completely unrelated mission, VERITAS, which will orbit Venus. VERITAS was on schedule and on cost, but drew the short straw only because it also was managed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. At the time NASA said it would be a three-year launch delay from 2028 to 2031, but in the FY2024 budget request the program is all but cancelled. NASA said it hopes to restart the mission in FY2025, but the VERITAS team and its supporters are petitioning Congress to restore funding so it can launch in 2029.

Meanwhile, the budget request acknowledges NASA does not know how much the Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission will cost. The FY2024 request is $949 million for the joint NASA-ESA project. The budget documentation includes projections for FY2025-FY2028 totalling more than $2.5 billion, but warns those numbers are expected to grow. Even in the FY2024 request, funding would be redirected into MSR from heliophysics and astrophysics projects.

On top of that, NASA wants to add funding to help ESA complete the ExoMars program to land the Rosalind Franklin rover on Mars. ExoMars was a joint ESA-Russia mission just months away from launch when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. ESA terminated its cooperation with Russia and now is looking to NASA to help get the rover, already built and ready for launch, to Mars. NASA is requesting $30 million in FY2024, but the total cost is unknown at this time. NASA envisions providing part of the lander, radioistope power systems, and launch.

The bottom line is there is too much content in the SMD budget for the amount of money the Biden Administration is willing to request, never mind what Congress ultimately appropriates. Nicky Fox, the head of SMD, is urging NASA’s science community to stick together, not fight among themselves, but it is sure to be a difficult year.

As for what Congress is likely to appropriate, NASA officials already are warning about “belt tightening” that will be required due to House Republicans’ insistence on dramatic cuts to non-defense government spending. Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and President Biden reached a compromise in the Fiscal Responsibility Act to hold FY2024 spending to its FY2023 level, but the House Appropriations Committee decided to hold it to even harsher FY2022 levels instead. The Senate Appropriations Committee is sticking to the deal in the Fiscal Responsibility Act. The cap is on total non-defense spending, not agency by agency, so how much NASA will get is far from decided, but the likelihood of it getting the requested 7.1 percent increase is exceedingly slim. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson warned about the “devastating” impacts of substantial cuts in a March 22, 2023 letter to Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

For the first time in several years, the Senate Appropriations Committee reported each of the 12 regular appropriations bills. This time it was the House Appropriations Committee that was unable to reach agreement on the CJS bill (as well as Labor-HHS) and it went from subcommittee markup directly to the Rules Committee without consideration by the full committee. Both the House and Senate would keep NASA basically at its FY2023 level, though with differences in how the money can be spent. In particular, the Senate committee was quite harsh about the Mars Sample Return mission whose cost continues to rise and cut requested funding by two-thirds, but the House committee provided the full request.

All the FY2024 bills that cleared the House appropriations committee and the two that did not are opposed by almost all Democrats because the funding levels are far below what was agreed to in the Fiscal Responsibility Act and social policy provisions on abortion and LGBTQ rights and diversity efforts that are anathema to Democrats were added. Some Republicans opposed the bills too.  House Republican leadership tried to bring the CJS bill to the floor on November 15, 2023, but there were not enough yes votes to get the Rule passed, so the bill could not be considered. The Senate has not brought the bill up either.

As of January 1, 2024, the FY2024 appropriations process is in disarray. All the departments and agencies funded by discretionary spending are operating under a “laddered” Continuing Resolution where those funded by four of the bills are covered until January 19, 2024 and the other eight until February 2, 2024. The CJS bill is in the second group. Whether they can reach agreement on final appropriations in those time frames is highly problematical.

CRs keep departments and agencies at their current funding levels, in this case FY2023. However, the Fiscal Responsibility Act included a provision that if all 12 appropriations bills were not enacted by January 1, 2024, the budgets for all of them would be reduced by 1 percent. None of the bills were enacted in time so the budgets will be cut, but the FRA also said the cuts would not go into effect until April so there still is time to avoid them if Congress desires.

In addition, the Biden Administration has two supplemental appropriations requests pending in Congress, a national security supplemental and a domestic supplemental. The national security supplemental would continue aid to Ukraine and Israel, but tied to dealing with the immigration problem at the U.S. border with Mexico.

That supplemental does not involve NASA, but the domestic supplemental does. Concerned that cuts to NASA’s budget in the CJS bill would negatively impact development of the space tug to deorbit the International Space Station, the Biden Administration included money in the supplemental.  NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel has been especially vocal about the imperative need for developing the ISS space tug or “deorbit vehicle” without delay.

CIVIL SPACE POLICY DOCUMENTS

U.S. civil space policy is set both by presidential directive and in law. Presidential directives remain in force until and unless a future President revises them. Thus, what is in force today is a mix of directives issued by President George W. Bush (2001-2009), President Barack Obama (2009-2017), and President Donald Trump (2017-2021). President Biden (2021-present) has not issued a new national space policy as of the date of this post, but a set of National Priorities was released in December 2021 and several policy guidance documents have come out as detailed below.

The following summary of presidential space policies covers all space sectors for completeness.

The most recent presidential National Space Policy was issued by Trump on December 9, 2020, superseding the Obama policy issued on June 28, 2010. Trump changed two sentences of the Obama policy in 2017 (see below), but the rest remained the same until the last few weeks of his administration.

Biden-Harris Administration. On December, 1, 2021, Vice President Kamala Harris, as chair of the White House National Space Council, released a United States Space Priorities Framework in conjunction with the first meeting of the Space Council under her leadership. It covers all aspects of space policy, including national security. Biden released an Executive Order the same day expanding the membership and duties of the Council, which supersedes the two issued by Trump in 2017 and 2020.

On April 18, 2022, Harris announced a policy that the United States will not conduct debris-generating direct-ascent antisatellite tests, sometimes called Kinetic Energy (KE) ASAT tests, and urged other countries to join the pledge. The action was in response to a Russian KE-ASAT in November 2021 that created thousands of pieces of debris that imperiled many space objects including the International Space Station.

On November 15, 2023, the Space Council released its long-awaited proposal for “mission authorization” regarding what agency or agencies are responsible for “authorization and continuing supervision” of new types of space activities by non-government entities, like companies, as required by Article VI of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. At her third Space Council meeting on December 20, 2023, Harris released a companion “executive action” — U.S. Novel Space Activities Authorization and Supervision Framework, that the White House says will enable the Executive Branch to “prepare for and shape the future space regulatory environment.”

Also at the White House level, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has released:

At the agency level, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued a set of Tenets of Responsible Behavior in Space on July 7, 2021. On August 30, 2022, DOD issued a new space policy directive, DOD Directive 3100.10, Space Policy.

Historically, during the four years of his Administration, Trump signed an updated National Space Policy, seven Space Policy Directives (SPDs), five space-related Executive Orders, two strategies, two reports and one National Security Presidential Memorandum (NSPM). Not all are directed at civil space policy, but all are listed here in chronological order for completeness.

Trump used the National Space Council as the mechanism to formulate U.S. space policy, with Vice President Mike Pence as chair and Scott Pace as Executive Secretary. It met publicly five times:  October 5, 2017 (at the National Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport; February 21, 2018 (at Kennedy Space Center, FL); June 18, 2018 (at the White House); March 26, 2019 (at Marshall Space Flight Center, AL); and August 20, 2019 back at Udvar-Hazy.

Obama’s 2010 National Space Policy superseded the 2006 National Space Policy issued by President George W. Bush, who also issued four more narrowly focused space policies:

Bush’s 2005 Space Transportation Policy was superseded on November 21, 2013 by a new version issued by President Obama: 2013 Space Transportation Policy; Fact Sheet on 2013 Space Transportation Policy.

Bush’s 2004 Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) Policy was superseded by President Trump’s January 15, 2021 Space Policy Directive 7.

Congress set policy most recently in the 2022 NASA Authorization Act as part of the CHIPS and Science Act (P.L. 117-167).  That and other U.S. domestic space laws, including the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Law that created NASA, are discussed under the Space Law section of this website.


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