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NASA in the FY 2018 Omnibus: Planetary Science and Exploration Boosted, Earth Science Spared

Congress extended support for a planned mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, and rejected the Administration’s proposed elimination of several earth observing satellites.

See Also: NASA in the AAAS R&D Dashboard | Complete Data Tables | ScienceInsider

NASA was granted a full $1.1 billion boost in the omnibus, building on recent budget growth. Appropriators have continued to prioritize funding for the space agency since FY 2013, when overall nondefense spending bottomed out due to sequestration. Congressional efforts to lift the sequestration caps in last month’s budget deal paved the way for further NASA investments. Of course, NASA has also benefited from strong support on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill under the leadership of the House and Senate Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations subcommittees. The FY 2018 outcome is another positive sign for NASA’s planned activities, which include a future return to the moon amid a refocusing on human space exploration under the Trump Administration. 

Bottom Line: The overall NASA budget will increase by 5.5 percent above FY 2017 enacted. NASA’s Science Mission Directorate will grow by $457 million or 7.9 percent, with the majority of new funding going towards Planetary Science. The Earth Science program remains flat-funded. Elsewhere, the budget for Exploration received additional funding to augment Space Launch System (SLS) capabilities. Congress rejected the proposed elimination of NASA’s Education Directorate as well as funding for a key technology demonstration project, RESTORE-L.


What’s Increasing:

  • Planetary Science is a big winner, gaining $382 million or 20.7 percent above FY 2017 enacted. Congress provided $595 million for Jupiter Europa, which is $320 million above FY 2017 enacted, for both the Clipper and Lander components of the mission requested by the House.
  • Funding for Mars activities totals $660 million, which is $13 million above FY 2017 enacted; Congress includes $23 million for a Mars helicopter technology demonstration.
  • An overall boost to Astrophysics includes $150 million for the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), which is $45 million above FY 2017 enacted. 
  • Within Exploration, the budget includes an additional $350 million for constructing a second mobile launch platform for SLS, which will enable an acceleration in the launch schedule for Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2), the first crewed mission using the Orion vehicle.


What’s Flat/Decreasing:

  • Earth Science remains flat overall, with several earth science missions – OCO-3, CLARREO-Pathfinder, PACE and DSCOVR – spared from requested elimination.
  • Within Space Technology, the RESTORE-L satellite servicing mission, which was slated for termination in the FY 2018 request, stays flat-funded at $130 million.
  • NASA’s Education Office, which includes the Space Grant consortia and other STEM activities, received an overall flat appropriation.
  • James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) development funding decreases in line with its planned launch in 2018.
  • Space Operations would decrease by a total $199 million or 4 percent, though funding for the 21st Century Space Launch Complex program would be maintained at FY 2017 levels.

Other Notes: The omnibus defers to the upcoming 2020 Astrophysics Decadal Survey regarding the need for, and benefits of, establishing a competitive, principal investigator-led astrophysics program to bridge the gap between Explorer and less-frequent Flagship missions. The House had requested a final report on the matter within a year.

In Historical Context: The FY 2018 NASA budget would exceed $20 billion, which is just shy of the agency’s recent FY 2010 high (see graph above).

Back to Omnibus Table of Contents

Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani


David Parkes

Program Associate

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