Omnibus Spending Bill Boosts NASA Budget by $530 Million


Updated Dec. 12 at 6:27 p.m.

WASHINGTON — NASA will receive $18 billion for 2015, more than a half a billion dollars above the Obama administration’s original request, under the terms of an omnibus spending bill released late Dec. 9.

The appropriations bill, which funds NASA and most of the rest of the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year, gives the agency $17.99 billion for fiscal year 2015, including increases for several major exploration and science programs. That total is $530 million above the administration’s request of $17.46 billion for the agency, and about $100 million above separate House and Senate appropriations bills considered earlier this year.

Artist’s concept of Orion separating from SLS rocket

Two major elements of NASA’s exploration strategy won funding boosts in the final bill. The Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket will receive $1.7 billion, an increase of $320 million over the administration’s request. The Orion spacecraft will get $1.194 billion, an increase of $141.2 million over the request.

The bill also requires NASA to submit in its next budget proposal five-year funding projections for the SLS and Orion programs that match the budget and schedule estimates for those programs developed in recent or ongoing reviews. Those estimates, developed by NASA for a program milestone called Key Decision Point C (KDP-C), were completed for SLS in August and will be completed for Orion in the spring of 2015.

The bill specifically requires those projections for the SLS to show completion by December 2017. The KDP-C review for SLS estimated that the vehicle would be ready for its first launch no later than November 2018.

NASA’s planetary science program won an increase of $157 million, to $1.438 billion for 2015. The bill sets aside $100 million of that funding for a proposed Europa mission, for which the White House had requested just $15 million.

NASA’s astrophysics program won a $77.5 million increase, to $684.8 million, in the omnibus bill. That includes $70 million for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, an airborne telescope for which NASA requested only $12 million. NASA had planned to mothball the flying observatory in 2015 if it could not find partners to fund the telescope’s annual operating cost of about $85 million.

The SOFIA flying observatory
The SOFIA flying observatory

NASA’s commercial crew program received $805 million in the bill, less than the requested $848 million but more than the program received in previous years. The omnibus bill leaves out a provision from the Senate’s appropriations bill that would have required certified cost and pricing data from commercial crew companies. That language was opposed by many supporters of the commercial crew program, as well as by the White House.

NASA’s aeronautics program received $651 million, an increase of $100 million over the administration’s request. In a report accompanying the bill, appropriators directed NASA to apply the additional funds proportionally across the programs in that mission directorate.

NASA’s space technology program was cut by nearly $110 million from the administration’s request, to $596 million. Appropriators offered no specific rationale for the cut in report language, nor direction on how to apply the reduced funding among its programs.

Other parts of the agency’s budget saw only minimal changes from the administration’s request. The bill includes $3.828 billion for space operations; $2.759 billion for safety, security, and mission operations (formerly known as cross-agency support); $419.1 million for construction; $119 million for education; and $37 million for the agency’s inspector general.

The overall bill, sometimes called a “cromnibus” since it serves as only a continuing resolution for the Department of Homeland Security through February 2015, was approved by the House Dec. 11 in a 219-206 vote, and was scheduled for consideration by the Senate at press time. A continuing resolution that had been funding the federal government since the beginning of the fiscal year Oct. 1 was scheduled to expire Dec. 11, but Congress passed a two-day extension late that day.