Congress, NASA, White House

What to look for on budget day

Today’s the day the Obama Administration releases its fiscal year 2015 budget proposal. The Office of Management and Budget will release the overall budget documents likely by mid-morning, and NASA will release its detailed budget proposal at 1 pm EST in advance of a 2 pm briefing. (That briefing was originally, and curiously, slated to take place at the Goddard Space Flight Center rather than NASA Headquarters, but late yesterday the agency decided to do the briefing as a teleconference, citing winter weather that closed government offices on Monday and delayed opening this morning.)

The attention, of course, will be on NASA’s overall budget numbers, but it’s worth following a few other issues in the budget:

NASA’s asteroid initiative: NASA used the fiscal year 2014 budget rollout to unveil its asteroid initiative, including plans for a mission to redirect a small asteroid into cislunar space to be visited by astronauts on an Orion mission. That proposed mission has faced pushback from some in Congress, as recently as last week, who are skeptical of the utility of such a mission. NASA hasn’t shown signs of backing away from the mission, announcing plans last week for another forum about its asteroid initiative for late March, but it will be worth watching how many details about those mission plans, and their prominence, they receive in the budget rollout today.

Planetary funding and a Europa mission: NASA’s planetary science program has been a yo-yo the last two budget cycles: the administration has proposed significant cuts in the program, only to have those cuts at least partially restored by Congress. Will NASA again seek a lower (about $1.2 billion) level for planetary science? Also, in FY2013 and 2014, Congress earmarked funding for a Europa mission that NASA did not request. Aviation Week reported that the FY15 budget proposal will including funding for a Europa mission for the first time.

Commercial Crew funding and schedule: The same Aviation Week article said that NASA’s Commercial Crew program would be proposed funding “at a level permitting certification by 2017.” It will be worth seeing if NASA drops any hints on whether it thinks it will be able to support one or two companies through that process, and if two, whether they will be full contracts or a “leader-follower” arrangement where one company gets a full-sized contract and the other a smaller contract.

12 pm EST update: the OMB’s budget documents are out, including a summary of NASA, funding the agency overall at $17.5 billion. One small surprise: the budget sharply reduces funding for the SOFIA airborne observatory, from $84 million in FY2014 to a requested $12 million in FY15, “in order to fund higher priority science missions.” What those higher priority missions include isn’t spelled out, but the document does seem to indicate that an extension of the Cassini mission is included in the proposal.

34 comments to What to look for on budget day

  • Fred Willett

    I would suspect that the turmoil in Ukraine is too recent to have impacted the budget, but if said turmoil continues – or gets worse – then the House and Senate may react.
    But exactly how?
    NASA as political football?

  • NASA can certainly use the Ukraine situation to argue priming the commercial crew pump so it can get off the Russian Soyuz. Whether or not that argument gets through to the SLS porkers on the congressional space subcommittees remains to be seen.

    • James

      There are some who will argue to prime the SLS pump too. Egad!!!!!

    • Dave Huntsman

      Stephen, I’m concerned, the way the House committees think, that they will use this crisis to force an early selection of one – and only one – commercial crew option. That won’t help us to jump start a competitive industry; it will lead to just a different type of monopoly.

      Equally concerning is that, at the moment, America’s main launch vehicle is the Russian-powered Atlas V – including for two of the three commercial crew options. In the national interest, dependence on the Russians should be graded as a ‘negative’ in any CCtCap evaluation; but since that evaluation process is already ongoing, it’s probably too late to change the rules.

      • Well, a downselect is scheduled for this summer anyway, and Charlie has said many times it will be one or one-and-a-half based on available funding.

        Forcing an early downselect, in my opinion, only throws more favor towards SpaceX. In that sense, it’s self-defeating for Congress, because once the Falcon Heavy is operational then SLS is irrelevant.

        • Neil Shipley

          Wish it did but FH doesn’t get near the SLS throw weight 53mT to LEO with cross-feed and no reuse. But Raptor powered F9 will eat it. Couple of years of development gets us to 2016 then the vehicle say another year, say end of 2017 but that would have to be pushing it.

          • Fred Willett

            I really can’t see SpaceX developing a Raptor powered HLV any time soon. There is simply no market for it.
            So why are they spending good money right now developing the Raptor methane engine?
            Well what I think SpaceX really wants right now is a reusable 2nd stage. Trying to do that on the existing RP1 2nd stage is simply not practical. the RP1 2nd stage is way under powered. But a methane powered 2nd stage…
            Look to see the biggest Raptor powered 2nd stage they can manage. This will give them heaps of margin for reusability. My bet is it may appear towards the end of 2014 or early in 2015. I wouldn’t be surprised either if it were 5m in diameter. the same as the current Falcon fairing. That gives another advantage. When they finally do see the need for the methane powered BFR the 2nd stage is already built.

  • Ferris Valyn

    There is another thing to look for, which I will be very curious about – over the last year, during discussions about ISS, multiple people talked about it being technically capable till 2028. But the administration extended it to 2024. Why pick that date?

    I suspect we’ll find out in a few hours.

  • amightywind

    The ideologues in the administration haven’t gotten the message that the asteroid lasso mission is unpopular. Have they learned nothing in 5 years?

    Reliance on Russia for launch services is a national disgrace. The budget should prime the SLS pump accordingly.

    • Andrew Swallow

      If the current emergency continues the ISS will be splashed down before the SLS can fly Orion to the ISS.

      Use heavy lift for heavy loads. Build the stepping stones to the Moon and Mars. The SLS could be used to throw a Bigelow BA-330 spacestation to EML-2 in 10-15 years time.

      • amightywind

        Agreed that the post ISS station plan should involve Bigelow and SLS. The more time we waste with the Russians on ISS the long we wait for what comes next.

    • Vladislaw

      The Obama Administration learned this in the last five years. When President Obama did not want America relying on Russians for delivering American astronauts to the ISS, he proposed 6 billion over 5 years to FULLY FUND mulitple players in a commercial crew program. That and every other commercial crew request has been chopped by Republicans in the house… The Whitehouse HAS learned that.

      President Obama did not like that the DOD and NASA relied on russian engines for launching our most sensitive payloads and proposed fully funding a new DOMESTIC engine for a heavy lift and that EELV’s could use also. Republicans in the house shot that down as well.

      So the Whitehouse DID learn a couple things in the last five years. Do not proposed funding any domestic providers for goods or services over Russian providers because the Republicans in the House will not vote for it.

  • Coastal Ron

    First amightywind said:

    The ideologues in the administration haven’t gotten the message that the asteroid lasso mission is unpopular.

    Then said:

    The budget should prime the SLS pump accordingly.

    It’s amazing how you can argue both for and against your precious SLS in the same post. Truly amazing.

    If only the SLS had funded uses for it – you know, real customers stepping forward to say that they MUST use the SLS. Regardless of what the budget situation is for NASA, if the SLS really was needed we would have seen priced proposals coming out of NASA or outside of NASA by now. And since Bolden has stated that he is an SLS fan, you’d think he would be touting as many of those types of proposals as possible in order to get Congress prepared for funding them.

    But so far all we have is the ARM, and it’s really just an extension of the current SLS & MPCV test program, not a real separately funded mission. Personally I think the ARM was proposed as an excuse to show that the SLS could be useful, so I laugh and laugh when you write disparagingly about it, since you’re shooting yourself in the foot each time you do it… ;-)

    • Lars

      Indeed. If you are for SLS but against ARM – a valid mission for SLS thar wouldn’t break the bank – then you care more for spending money on the darn thing instead if flying it. Long live the jobs program, I guess…?

  • Wonder whether the de facto shutdown of SOFIA was cleared with NASA’s German partners that have invested uncounted millions into the flying observatory (and successfully fought to prevent NASA from cancelling it during construction at least once). Ironically the plane will come to Hamburg, Germany, in a few months for major maintenance – perhaps we can just keep it here for good … :-(

  • Coastal Ron

    In looking at the NASA budget text, you can see what they think the priorities are. For instance, under the heading “Leads the World in Space Exploration”, this is the order of what’s talked about:

    1. ISS and it’s extension
    2. Commercial Crew
    3. Advanced technology investment for space exploration
    4. JWST
    5. SLS and MPCV

    Looks right to me from a priority standpoint, now we just have to fund them accordingly – everything else gets full funding, and the SLS & MPCV get the budget leftovers.

  • Andrew Swallow

    Medium term Congress can get the USA out of the current space embarrassment by ordering NASA to build/buy a new spacestation. Batch produced spacestations are surprisingly cheap and likely to bring work to Nevada, Texas, Virginia and Florida.

    The CRS and CCDev programs can be modified to take people and cargo to the new spacestation. Congress can ensure that money for these programs continues to flow.

    Any new spacestation will need life support. Bigelow Aerospace is currently testing its ECLSS on Earth. NASA can bring the ECLSS to TRL 9 by testing it in space, possibly as part of BEAM2.

  • Gary Warburton

    With the crisis in the Ukraine reaching a peak, it seems to me that by the continual paring back of funds for developing commercial space transportation for astronauts these congressmen are putting US astronauts in peril and need to be chastised for doing so. Not only that but the fact that they wish to have only one company doing so leaves astronauts vulnerable to unexpected dangers and unable to respond quickly enough.

    • The danger is that the morons on the space subcommittees will exploit Ukraine as an excuse to pour more money into SLS, claiming it’s a backup for commercial crew. They might even tell NASA to transfer commercial crew money to SLS to speed up development of the Monster Rocket.

  • James

    Only when there is a deadly accident involving US Astro’s on a Russian craft with US Policy toward Russia change before CC is in use. Not until then.

    • Gary Warburton

      Good lord, how do these idiots stay elected?

      • Neil Shipley

        Well because to most people, space isn’t important.

        • Bennett In Vermont

          “… space isn’t important.”

          To “most people” (in Vermont), the property tax increase imposed by federally mandated but unfunded education requirements trumps what NASA is or is not doing this week. That, and trying to limit the “screen time” that their children experience daily, despite the fact that a Kindle with MineCraft is the most effective (but yet despite its creative attributes, is still a negative influence) “Nanny” of the western world…

          It’s a wonder that we have a space program at all, robotic OR human. Listening to NASA or our appropriators talk about “this here is what we’re gonna do” has become a prophecy of exactly what we, as a nation, are NOT going to do.

          Jeff Greason and Elon Musk are about all we space fanatics have of substance at this point. But it could be worse.

  • Hiram

    Does anyone know when we can expect to see the detailed “Budget Estimate” document for FY2015? That’s what Congress gets. It’s several hundred pages, and that’s where the meat is. What was released today were just broad-brush budget summaries. It is usually made available at the time of the budget briefing.

    • Hiram

      Um, that’s what the summary presentation by Beth Robinson was called. But that’s NOT the usual “Budget Estimates” document!

      • Ferris Valyn

        They are suppose to come out Friday or Monday next week, is what they said

        • Hiram

          Yes, I now understand that the budget release was going to be done in “two installments”. That’s a new one. Congressional Quarterly reported last week that summary levels for the President’s budget would be released on March 4, but more detailed information on individual programs would not come out until March 11.

  • Vladislaw

    On page 12 Mission launches (fiscal years 2014 – 2020)

    For the years 2018, 2019, 2020 they are only showing two commercial flights per year.

  • For those who missed it and have nothing better to do with your lives, I’ve posted on YouTube the audio of today’s budget teleconference:

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