January 14, 2014
Funding for U.S. civil space and aeronautics work would bounce back by almost $800 million above the levels set by funding sequestration in 2013 under the omnibus appropriations bill working its way through Congress via a bipartisan budget agreement, allowing NASA to maintain its ongoing activities without an apparent need for major changes.
Under the legislation expected to come up for a vote in the House Jan. 15, the agency would get $17.6 billion — a $781 million increase over the sequestration level. Major programs, including the heavy-lift Space Launch System ($1.9 billion), Orion crew vehicle ($1.2 billion) and James Webb Space Telescope, are sustained at levels that probably will avoid serious disruption. All are considered priorities by the White House and key members of Congress.
The Commercial Crew Program (CCP) would get $696 million, an increase over past congressional levels that still falls short of what NASA has said it needs to begin buying private taxi seats to the International Space Station by the end of 2017. And it has a string attached in that it “withholds from obligation a portion of CCP funds until NASA certifies that the program has undergone an independent benefit-cost analysis that takes into consideration the total Federal investment in the CCP and the expected operational life of the ISS.”
Explanatory language in the omnibus agreement does not take into account last week’s White House announcement that it will extend ISS service life by four years, to 2024. And the agreement does not set a specific funding level for the ISS within the $3.8 billion it would appropriate for space operations, but “maintains strong support” for the orbiting outpost. It sets aside $100 million for ongoing engineering research on satellite servicing in the hope of “spawning a new satellite servicing industry that can revive, refuel, and rejuvenate defunct communications satellites.”
Support for NASA’s proposed asteroid-redirect mission (ARM), advanced as a way to push technology and begin gaining human-spaceflight operational experience in cislunar space, remains an open question in the absence of “satisfactory justification materials” from the agency to Congress, according to the agreement language.
“Completion of significant preliminary activities is needed to appropriately lay the groundwork for the ARM prior to NASA and Congress making a long-term commitment to this mission concept,” the agreement states.
Other NASA spending in the omnibus funding legislation would include $566 million for aeronautics research; $576 million for space technology development; $5.2 billion for science, including $1.8 billion for Earth science, $1.3 billion for planetary science, and $658.2 million for the Webb telescope. The total cost of the telescope remains capped at $8 billion, with any indication it would exceed that to be treated as the trigger for an automatic shutdown.