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.