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Bush Budget Proposal Seeks $17.6 Billion For NASA In FY09

By | February 4, 2008

      Funding Plan Requests $3 Billion For Orion-Ares Spacecraft System

      Space Shuttle Program Would Receive $2.98 Billion, Down 8.7 Percent From The $3.3 Billion Appropriated in Current Fiscal 2008

      President Bush today asked Congress to provide $17.6 billion for NASA in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2009, a 2.9 percent increase from the $17.1 billion that NASA actually is getting to spend in the current fiscal 2008.

      Congress had appropriated $17.3 billion for NASA in fiscal 2008, but budget recissions cut that to $17.1 billion.

      The new NASA funding request was contained in Bush’s proposed fiscal 2009 federal government budget, which Congress will review and likely alter in coming months.

      Bush envisions total NASA spending rising each year for the near future.

      From the $17.614 billion he seeks in fiscal 2009, funding would rise to $18.026 billion in fiscal 2010, $18.460 billion in fiscal 2011, and $18.905 billion in fiscal 2012, according to NASA budget tables.

      In the budget, Bush seeks $3 billion to continue design and development of the Orion-Ares next-generation U.S. spaceship, up from $2.47 billion in the current fiscal 2008. The Orion crew exploration vehicle capsule will be boosted into space by the Ares rocket, first to the International Space Station (ISS) and then, at the end of the next decade, to the moon. The first manned flight is seen in March 2015, according to budget documents, and full operational capability is seen sometime in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2016.

      One item funded in the Bush fiscal 2009 budget plan would be the Ares 1-X flight test in the spring next year. A launch pad abort test of the Orion crew capsule is expected in September this year.

      Orion-Ares won’t see its first manned mission until 2015, but the existing space shuttle fleet is mandated to retire Sept. 30, 2010, leaving a half-decade gap when the United States — the nation that put men on the moon — won’t be able to put even one of its astronauts into low Earth orbit. Rather, U.S. astronauts will have to hitch rides on Russian, Japanese, European or private commercial spaceship taxis.

      Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] will build the Orion space capsule, while The Boeing Co. [BA], United Technologies Corp. [UTX] unit Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, ATK and others will work on the Ares rocket.

      Space Shuttle Spending Down

      The Bush budget plan also envisions spending $2.98 billion on the veteran space shuttle program in the next fiscal year, down 8.7 percent from the $3.27 billion in fiscal 2008. Those shuttles are the only spacecraft with the size and muscle needed to hoist huge structural components into space to complete construction of the ISS. The space station now is roughly half finished, with little more than two years-plus remaining before the shuttle fleet deadline for retirement.

      The drop in space shuttle funding comes as NASA is planning to ramp up the number of shuttle missions from three last year to at least five this calendar year. Some 11 shuttle missions are seen in the budget plan before the shuttle fleet retires.

      Space & Missile Defense Report asked Shana Dale, deputy NASA director, how funding can decline in the wake of shuttle flights increasing. She said the drop in funding reflects the fact that shuttles will cease flying in October 2010. "We are ramping down the space shuttle operations," she said.

      However, as to whether that means layoffs of government and contractor employees, she noted that work on the next-generation U.S. spaceship, Orion-Ares, will be ramping up, so employment levels will be "a wash."

      As well, Space & Missile Defense Report asked whether NASA would like to see Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.,), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee commerce, justice, science and related agencies subcommittee, win her goal of obtaining $1 billion extra for NASA. Mikulski has been a strong and tireless advocate for the space program.

      Dale demurred, however, saying only that "we are on the sidelines, waiting to see what happens." Dale, in her official capacity must support Bush’s budget proposal that doesn’t include the $1 billion to help NASA recover from the 2003 loss of Space Shuttle Columbia. At the same time, Dale didn’t say NASA opposes the $1 billion move.

      Dale also expressed regret that NASA may have to buy space transport services from Russia or other foreign providers. The budget plan calls for NASA to spend $2.6 billion over five years to buy transport services from others after the space shuttles stop flying.

      She expressed hope that maybe NASA can buy those services from American private commercial space transport companies, if they can develop spaceships for that purpose, rather than from foreigners.

      But she also expressed gratitude that if private U.S. firms don’t develop space transport capabilities, Russia and its Soyuz spaceship stand ready to provide cosmic taxi services for American astronauts.

      The Bush budget plan would fully fund a $500 million level for commercial orbital transportation services demonstrations.

      In other areas of the budget request, funding for the steadily growing space station would rise to $2.06 billion in fiscal 2009 from $1.82 billion in fiscal 2008.

      Space and flight support programs would see a leap in spending to $732.8 million in fiscal 2009 from $446.3 million in fiscal 2008.

      Science programs, which some critics have said are being slighted financially to help fund programs such as Orion-Ares, would decline to $4.442 billion in fiscal 2009 from $4.706 billion in the current year.

      And aeronautics spending would drop to $446.5 million in fiscal 2009 from $511.7 million in the current fiscal year.

      One problem in comparing figures from earlier NASA budgets and the figures in the new fiscal 2009 spending projections: the NASA budget was reorganized into different spending categories, so comparisons may be difficult. Similar budget reorganizations also have been seen in other federal agencies.

      The budget plan, according to NASA, also envisions beginning development of the Ares V heavy-lift rocket and the Altair Lunar Lander in fiscal 2011.

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