Space exploration, like much in capitalist societies, is funded. The largest source of funding for this space exploration is usually the US government. For this reason, the space community takes note when US presidents publish their budget proposals. Mainly because that budget affects NASA, the largest space finance agency in the world. With a new year and a new administration comes a new budget and with the proposed 2021 budget comes a nice increase in funding for NASA.
The proposed budget was published on April 9th and contains 58 pages of extensive information on almost all parts of federal spending. The section on NASA is only about a page long, but it does have some useful pointers on how the new government views the role of its space exploration arm. To fulfill this role, the administration plans to spend $ 24.7 billion on the agency, an increase of 6.3% from last year’s funding levels.
Banner from a NASA Facebook account showing interest in the science of climate change.
Photo credit: NASA
Part of this money will go to one of the administration’s biggest focal points – climate change. The administration had already published an infrastructure plan that focused on mitigating climate change. NASA will also be involved in the effort as it can make a good contribution to this priority through its combination of satellite surveillance and geoscientific research. US $ 2.3 billion is earmarked for directly understanding and mitigating climate change. This corresponds to an increase of 10% compared to the previous year.
Most of the budget ($ 6.9 billion) goes to the Artemis program, which the US seeks to land astronauts back on the moon. The program today signed a contract with SpaceX to provide the lunar landing module. While this level of funding represents an increase of $ 325 million over the previous year, NASA asked for almost double the amount currently allocated to this program last year. It is unclear whether the current level of funding can support the program’s mission to land a person on the moon by 2024.
The Artemis program selected three commercial landers for its first phase, pictured above from left to right: Peregrine from Astrobotic, Nova-C from Intuitive Machines, and Z-01 from OrbitBeyond
Photo credit: NASA GSFC
Although no specific funding number was given for any individual project, various robotic missions were identified as part of the budget proposal. These include the Europa Clipper, Dragonfly and Mars Sample Return mission, which is the sequel to Perseverance. The budget also specifically provides for the Roman Space Telescope, which supports a project that was previously on the chopping block.
Artist’s impression of the Roman Space Telescope expressly funded under the new budget proposed by NASA.
Credit – NASA WFIRST Project and Dominic Benford
Other funding categories specifically mentioned in the proposal were space technology research and development, STEM worker training and ISS support. Research and development funded by NASA focuses on providing technologies to empower the commercial space industry, as well as creating more efficient aerospace tools to combat climate change.
At $ 20 million, NASA’s education side appears to be a drop in the ocean when it comes to the total cost of the program. However, the 16% increase was actually the highest explicitly mentioned in the NASA portion of the budget and again marks a marked departure from the previous administration’s efforts to fund the space agency’s educational efforts. The ISS is also still in good shape. US $ 3 billion will be invested in ongoing operations and research at the space station.
This week at NASA is one of the programs sponsored by the Space Research Organization’s Educational Outreach Arm. A video was also made showing the details of the proposed budget.
Photo credit: NASA YouTube Channel
Other aerospace agencies would also benefit from higher budgets in the new proposal. This includes the National Science Foundation, which funds a significant portion of planetary research and is requesting a 20% increase to bring the funding to $ 10.2 billion.
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) would also receive a $ 500 million markup to bring its total budget to $ 2 billion. NOAA has its own line of earth observation satellites that would also be useful in the fight against climate change.
There are other space-related parts of agencies that are not specifically listed in the budget, such as the FAA commercial space transportation office. However, given the general budgetary theme, these programs would appear to be well supported.
However, as with all activity in US politics, this budget is not secure. It has yet to get through Congress, which is notorious for its struggles over budgets. While the above increases may not survive political realities, they at least point to the values of the new administration in space exploration and prove they are willing to fund it to achieve their goals.
White House – Summary of the President’s request for discretionary funding
SpaceNews – Biden’s administration proposes a budget of $ 24.7 billion to NASA for 2022
Space.com – Biden proposes a 2022 NASA budget of $ 24.7 billion to support lunar exploration and more
PACE spaceship that was chopped down by the Trump administration but was funded again through Biden’s proposed budget.
Photo credit: NASA / GSFC