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FY 2011 NASA Budget Request

Rob Boisseau
Number 17 - February 04, 2010  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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The Administration’s $19 billion fiscal year 2011 NASA budget request dramatically reorients NASA’s priorities, providing increases to key Science Mission Directorate divisions, refocusing NASA’s climate monitoring responsibilities, and cuts spending on the much debated Constellation program.

Figures are rounded.

Total NASA:

Up 1.5 percent or $276 million from $18,724 million to $19,000 million.

Seven major sections within the NASA’s budget request are:


Up 12 percent or $537 million from $4,469 million to $5,006 million.

Associate Administrator of the Science Missions Directorate Ed Whiler voiced support for the President’s proposed spending saying, “this is a great budget” during a conference call with reporters.  Whiler noted that 27 percent of the overall discretionary budget is devoted to his Directorate. 

Within the Science Directorate are the following divisions:

Earth Science: Up 27 percent or $381 million from $1,421 million to $1,802 million.

Whiler said that expanded investments in Earth Science will allow NASA to refly the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, accelerate new satellites to monitor climate, expand Venture-class competitive missions, continue 15 earth observing spacecraft in orbit, and move to the completion and launch of developing missions. 

Planetary Science: Up 11 percent or $145 million from $1,341 million to $1,486 million.

Whiler was enthused to announce that a major highlight of the Planetary Science budget is the eventual restart of plutonium 238 production, and later said the “news is good” regarding deliberations with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the Department of Energy, and NASA.  The Plantetary budget will also provide for 11 planetary mission, completion of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), and moving Mars 2016 into formulation.  Later asked about the MSL, Whiler said that there would be problems with the program until the rocket takes off, but he is more optimistic than he was months ago.  Whiler confessed he is “starting to get hopeful” feeling that the program has “turned a corner.”

Astrophysics: Down 3 percent or $28 million from $1,104 million to $1,076 million.

Whiler was confident that the astrophysics budget would support 15 missions, and work towards ASTRO-H, and the James Webb Space Telescope with a 70 percent confidence level in a 2014 launch.  Whiler also said on several occasions that they are “greatly” anticipating the release of the upcoming decadal survey.

Heliophysics: Down 2 percent or $15 million from $627 million to $642 million.

The Heliophysics budget will support 17 missions, including the launch of the flagship solar program, the Solar Dynamics Observatory.


Up 13.8 percent or $517 million from $3,746 million to $4,263 million.

Aeronautics and Space Research and Technology:

Up 129.9 percent or $651 million from $501 million to $1,152 million.

Space Operations:

Down 20.5 percent or $1,259 million from $6,147 million to $4,888 million.

The Administration’s Space Operations budget would provide $989 million for the Space Shuttle Program, and $2,780 million for the International Space Station (ISS)—a significant (20 percent) $463 million increase.

Of course, the headline from the NASA budget, and potentially a stumbling block for appropriators is the Administration’s plan to scrap the Constellation program.

A letter dated February 1, signed by Bolden and OSTP Director John Holdren contains strong wording about the Constellation program, and criticizes decades of NASA funding policy.

First calling the “President’s commitment to exploring further into space… strong and unwavering,” the letter cites the recently released Augustine Committee report as indicating “that the Constellation program is challenged by a broad spectrum of problems and fundamentally ‘unexecutable.’”  The letters goes on to describe the US space program as “over budget, behind schedule, and [suffering] from decades of under-investment in space technology development.”Sounding the clarion call of many in NASA’s other Mission Directorates, Bolden and Holdren allow that “NASA’s efforts in recent year to pursue its Moon goals have forced cuts to other critical NASA programs, including Earth observation, aeronautics, robotic space exploration, space science, and education.”  “Put simply,” the letter continues, “the Constellation program threatened other important parts of NASA’s endeavors and mission, while failing to achieve the trajectory of a program that was sustainable, executable, and ultimately successful.”

Instead, NASA plans research and development for heavy-lift rocket systems, technologies for closed-loop life support systems, advanced in-space propulsion systems, and according to an OMB document “a steady stream of precursor robotic exploration missions to scout locations and demonstrate technologies to increase the safety and capability of future human missions and provide scientific dividends.”

Reaching the ISS would rely on NASA partnering with the aerospace industry “in a fundamentally new way, making commercially provided services the primary mode of astronaut transporation.”  The Bolden-Holdren letter argues, “A greatly strengthened US commercial space industry competing for this critical part of NASA’s mission will harness our nation’s entrepreneurial energies, create thousands of new jobs and catalyze the development of new business that capitalize on affordable human access to space.”

House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) had this to say about the Administration’s budget, “Turning to NASA, the space agency’s budget request represents a radical departure from the bipartisan consensus achieved by Congress in successive authorizations over the past five years. This requires deliberate scrutiny. We will need to hear the Administration’s rationale for such a change and assess its impact on U.S. leadership in space before Congress renders its judgment on the proposals.”

Science and Technology Committee Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX) blasted the President’s NASA request saying, “I am alarmed that this administration is planning to reject all that we have accomplished and instead rely on a risky new initiative to buy commercial crew services from companies that, in some cases, have little-to-no track record developing space systems.”


Down 20.2 percent or $37 million from $183 million to $146 million.

Cross Agency Support:

Down 18 percent or $683 million from $3,794 million to $3,111 million.

Construction and Environmental Compliance and Restoration:

Down 11.4 percent or $51 million from $448 million to $397 million.

Rob Boisseau
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics