Senate bill offers $22.75 billion for NASA in 2020

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WASHINGTON — A Senate appropriations subcommittee approved a spending bill Sept. 24 that would provide $22.75 billion for NASA in fiscal year 2020, including much, but not all, of what the agency sought in additional funding for the Artemis program.

The commerce, justice and science subcommittee favorably reported its appropriations bill in a brief markup session. The full Senate Appropriations Committee will take up the bill, and several other spending bills, Sept. 26.

The $22.75 billion included in the bill is $1.25 billion above what NASA received in fiscal year 2019, and $435 million above what the House provided in its 2020 spending bill, approved in June. The final Senate version of the bill will ultimately be reconciled with the House version in conference.

The bill “provides increased resources for scientific missions, aeronautics, restoring critical STEM education programs and advancing human space exploration,” Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) said in his opening statement.

Exploration programs received a $1.2 billion increase over 2019 in the bill. That total includes $2.586 billion for the Space Launch System, more than $400 million above 2019 levels, and $1.4 billion for Orion, slightly above 2019 levels. The additional SLS funding includes $300 million for work on the Exploration Upper Stage planned for the Block 1B version of the SLS, funding that the administration did not seek in its original funding request.

The bill did not fully adopt the $1.6 billion budget amendment submitted by the administration in May. While NASA sought $1 billion for human lunar landers, the bill provides $744 million, which could impact the number and size of awards NASA makes in an ongoing competition.

“Within the funding provided, NASA will be able to make significant progress in fulfilling the accelerated goal of returning astronauts, including the first woman, to the moon by 2024,” Moran said.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, the subcommittee’s ranking member, noted the bill “allows for an eventual return to the moon by humans,” but didn’t mention the 2024 date.

The bill provides $6.9 billion for NASA science programs. It overrides proposals in the NASA budget request to cancel several missions, including the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WIFRST) and Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud and Ocean Ecosystem (PACE) spacecraft. WFIRST gets $445.7 million in the bill and PACE $161 million. The bill also includes unspecified funding to begin planning for Mars sample return missions in 2026.

The bill, like its House counterpart, once again rejects proposals to terminate NASA’s education programs, providing $112 million.

NASA’s space technology program would get $1.076 billion in the bill, nearly $150 million above 2019 levels. That includes $180 million to continue the Restore-L satellite servicing mission.