Updated 9:30 p.m. Eastern with additional comments.
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration’s fiscal year 2023 budget proposal seeks nearly $26 billion for NASA, with increases for exploration, Earth science and space technology.
Budget documents released by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) March 28 showed the administration is seeking $25.974 billion for the agency, an increase of $1.93 billion, or 8%, over the $24.041 billion the agency received in the final fiscal year 2022 omnibus spending bill earlier this month.
NASA budget documents released shortly after the White House revealed few major new initiatives. Instead, funding would be increased to support ongoing initiatives, from the Artemis lunar exploration effort to science missions and space technology.
“It’s a signal of support of our missions and a new era of exploration and discovery,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a “State of NASA” speech about the budget March 28 at the Kennedy Space Center.
The agency is seeking more than $2.4 billion for Earth science, an increase of nearly $350 million from what it received for 2022. Much of that increase would go to support work on the Earth System Observatory, a series of missions intended to implement recommendations of the Earth science decadal survey.
In planetary science, NASA’s Mars Sample Return would get $822.2 million, up from $653 million in 2022. The budget proposal confirms plans to split the Sample Retrieval Lander into two separate landers and delay their launch from 2026 to 2028.
The budget proposal also confirms a cost overrun for the Europa Clipper mission. The cost of the mission has increased by $703 million, to approximately $5 billion, to accommodate impacts from the pandemic and anticipated higher operations, or Phase E, costs later in the mission.
“I have no joy in telling you that we need more money for Phase E,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, said at a March 21 meeting of the Space Studies Board, but that it was important to ensure the science from the mission. “We’re nowhere near out of the woods on this one yet.”
Those cost increases will have effects on other missions. NASA said it no longer plans to provide funding for the International Mars Ice Mapper mission, a Mars orbiter NASA was to develop in partnership with several other nations, including Canada, Italy and Japan. “Due to the need to fund higher priorities, including to cover cost growth expected from the Mars Sample Return mission, the budget terminates NASA financial support for the Mars Ice Mapper,” the budget document states.
The budget for the mission had been modest since NASA was not providing hardware for the mission but instead handling missing management: NASA projected spending $40 million a year on the mission in 2023 and 2024, and $30 million a year in 2025 and 2026, in its 2022 budget proposal.
NASA will also delay development of the Near Earth Object Surveyor Mission, a space telescope to look for near Earth objects that could pose an impact threat to the Earth. NASA said it’s delaying the launch of the mission by two years, to 2028, because of cost growth in other planetary programs. “The Mars Sample Return and Europa Clipper missions are experiencing cost growth and will continue to place pressure on other parts of the Planetary Science portfolio,” the budget document states.
As in other recent budget requests, NASA is proposing the terminate the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), an airborne observatory. “SOFIA’s annual operations budget is the second-most expensive operating mission in Astrophysics, yet the science productivity of the mission is not commensurate with other large science missions,” the budget document states, adding that the most recent astrophysics decadal survey recommended shutting down SOFIA by 2023. Congress has restored funding for SOFIA in past efforts by NASA to end the project.
The proposal includes $224 million for development of commercial space stations that will succeed the International Space Station. NASA received $101 million, the amount it requested, for that effort in 2022. “We’re very happy with the request,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator for space operations, in a call with reported about the budget proposal. She added that the requested funding was not affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent concerns about the long-term future of the International Space Station.
The budget proposal includes $1.438 billion for space technology, up from $1.1 billion it received in 2022. NASA sought a similar increase last year but Congress cut the funding to the same level as 2021. The OMB document specifically mentions more than $30 million for orbital debris research.
The budget would provide NASA’s Human Landing System program with $1.486 billion, an increase of $290 million over what NASA received for the program in 2022. The budget proposal, though, does not break out how the money would be allocated among the existing HLS Option A award to SpaceX, a planned Option B award to upgrade SpaceX’s Starship lander to meet the agency’s requirements for later “sustainable” missions, and the new Sustaining Lunar Development project to select a second company to develop a lander that NASA announced March 23.
NASA officials on the call declined to offer a breakout of the HLS between Option A and new initiatives. “This budget is a really good start to the competition,” NASA Associate Administrator Bob Cabana said. “This gets us on the right path.”
The budget proposal got a warm reception from the space industry for its proposed increases in exploration, science and technology.
“There a good balance across the portfolio,” said Mike French, vice president of space systems at the Aerospace Industries Association, in an interview, praising Nelson and Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy for winning an 8% increase for the agency. “NASA did a good job in the budget process to make sure their priorities were heard.”
That included not just increases for major programs but also smaller initiatives, such as funding for orbital debris research and nuclear thermal propulsion. The request for orbital debris funding, he said, “helps clarify for NASA what direction it should be going on, and there’s community agreement these are really important topics for NASA to be working on.”
French said the requested increases with NASA, along with proposed increases for the Space Force and for NOAA weather satellite programs, “is a reflection of the importance of space for national security and the economy.”
The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, an industry group representing companies involved in Artemis, also endorsed the budget proposal. “It serves as a good foundation for advocates of space exploration to use as they work with Congress to move the needle even further towards a more robust NASA program of lunar exploration, while preparing to move on to exploring Mars and out into the solar system,” said Frank Slazer, president and chief executive of the organization, in a statement.
Axiom Space, which is building a commercial module for the ISS that will serve as a precursor for a standalone space station, said in a statement it welcomed the funding for commercial LEO development. “NASA’s strong budget sends a message to our customers and investors about the agency’s intentions and confidence in our vision, and further supports U.S. competitive leadership in the commercial sector,” said Michael Suffredini, president and chief executive of Axiom.
NASA FY 2023 budget proposal (amounts in millions)
|Account||FY22 enacted||FY23 proposal||Difference|
|– Earth Science||$2,064.7||$2,411.5||$346.8|
|– Planetary Science||$3,120.4||$3,160.2||$39.8|
|– Biological and Physical Sciences||$82.5||$100.4||$17.9|
|– Space Launch System||$2,600.0||$2,579.8||-$20.2|
|– Exploration Ground Systems||$590.0||$749.9||$159.9|
|– Exploration Other||$2,195.0||$2,809.9||$614.9|
|SAFETY, SECURITY AND MISSION SERVICES||$3,020.6||$3,208.7||$188.1|
|CONSTRUCTION & ENVIRONMENTAL||$410.3||$424.3||$14.0|