$17.9 billion NASA Budget Proposed by House CJS Appropriators

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WASHINGTON — NASA would get $17.9 billion in 2015 under a spending bill a House Appropriations panel is scheduled to consider April 30. The bill sets NASA up for a slightly larger budget increase than the White House requested and maintains congressional spending priorities on big accounts including the heavy-lift Space Launch System and Orion crew capsule.

The proposed NASA budget, part of a $52.1 billion Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) appropriations bill, would also relabel the agency’s multibillion Cross Agency Support account “Safety, Security and Mission Services.” The House Appropriations Committee posted the draft legislation on its website April 29.

Overall, the NASA budget proposed in the CJS bill is nearly 1.5 percent higher than the 2014 appropriation, and nearly 2.5 percent more than the approximately $17.5 billion the White House is seeking.

The House Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee, which drafted the bill,  proposes raising NASA’s exploration budget, which includes SLS, Orion, and development funds for the Commercial Crew Program, to roughly $4.2 billion — about 1 percent more than the 2014 appropriation and nearly 5 percent more than what the White House requested.

SLS and Orion would get the lion’s share of the Exploration total: just about $3.1 billion, according to the draft bill released April 29. That would leave some $1.1 billion for the Commercial Crew Program and a human spaceflight-focused technology development account. The Commercial Crew Program is the White House’s signature human spaceflight initiative. The program aims to replace the retired space shuttle’s crew-carrying capacity to the international space station with one of three commercially designed systems by the end of 2017.

The draft bill does not specify a funding level for Commercial Crew, but it does suggest that Congress may be willing to give the program even more than the 2014 high-water mark of about $700 million. There would be about $800 million available for Commercial Crew if appropriators hold exploration research and development spending to the roughly $300 million it received for 2014.

Meanwhile, within the nearly $5.2 billion proposed for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, House lawmakers set aside $100 million within the Planetary Science Division to continue studies on a concept mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. That is $20 million more than lawmakers provided in the 2014 omnibus spending bill signed in March.

The White House, in contrast, is seeking just $15 million for Europa preformulation studies. At the same time, the agency is examining whether it could do a Europa mission for about $1 billion, or about half the price of the Europa Clipper concept under study at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.

Of the nine major NASA spending accounts, House appropriators are proposing spending cuts for four: Safety, Security and Mission Services (the former Cross Agency Support account); Construction and Environmental Compliance and Restoration, which mostly pays for nonmission-specific construction at NASA’s national network of field centers; Education; and the Inspector General’s Office.

All other major accounts would see their budgets grow relative to 2014 appropriations.

One of those accounts, Space Technology, would see its budget grow 7.5 percent compared to 2014. But the $620 million included in the bill still falls about 12 percent below the White House request. The Space Technology account, a White House priority given its own budget line in 2011, funds some of the technologies NASA needs for its proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission, including high-powered solar-electric propulsion.

The Senate Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee has yet to introduce a NASA spending bill this year. The subcommittee, led by Senate  Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) is holding a NASA budget hearing May 1. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden is scheduled to testify.