Trump’s NASA Budget: What It Cuts, What It Keeps

The Trump administration’s 2018 budget makes deep space missions a priority including a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. Credit: NASA

When it comes to space exploration, the White House budget ax does not bite as deeply as it might for other programs. The Trump administration requested $19.1 billion for NASA, a 0.8% decrease — about $200 million — from 2017. NASA’s cuts may look rosy at first glance, but that doesn’t mean a few key things, what many would consider essential items, will be slashed.

The Asteroid Redirect Mission to return an asteroid sample to Earth’s vicinity for astronauts to return to Earth has been canceled. Credit: NASA

First, former President Obama’s funding of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) has been canceled. We’ll no longer be sending a spacecraft to fetch a boulder from a large, near-Earth asteroid, fly it to lunar orbit and then send astronauts there to explore it and return samples in the 2020s. Money has also been nixed four climate-related satellite missions in keeping with the administration’s position on climate change:

* PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem) for monitoring the ocean and atmosphere.
* OCO-3 (Orbiting Carbon Observatory) to study the distribution of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere especially in regard to urban development and fossil fuel burning.
* Instruments on the DSCOVR Deep Space Climate Observatory
* CLARREO Pathfinder (Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory) to gather accurate climate data from orbit to closely monitor climate change.

NASA study shows diatom populations (phytoplankton) have declined more than 1% per year from 1998 to 2012. The PACE Mission would keep track of changes in plankton, a key lower rung in the food chain. Credit: NASA SVS

Finally, the budget eliminates $115 million for NASA’s Office of Education, which has been instrumental in involving the public in space missions. The administration feels it duplicates the work of another part of NASA’s outreach activities called the Science Mission Directorate. That program would remain funded.

That’s the bad news. Now the good news. The budget supports more public-private partnerships in space, includes money for the repeated-flyby mission of Jupiter’s icy, ocean filled moon Europa and the next Mars rover, scheduled to launch in 2020. It also provides money for the continued development of the Orion crewed space vehicle and the powerful Space Launch System that would send astronauts to the moon or Mars.

This artist’s rendering shows NASA’s Europa mission spacecraft, which is being developed for a launch sometime in the 2020s. It will make multiple passes over Jupiter’s icy ocean moon, Europa to learn more about its surface and interior ocean. Credit: NASA

On Tuesday (March 21), Trump signed the (NASA) Transition Authorization Act of 2017 that was unanimously approved by both the House and Senate. The act empowers NASA to work toward the goal of a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.

Here are more details taken (almost) verbatim from President Trump’s 2018 budget blueprint:

• Supports and expands public-private partnerships as the foundation of future U.S. civilian space efforts. The Budget creates new opportunities for collaboration with industry on space station operations, supports public-private partnerships for deep-space habitation and exploration systems, funds data buys from companies operating small satellite constellations, and supports work with industry to develop and commercialize new space technologies.
• Reinvigorates robotic exploration of the Solar System by providing $1.9 billion for the Planetary Science program, including funding for a mission to repeatedly fly by Jupiter’s icy ocean moon Europa and a Mars rover that would launch in 2020. To preserve the balance of NASA’s science portfolio and maintain flexibility to conduct missions that were determined to be more important by the science community, the Budget provides no funding for a multi-billion-dollar mission to land on Europa. The Budget also supports initiatives that use smaller, less expensive satellites to advance science in a cost-effective manner.
• Paves the way for eventual over-land commercial supersonic flights and safer, more efficient air travel with a strong program of aeronautics research. The Budget provides $624 million for aeronautics research and development.
• Provides $3.7 billion for continued development of the Orion crew vehicle, Space Launch System, and associated ground system, to send American astronauts on deep-space missions. To accommodate increasing development costs, the Budget cancels the multi-billion-dollar Asteroid Redirect Mission. NASA will investigate approaches for reducing the costs of exploration missions to enable a more expansive exploration program.
• Provides $1.8 billion for a focused, balanced Earth science portfolio that supports the priorities of the science and applications communities, a savings of $102 million from the 2017 annualized CR level. The Budget terminates four Earth science satellite missions described earlier and reduces funding for Earth science research grants.
• Eliminates the $115 million Office of Education, resulting in a more focused education effort through NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The Office of Education has experienced significant challenges in implementing a NASA-wide education strategy and is performing functions that are duplicative of other parts of the agency.
• Restructures a duplicative robotic satellite refueling demonstration mission to reduce its cost and better position it to support a nascent commercial satellite servicing industry, resulting in a savings of $88 million from the 2017 annualized CR level.
• Strengthens NASA’s cybersecurity capabilities, safeguarding critical systems and data.
Remember, this budget like the rest of the budget has yet to be approved. That’s why it’s a blueprint. But at least we see the direction and intent of the administraton whether we agree or disagree on one proposal or another.