Introduced by House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers on March 4, H.R. 933: “Department of Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations” was passed by the House on March 6. The goal of this appropriations bill was to fund the government, including NASA, through September of this year. For NASA, H.R. 933 represents good news and better news. For one, it offers something of a reprieve for NASA’s commercial crew program. For the Space Launch System, the bill represents a significant budget increase.
Rogers’ Senate counterpart, Barbara Mikulski, is working on a larger budget proposal that would add full-year budgets for four more Cabinet departments as well as major science and space agencies. Mikulski is reportedly to file her appropriations bill Monday, March 11, with a vote by end of week. Mikulski and Rogers hope to have their bills reconciled before March 27, when the current continuing appropriations resolution, or CR, runs out, which would force the government to shutdown.
Certainly, H.R. 933 did move the House closer to the Senate when looking at funding NASA. For NASA’s budget, H.R. 933 starts with the agency’s fiscal year 2012, or FY12, budget and then makes the following changes:
|Program||FY12 Budet||H.R. 933||Change|
|SLS Ground Systems||$316.5||$454.0||$137.5|
|Commercial Space Flight||$406.0||$525.0||$119.0|
For the Space Launch System, the increase in vehicle, ground systems, and facilities funding means that the question of continued Congressional support of the SLS program is a non-starter. This is the only program to receive such large budget increases.
While the Orion program did not see a jump in its funding from FY12 levels, the House vote did increase its budget of $175.1 million from previous House FY13 levels.
Commercial Crew’s budget, specifically its CCiCap program, after the effects of sequestration, will be $499 million. While not the $830 million originally proposed by the White House for FY13, this is a $111 million bump from the $388 million (some put that figure even lower) that the program had been facing. Even with $499 million, there will be a $96 million short-fall that will result in CCiCap milestone payments ending before September 1.
Since the FY14 budget is unlikely to result in a windfall for CCiCap, NASA is facing some very difficult choices of whether to try to continue to fund three CCiCap participants or to winnow the number down to 1 or 1 1/2. If the space agency doesn’t reduce the number of CCiCap participants, then commercial crew will see the first flight of NASA astronauts delayed from 2017 to 2018. Given that support among the international partners for continuing ISS beyond 2020 is negative at best, this leaves little choice for NASA but to downselect the number of CCiCap participants sooner rather than later. Because CCiCap is funded through a Space Act agreement, NASA certainly has the needed flexibility to change the number of participants at will. Last week, NASA CFO Beth Robinson sent a note to the CCiCap participants that a change in CCiCap was possible.