Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Congress Reaches NASA Budget Deal

Florida Today reports that, "Lawmakers have tentatively approved $17.8 billion for NASA in fiscal 2012, including money for two key priorities — the James Webb Space Telescope and a program that will team NASA with private companies to develop a replacement rocket for the space shuttle."

The final figure is much closer to what the Senate pushed for. Negotiations aimed to reconcile a bill approved by the Senate that would have provided $17.9 billion for the space agency with a House bill that included $16.8 billion.

The Obama administration had requested $18.7 billion.

Space Politics has an analysis of the reported compromise.

No details are available on how much funding will be provided for the commercial crew program. The Obama administration requested $850 million. The House approved only $312 million while the Senate approved $500 million.

Several witnesses warned the House on October 26 that funding commercial crew at an amount less than what the Obama administration requested would only result in extending the time the United States relies on Russia for access to the International Space Station.

UPDATE November 15, 2011 1:45 PM EDTSpace Politics reports that the Congressional compromise gives commercial crew less than one-half of what the Obama administration asked.

Commercial crew, as previously noted here, gets $406 million in the bill, $100 million of which is set aside until certain acquisition milestones for the human exploration program are achieved. The report notes that NASA’s plans for the program have assumed much higher funding levels than what Congress is provided, and thus “NASA is directed to work expeditiously to alter its management and acquisition strategy for the program as necessary to make the best use of available resources”. This approach, the report adds, could include “an accelerated down-select process that would concentrate and maximize the impact of each appropriated dollar.”

Regarding the $100 million, that refers to language which forbids NASA from spending that money on commercial crew development until certain milestones are reached in Space Launch System development.

If passed by both houses of Congress, expect NASA to announce they won't be able to fund a domestic launch to the International Space Station until around 2017. Both NASA and the commercial launch companies recently warned Congress that cuts in commercial crew would only prolong American reliance on Russia. Seems that Congress would rather grow the Russian space industry than our own.

UPDATE November 16, 2011 6:15 AM ESTFlorida Today reports on the budget compromise:

Congress is set to approve $406 million for the program that will replace the space shuttle — less than half what NASA originally requested.

That could force the space agency to rely even longer on Russia to ferry U.S. astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

Because the NASA budget will be lumped into a bill with many other federal agencies, President Obama would have no choice but to veto the entire bill to reject the cuts. Such a veto is extremely unlikely because of its impact on all the agencies, such as the Justice Department, Agriculture, Commerce, Transportation, etc. NASA is a very small part of this bill.

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