FY 2016 Appropriations: NASA Budget Grows 7.1%

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Publication date: 
21 December 2015

The annual spending law for FY 2016 increases spending at NASA by 7.1 percent over FY 2015 levels and provides direction on matters including the James Webb Space Telescope, research aboard the International Space Station, and numerous scientific missions in development that will study the earth, sun, the rest of the solar system, and beyond

On Dec. 18, Congress passed, and the President signed into law, the final FY 2016 annual spending bill. As FYI reported last Wednesday, the law appropriates $1.15 trillion in discretionary spending obligations and finalizes funding levels for the nation’s major science agencies, offices and programs through the end of September 2016, including for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The NASA section of the appropriations law can be found on pages 179-188, and Congress’ guidance for NASA spending can be found on pages 26-31 of the law’s joint explanatory statement.


Agency / Directorate / Division FY14 enacted FY15 enacted FY16 President's request FY16 enacted Change between FY15 and FY16
NASA 17,646.5 18,010.2 18,529.1 19,285.0 7.1%
Science 5,148.2 5,244.7 5,288.6 5,589.4 6.6%
Earth Science 1,824.9 1,772.5 1,947.3 1,921.0 8.4%
Planetary Science 1,345.7 1,437.8 1,361.2 1,631.0 13.4%
Astrophysics 678.3 684.8 709.1 730.6 6.7%
James Webb Space Telescope 658.2 645.4 620.0 620.0 -3.9%
Heliophysics 641.0 662.2 651.0 649.8 -1.9%
Aeronautics 566.0 651.0 571.4 640.0 -1.7%
Space Technology 576.0 596.0 724.8 686.5 15.2%
Exploration 4,113.2 4,356.7 4,505.9 4,030.0 -7.5%
Space Operations 3,774.0 3,827.8 4,003.7 5,029.2 31.4%
Education 116.6 119.0 88.9 115.0 -3.4%
* Figures in millions of U.S dollars


The construction of the various components of the JWST, which will peer deeper into space and time than any telescope that has come before, is nearly complete. The telescope is currently being integrated at the Goddard Space Flight Center and is scheduled for launch in October 2018. The law caps lifecycle costs for JWST at $8 billion.As the table above shows, NASA is receiving a 7.1 percent increase in total spending between FY 2015 and FY 2016. Within that amount, the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) will see a healthy increase of 6.6 percent, and within the SMD divisions are receiving increases of as much as 13.4 percent, for Planetary Science, to a decrease of 3.9 percent for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The 7.1 percent increase for NASA exceeds the 5.2 percent increase in overall federal discretionary spending in FY 2016, an indication it has been favored in the budget process this year.

The law continues to fund operations for and research aboard the International Space Station (ISS). In the House report released earlier this year and later incorporated into the law’s explanatory statement, appropriators express concern that growing operations costs for the ISS are crowding out funding for research opportunities in space:

"NASA's budget request continues to allocate insufficient funding and effort to ISS research. The Committee believes that this imbalance must be addressed by directing a greater share of research funding to actual physical and biological science research, and directs NASA to provide a strategy for accomplishing this goal over the next five fiscal years."

The law also provides $1.244 billion for a Commercial Crew Transportation Capability “to safely send the Nation’s astronauts to and from the ISS by 2017.” This significant boost in funding will help NASA achieve independence from Russia, on which the U.S. currently depends for manned rides from Earth to the ISS. A 7.5 percent cut to Exploration and 31.4 percent increase in Space Operations this year is the result of Congress’ decision to move commercial space launch activities from the former to the latter mission directorate.

The spending law includes no less than $1.27 billion for Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, the next-generation manned space capsule, and not less than $2.00 billion for the Space Launch System (SLS), which is NASA’s next-generation heavy lift launch vehicle. Together these pioneering engineering endeavors will enable U.S. capacity for human exploration and habitation in deep space.

The House report that was later incorporated into the law’s joint explanatory statement elevates the primacy of the National Academy of Sciences decadal surveys in setting NASA’s science mission priorities: “The Committee directs that the priorities as outlined in the decadal surveys for planetary science, earth science, astrophysics, and heliophysics shall drive NASA mission priorities.

In other highlights for NASA science, the guidance for the FY 2016 spending law:

  • Provides $100 million for Landsat-9, the latest in a longtime series of Earth and land cover imagery satellites that first collected observations in 1972;
  • Via a Senate proposal, provides $75 million for the Pre-Aerosol, Clouds, and Ocean Ecosystem satellite, an earth sciences decadal survey priority which will measure ocean color and biogeochemistry;
  • Via a House proposal, directs NASA to create an Ocean World Exploration Program, “whose primary goal is to discover extant life on another world…consistent with the recommendations of current and future Planetary Decadal surveys”;
  • Provides $175 million for an orbiter and lander mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa “as outlined in the most recent planetary science decadal survey”;
  • Provides $189 million for Discovery missions that explore the solar system;
  • Via House and Senate proposals, provides $50 million for Near Earth Object Program  observations;
  • Via a Senate proposal, provides $187.9 million for the Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification and Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-Rex), the first U.S. mission that aims to carry samples from an asteroid back to Earth;
  • Provides $15 million for plutonium-238 activities, to “work with the Department of Energy to domestically produce between 3.3 and 11 pounds of plutonium-238 annually,” in order to power future NASA space missions;
  • Provides $250 million for the Mars 2020 Rover, a predecessor mission to sending humans to Mars as early as the 2030s;
  • Provides $6.1 million for the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment;
  • Via a Senate proposal, provides $98.3 million for the Hubble Space Telescope, which marks its 25th anniversary this year;
  • Provides $90 million for the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, which will observe dark energy and exoplanets;
  • Provides $85.2 million for the airborne Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy; and
  • Via a Senate proposal, provides $230.4 million for the Solar Probe Plus mission to examine the outer corona of the Sun.