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Senate bill restores funding for NASA science and technology demonstration missions


WASHINGTON — A fiscal year 2019 spending bill approved by a Senate appropriations subcommittee June 12 offers $21.3 billion for NASA, including funding for several missions slated for cancellation in the administration’s budget request.

The bill, approved unanimously by members of the commerce, justice and science (CJS) subcommittee during a brief markup session, provides the agency with more than $1.4 billion above the administration’s request for fiscal year 2019 and $587 million above what the agency received in the fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending bill. However, it is about $220 million below what the House version of the bill offers the agency.

The bill offers $6.4 billion for NASA science programs, including $1.9 billion for Earth science, the same as the House bill and $200 million above the administration’s request. The bill specifically funds four NASA Earth science programs — the PACE spacecraft, CLARREO-Pathfinder and Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 instruments and the Earth-imaging cameras on the DSCOVR spacecraft — targeted for cancellation in the budget request. In addition, it provides $10 million for the Carbon Monitoring System program, which did not receive funding in the 2018 spending bill.

“I really appreciate your focus on covering the Earth sciences” at NASA, said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) in comments to the subcommittee leadership at the markup. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in Maryland, is home to some of those Earth science programs. “NASA Goddard is a very important national treasure and I appreciate the support you’re giving to their programs.”

The bill also provides $352 million to NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), also targeted for cancellation in the bill. The House has restored funding for WFIRST as well, but only $150 million. NASA’s 2018 budget request had projected spending about $300 million on WFIRST in 2019. The WFIRST funding is part of $1.5 billion for astrophysics programs, including $304 million for the James Webb Space Telescope. The House offered a little more than $1.3 billion for NASA astrophysics.

Planetary science did not fare as well, with the Senate bill offering $2.2 billion, about the same as 2018, compared to the House bill’s $2.76 billion. The House bill included significant additional funding for the Europa Clipper and Europa lander missions, which are not mentioned in Senate fact sheets on the bill.

The Senate bill, like the House one, offers flat funding for the Space Launch System, at $2.15 billion, and the Orion spacecraft, at $1.35 billion. Both bills offer $504 million for development of the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway. Included in the Senate bill is $255 million to complete construction of a second mobile launch platform for SLS, which was partially funded in the 2018 omnibus spending bill.

The bill includes $180 million for NASA’s Restore-L satellite servicing mission. NASA had proposed turning Restore-L into a more general technology development program rather than a full-fledged mission to demonstrate satellite servicing technologies.

The bill provides $110 million for NASA’s education programs, which the administration sought to terminate. The bill, moreover, renames NASA’s education program the “Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Opportunities” program.

In addition to NASA, the CJS bill funds the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The bill includes $928 for NOAA’s polar weather satellite program, $50 million above the administration’s request, and $408 million for the GOES geostationary weather satellite program.

The full Senate Appropriations Committee will mark up the CJS spending bill June 14, at which time it will release more details about the bill.

The House CJS spending bill, meanwhile, is awaiting action by the full House after clearing the appropriations committee May 17. Speaking at a June 8 Space Transportation Association luncheon here, Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), chairman of the CJS appropriations subcommittee, said he hoped the House would consider the spending bill “as soon as possible,” but didn’t say if it would be a standalone bill or combined with other spending bills in a “minibus” package.

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