The House Appropriations Committee approved its version of the FY2020 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill that funds NASA today. Instead of allocating more money for sending astronauts back to the Moon as requested by the Trump Administration, it added funds for NASA’s science and education programs. The committee did not address the supplemental request, delivered just last week, for another $1.6 billion for the Artemis Moon program. Its action was only on the original request submitted on March 11.
Little was said about NASA during today’s full committee markup. CJS subcommittee chairman José Serrano (D-NY) and Ranking Member Robert Aderholt (R-AL) read the same statements as during last week’s subcommittee markup. The debates today were over top-level issues like the 2020 Census, not space programs.
The bill provides $22.315 billion for NASA, an increase of $815 million over FY2019 and $1.296 billion more than the Administration’s original request.
In the report to accompany the bill, released yesterday, the committee provided some details on its actions. Bearing in mind that the bill does not take into account the proposed acceleration of the Moon program announced on March 26 and the associated $1.6 billion supplemental, it criticizes the shift in priorities at NASA towards human lunar exploration at the expense of science and education.
The original request, submitted to Congress on March 11, already added $700 million above the FY2019 levels for the Gateway and Advanced Cislunar and Surface Capabilities (ACSC). At the same time, the Administration chose to “either reduce or eliminate many critical legacy programs” including three Earth science programs (PACE, CLARREO-Pathfinder, and the Carbon Monitoring System), the Wide-Field Infrared Space Telescope (WFIRST), and the entire STEM Engagement account. The committee did not agree.
“The Committee rejects these proposals and has included an additional $881,100,000 above the request to support these critical programs, including additional funding to increase the availability of competitive research grants within Earth Science and a nearly twelve percent increase over the FY2019 level for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Engagement.” — House Appropriations Committee
Briefly, the committee took the following actions on the March 11 request, which was for a total of $21.019 billion, about half a billion less than NASA’s FY2019 funding level. The committee approved $22.315 billion instead. The committee also rejected NASA’s restructuring of its budget accounts, which complicates comparing the request and the committee’s actions.
- Science: $7.161 billion ($255.6 million more than FY2019 and $857.6 million more than the request, the largest increase in the bill):
- Earth Science: $2,023.1 million, including $147 million for PACE, $26 million for CLARREO-Pathfinder, up to $205.2 for Venture Class missions, and no less than $25 million for University Small Satellite Missions.
- Planetary Science: $2,713.4 million, including $210 million for the Lunar Discovery and Exploration robotic lunar lander program, $160 million for planetary defense (with no less than $72.4 million for DART and no less than FY2019 funding for NEOCam while awaiting a study from the National Academies), $570 million for the robotic Mars exploration program to ensure launch of Mars 2020 and further development of Mars Sample Return for launch by 2026), $592.6 million for Europa orbiter, zero for Europa Lander (because the $195 million provided for FY2019 is sufficient also for FY2020, but NASA is directed to request funds again in FY2021 and bill language requires it to be launched in 2025); and $60 million for Icy Satellites Surface Technology.
- Astrophysics: $1,367.7 million, including $85.2 million for SOFIA and $510.7 million for WFIRST.
- James Webb Space Telescope: $352.6 million.
- Heliophysics: $704.5 million.
- Aeronautics: $700 million, including no less than $60 million for hypersonics technology.
- Space Technology: $1.292 billion, including $125 million for nuclear thermal propulsion technology and requires NASA to submit a plan for the design of a flight demonstration, $72.2 million for in-space robotic manufacturing and assembly, $180 million for RESTORE-L, $48.1 million for solar electric propulsion, $25 million for flight opportunities small launch technology platform, and $3.5 million for advanced technologies to support air revitalization initiative. The committee also “reaffirms” its support for the independence of the Space Technology Mission Directorate and directs NASA to preserve it as a standalone entity.
- Exploration: $5.130 billion, including $1.425 billion for Orion, $2.150 billion for SLS (of which $200 million is for the Exploration Upper Stage), $592.8 million for Exploration Ground Systems (of which $50 million is for a 2nd mobile launcher), and $962.1 million for Exploration Research and Development. The Gateway and ASCS are within the Exploration R&D account, but the amounts for those programs are not specified. The committee spends several paragraphs directing NASA to establish cost and schedule commitments for the EM-2 (Artemis-2) mission and GAO to continue its review of NASA’s human exploration programs, and recommending that NASA adhere to nine open GAO recommendations on monitoring program costs and execution.
- Space Operations: $4.286 billion. Funding figures are not broken out for this account, but NASA is to report to the committee within 90 days of enactment on the resources requires to make adequate “Female Astronaut Equipment” available on the ISS so two females can conduct a spacewalk at the same time. Also, within 30 days, NASA must provide a report “discussing differing launch vehicle fueling methods being employed by Commercial Crew Partners and the relative impact of those approaches on the overall mission and crew safety.” The committee also states its support for cooperation with the Israeli Space Agency and requires a report within 180 days on current and planned projects.
- STEM Engagement: $123 million, including $25 million for EPSCoR, $48 million for Space Grant, $37 million for MUREP, and $13 million for SEAP.
- Safety, Security, and Mission Services: $3.085 billion.
- Construction and Environmental Compliance and Restoration: $497.2 million.
- Inspector General: $41.7 million.
As in prior years, the bill restricts space cooperation with China — the so-called “Wolf Amendment” — and specifies that Europa Orbiter and Europa Lander be launched on SLS in 2023 and 2025, respectively. However, it no longer places a cap on the cost of the James Webb Space Telescope.
The fate of the $1.6 billion supplemental request will have to wait for Senate action. The chairman of the Senate CJS subcommittee, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), tweeted his enthusiastic support for the Artemis program last week. The Senate Appropriations Committee is chaired by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), an ardent advocate for the Space Launch System (SLS) and since NASA’s newly released Artemis plan assumes three SLS launches by 2024 and a total of eight through 2028, he is likely to be supportive.
The question remains as to where the money will come from — this year and in the future. Congressional Republicans and Democrats are still trying to reach agreement with the White House to raise the budget caps to avoid a sequester in FY2020, never mind add large sums of money on top of what the Administration requested originally for NASA and many other government agencies.
Budget negotiations and FY2020 appropriations have a long way yet to go. The House Appropriations Committee’s CJS bill is just one step.