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NASA Gets Big Boost in Final FY2016 Appropriations Bill

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Dec-2015
Updated: 16-Dec-2015 04:20 PM

Congress reached agreement on a FY2016 appropriations bill overnight.  NASA will get $19.285 billion, $785 million more than the President's request and $1.285 billion more than FY2015.

Division B (Commerce-Justice-Science) of the bill, H.R. 2029, provides

  • $5.589 billion for science
  • $640 million for aeronautics
  • $686.5 million for space technology
  • $4.030 billion for exploration
  • $5.029 billion for space operations, including up to $1.244 billion for commercial crew
  • $115 million for education
  • $2.767 billion for safety, security and mission services
  • $388.9 million for CECR, and
  • $37.4 million for Inspector General

The bill and explanatory statement are posted on the website of the House Rules Committee.

Among the big winners are planetary science, the exploration program (including the Space Launch System and Orion), and commercial crew.  The commercial crew program is funded at the requested level of $1.244 billion, a win for the Obama Administration. 

Planetary Science.  Funding for planetary missions is $1.631 billion, an increase of $270 million above the request and $193 million more than FY2015.  It includes $175 million for a mission to Jupiter's moon Europa, a priority of House Appropriations CJS subcommittee chairman Rep. John Culberson (R-TX).  He added substantial funding for the mission in FY2013 ($75 million) and FY2014 ($80 million) although NASA did not request any.  For FY2015, NASA requested $15 million and Congress provided $100 million.  For this year, NASA requested $30 million. Not only did Congress add $145 million to that figure, but it directs NASA to build a lander as well as an orbiter.  It reiterates that it wants the mission launched in 2022.  NASA has been envisioning a later launch date to match the projected funding levels in the President's budget request.

Exploration:  The Space Launch System (SLS) gets $2.0 billion, $643.5 million more than the request and $300 million more than FY2015.  The funding includes $85 million for an Enhanced Upper Stage (EUS) that is needed for all but the first flight of SLS.  The first flight, Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), will not carry a crew and will use an interim upper stage.  EM-2 will carry a crew and the question was whether to spend funds to human-rate the interim upper stage or move forward expeditiously on the EUS, which will be human-rated.  The decision was to move forward with EUS.    The Orion spacecraft will receive $1.270 billion, $174 million more than the request and $76 million more than FY2014.  Within Advanced Exploration Systems funding, Congress also directs NASA to spend no less than $55 million on a habitation module, which will be needed to augment living space for astronauts on lengthy trips beyond low Earth orbit.  Congress wants a prototype habitation module no later than 2018.  The final agreement also directs NASA to human-rate all systems prior to the EM-2 mission and "notes that additional funds above the request have been provided to address this untenable gap presented by NASA in its budget request."   The "untenable gap" refers to NASA's current plan for a five year gap between the first test flight of SLS (EM-1), with an unoccupied Orion capsule, in 2018, and the second SLS launch (EM-2), with a crew, in 2023 (NASA insists it is still working toward a 2021 date for EM-2 as originally planned, but does not use that as its official baseline for the program).

Commercial Crew.  Congress provided full funding for the commercial crew program: $1.244 billion.  The House-passed CJS appropriations bill would have cut that to $1.0 billion and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved $900 million.  NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden has been relentless in his advocacy for full funding for commercial crew to enable the United States to end its reliance on Russia for taking crews to and from the International Space Station (ISS).   Congress adopted the Senate Appropriations Committee's decision to move this program out of Exploration and into Space Operations.


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