As expected, the NASA funding levels in the Senate’s Commerce, Justice, and Science funding bill are broadly similar, but not identical, to those in the bill the House passed last week. From the report accompanying the bill, here’s how the Senate’s funding levels compare to those in the House and the President’s budget request (PBR):
|Account||FY15 PBR||House CJS Draft||Senate CJS Draft|
|- Earth Science||$1,770.3||$1,750.0||$1,831.9|
|- Planetary Science||$1,280.3||$1,450.0||$1,301.7|
|- Commercial Spaceflight||$848.3||$785.0||$805.0|
|- Exploration R&D||$343.4||$327.0||$311.4|
|- Space and Flight Support||$854.6||$845.0||$818.0|
|CROSS AGENCY SUPPORT||$2,778.6||$2,779.0||$2,778.6|
(Note that the House numbers above do not reflect the transfer of $7 million from Space Operations to Space Technology called for in an amendment the House approved last week; the amendment did not specify from where within Space Operations the money should be taken.)
Some details from the report language:
Science: There’s good news for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) in the bill, as it provides $87 million for the airborne observatory to continue operations, about the same as the program received in fiscal year 2014 and far above the $12 million requested to mothball SOFIA. The committee, the report notes, “believes that such [cancellation] decisions for science missions should be made only after a senior review that evaluates the relative scientific benefit and return from continued investment.”
The report doesn’t discuss the decision by last month’s astrophysics senior review to end the Spitzer Space Telescope mission, but does note language in the senior review report expressing concern about a lack of funding for astrophysics missions in general. “The Committee believes that the decision to continue supporting large-scale science missions, such as these astrophysics resources, should first be considered for their scientific merit and viability and then in the context of any fiscal constraints,” it states, directing NASA to do that.
Astrophysics overall receives $100 million above the administration’s request. However, that $100 million is more than offset by the increases to SOFIA ($75 million above the administration’s request) and $56 million for the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), $42 million above the administration’s request.
Planetary science did not get the same increase as in the House, with the Senate electing to fund most programs at the PBR levels. The request does provide an additional $20 million for Discovery and $65.7 million for Mars Exploration. Unlike the House, which allocated $100 million for a Europa mission, the Senate does not earmark any additional funds for it, but does direct NASA to use the Space Launch System (SLS) for the baseline mission profile under development.
In Earth sciences, the Senate offers a slight increase for the next Landsat mission, but directs NASA to accelerate planning for that effort, noting that Landsat 7 could end its mission as soon as 2017. “The Committee does not concur with various administration efforts to develop alternative ‘out of the box’ approaches to this data collection—whether they are dependent on commercial or international partners,” the report stated, calling instead for a more conventional satellite procurement not to exceed $650 million and launch by 2020.
The bill also transfers funding for the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) and Jason-3 missions from NOAA to NASA’s Earth sciences program, and also adds $25.6 million for Jason-3 and $24.8 million for DSCOVR.
Exploration: The bill adds a significant amount of funding for SLS, from $1.38 billion in the administration’s request to $1.7 billion in this bill. Orion gets a smaller increase, from $1.05 billion to $1.2 billion. “The additional resources provided in this bill will ensure that NASA can make the investments necessary, including those required for risk mitigation, to maintain a 2017 launch date” for the first SLS mission, the report stated.
The Senate is slightly more generous than the House for commercial crew, providing $805 million versus the $785 million in the House bill, although both fall short of the administration’s request of $848 million. The Senate report does not include language calling for a downselect to a single company, as the House report does, but does require “certified cost and pricing data for prime contractors, for any contracts entered into to support the development of a commercial crew vehicle.” The report would also require NASA to provide Congress with quarterly reports “that detail the funds invested by NASA and by the awardees during the previous quarter and cumulatively, including legacy launch systems that may be integrated with the crew vehicle.”
That language has generated opposition from commercial space advocates, like the Space Access Society, which sent out a notice yesterday in opposition to that provision of the report. “‘Certified Cost And Pricing Data’ is a totally inappropriate requirement for commercial fixed-price vendors, such as the Cargo Resupply Services companies and the Commercial Crew bidders,” the organization argued, fearing those provisions could increase costs for those provides by a factor of 1.5 to 3.
Space Technology and Space Operations: The bill provides $580.2 million for Space Technology, below both the administration’s request and the House bill, which was already below what NASA requested. It directs NASA to put “an increased focus” on Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) awards to companies with fewer than 50 employees. It also specifies $17 million be spent on the Flight Opportunities program for flying experiments on parabolic aircraft or suborbital vehicles.
The report also directs NASA to spend $130 million on satellite servicing efforts, using a combination of funding from Space Technology and Space Operations. That funding would support a “Restore Pathfinder” technology demonstration mission to test servicing technologies on a satellite in LEO or GEO by 2017. “Given constraints imposed by the Budget Control Act, satellite servicing offers a unique and valuable means to stagger the capital requirements for new missions by significantly extending the useful life of existing ones,” the report states.
The report also directs NASA to consider the requirements of the Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) in Virginia as part of the agency’s “21st Century Launch Complex Program”, which has been focused on the needs of the Kennedy Space Center. “There are now growing capacity issues at WFF that, if not resolved, could soon prevent the center from taking on small and large missions due to limitations associated with spacecraft processing and fueling facility and associated facilities that need to be addressed,” the report states. The bill includes $8 million above the administration’s $25.9-million request for the program.