FY17 Appropriations Bills: NASA

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Publication date: 
2 June 2016

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees would increase NASA spending in fiscal year 2017, reversing the president’s proposed discretionary cuts to the space agency including some of the proposed cuts to the Science Mission Directorate.

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have completed work on the fiscal year 2017 Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) appropriations bill that will fund NASA next year. While neither full chamber has yet considered the bill, both appropriations committees have approved committee reports that provide policy guidance and detailed spending proposals for the space agency.

The Senate CJS committee report includes an NASA section beginning on page 99, while the NASA section of the draft House CJS committee report begins on page 54.

The table below compares the House and Senate spending proposals for NASA, based on the figures in the committee reports. Additional details are available in AIP’s Federal Science Budget Tracker.


FY 2017 NASA Appropriations Summary Table

Funding Line FY16
House Change
Senate Change
NASA 19,285 18,262 -5.3% 19,508 1.2% 19,306 0.1%
Science 5,589 5,303 -5.1% 5,597 0.1% 5,395 -3.5%
Earth Science 1,921 1,972 2.7% 1,690 -12.0% 1,984 3.3%
Planetary Science 1,631 1,391 -14.7% 1,846 13.2% 1,356 -16.9%
Astrophysics 731 697 -4.7% 793 8.5% 807 10.5%
James Webb Space Telescope 620 569 -8.2% 569 -8.2% 569 -8.2%
Heliophysics 650 674 3.7% 699 7.5% 679 4.4%
Aeronautics 640 635 -0.9% 712 11.3% 601 -6.1%
Space Technology 687 691 0.6% 739 7.7% 687 0.0%
Exploration 4,030 3,164 -21.5% 4,183 3.8% 4,330 7.4%
Orion 1,270 1,053 -17.1% 1,350 6.3% 1,300 2.4%
Space Launch System 2,000 1,230 -38.5% 2,000 0.0% 2,150 7.5%
Space Operations 5,029 5,076 0.9% 4,890 -2.8% 4,951 -1.6%
International Space Station - 1,431 - - - - -
Education 115 100 -13.0% 115 0.0% 108 -6.1%

* Excludes $763 million in proposed mandatory spending, of which $298 million is for Science, $173 million is for Exploration, $160 million is for Aeronautics, and $136 million is for Space Technology.

** All figures are in millions of nominal U.S. dollars and are rounded to the nearest million. The percentages are calculated based on the unrounded figures.

Bills would restore most of the president’s proposed NASA funding cuts

Both House and Senate Appropriations Committees propose a year-over-year increase for NASA in fiscal year 2017 that is over $1 billion more than the president’s budget request when mandatory funding proposals are excluded. The chambers’ committee reports chastise the administration for a $1.023 billion or 5.3 percent cut to the space agency’s discretionary budget and for trying to use mandatory funding proposals, which are outside the purview of the appropriations committees, to try to make up some of the difference.

A major point of contention between the House and Senate proposals is the balance between the Earth Science and Planetary Science divisions within the Science Mission Directorate. The House committee would cut Earth Science by 12.1 percent and boost Planetary Science by 13.2 percent, while the Senate committee would boost Earth Science by 3.3 percent and cut Planetary Science by 16.9 percent.

A number of Republicans, including House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), chairman of the Subcommittee on Science and Space of the Senate Commerce Committee, have argued in recent years that earth science research has been favored at the expense of planetary science during President Obama’s tenure. On the other hand, some key members, including House CJS Subcommittee Ranking Member Mike Honda (D-CA), have stepped up as champions of earth science.

Chairman of the House CJS Appropriations Subcommittee John Culberson (R-TX) has made it no secret that he favors NASA’s proposed mission to probe for extraterrestrial life on Jupiter’s moon Europa, a mission that sits in the Planetary Science division. In the year-end fiscal year 2016 appropriations bill, he included report language directing NASA to create an Oceans Worlds program and held a hearing on the subject on March 3 of this year. In this year’s House report, the Planetary Science section calls for “a Europa Orbiter launch no later than 2022 and a Europa Lander launch no later than 2024.

During a March 17 House Science Committee hearing to review the NASA budget, Space Subcommittee Chairman Bruce Babin (R-TX) called cuts to planetary science “unacceptable” and said “the pipeline for out-planet missions has been woefully under-prioritized.” He expressed concern that,

To keep their staff employed, planetary science institutions increasingly seek funding from foreign space agencies to compensate for the lack of projects. This results in transference of valuable skills and knowledge out of the United State to countries like China. Experienced planetary scientists are also transitioning to other fields while young scientists are choosing not to enter the field, gutting our national capacity in planetary science.

Babin also frowned upon the administration’s proposed increases for earth science, arguing it is “already funded by more than a dozen other federal agencies” and that NASA cannot continue to be the “piggy bank” for all those agencies. Smith also weighed in on the matter:

[The president’s] proposal…disproportionately increases Earth Science accounts to more than $2 billion – a 70 percent increase since 2007…. This is not the proposal of an administration that is serious about maintaining American’s leadership in space.

At the House Appropriations Committee’s May 24 meeting to approve CJS legislation, Ranking Member Mike Honda (D-CA) offered an amendment to increase Earth Science funding by $342 million, to match the president’s requested level, but he quickly withdrew it, acknowledging he could not offer the required spending offset. Honda remarked, however,

Research in earth science helps protect lives, business and infrastructure, and economic and public welfare. Consequences of natural hazards such as droughts, hurricanes, space weather, and earthquakes can be devastating. It is far less costly and more productive to invest in earth science and improve forecasts than it is to rebuild and recover from disaster. This is the time to be increasing funding to Earth Science, not cutting funding.

Appropriators in both chambers will have to negotiate a middle ground to resolve the differences of opinion on these two major science divisions.

Despite disagreeing on the best balance between earth science and planetary science research, the administration and both House and Senate committees are in agreement on a significant funding boost for the Heliophysics division in fiscal year 2017, paving a path for the largest increase for this division since 2008.

House directs NASA to focus on manned mission to Mars, explore probe launch to Alpha Centauri

In other appropriations priorities for NASA, the House report shifts the space agency’s focus away from president’s proposed asteroid retrieval mission, denying funding outright for its development, and instead toward a manned mission to Mars. It also calls for a return to the Moon to test capabilities that will be needed for Mars.

For the first time, the report also sets an ambitious new long-term goal of developing the propulsion technologies that could enable an interstellar scientific probe to reach a cruise velocity of 0.1c and set its sights on exploring Alpha Centauri, the closest solar system to ours. The report sets a target launch date of 2069, the 100th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.  The House also includes $20 million for NASA to continue to work with the Department of Energy to produce Plutonium-238, already a key radioisotope in nuclear propulsion of spacecraft.

The House report language also would require NASA to look more closely at the Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) management model for its research centers. When Culberson raised the prospect of turning one or more of NASA’s research centers, such as NASA’s Ames research Center in Mountain View, Calif., into an FFRDC during an appropriations subcommittee hearing, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden pushed back, saying he would be “leery” of NASA having more than one FFRDC. (The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., is already an FFRDC operated by Caltech.)

Culberson nonetheless included report language this year that calls on NASA to contract for an independent examination of this idea. The report specifies the study should look to the Department of Energy laboratories, which are FFRDCs, as potential models for NASA.

Side-by-side comparison of the House and Senate committee reports

Below are a set of expandable tabs which contain excerpts from the explanatory reports for NASA that accompany the House and Senate bills.

Administration’s Mandatory Funding Proposals

House: "The request included $763,000,000 of unrealistic and unauthorized new mandatory funding proposals that disproportionately impacted ongoing science and human exploration programs. The recommendations below do not include any mandatory funds. Instead, the recommendations provide NASA with a balanced portfolio that ensures current and future stability to pursue scientific discoveries, develop new technology, explore our universe, and engage Americans. NASA is a national asset that must be challenged, funded, guided, and supported. Budget gimmickry such as that included in the budget request does nothing to thoughtfully contribute to the goal of ensuring that NASA maintains its global leadership position as we push the boundaries of human and scientific exploration, discovery, and knowledge."

Senate: "The proposed budget request by NASA is significantly flawed compared to the solid fiscal foundation that was provided by the Congress in fiscal year 2016. NASA irresponsibly chose to present a budget that conflated mandatory funding and discretionary funding to reach a misleading budget total that still falls $259,900,000 short of the fiscal year 2016 enacted level. Only the discretionary portion of the request is within this Committee’s jurisdiction, and therefore the Committee must make all comparisons to the request of $18,262,100,000, over which the Committee has jurisdiction. Unfortunately, the proposed discretionary budget fails to meet even basic funding needs for priorities agreed upon by NASA and Congress. Human exploration missions would miss launch dates that NASA has formally committed to meet, science missions would be terminated early, and the agency would struggle to fully fund its own civil servants working on next generation technologies. Following the discretionary fiscal year 2017 budget proposed for NASA would only create unnecessary mission cost growth and inefficient resource allocation throughout the agency. The Committee has chosen to meet NASA’s needs solely through discretionary funds."

Decadal Surveys

House: "The Committee directs that the priorities outlined in the decadal surveys for Earth Science, Planetary Science, Astrophysics, and Heliophysics shall drive NASA mission priorities."

Senate: "The Committee expects NASA to continue making progress on the recommendations of the National Academies’ decadal surveys, now and in the future."

GAO Assessments of Large-scale Projects

House: "NASA shall continue to cooperate fully and provide timely information to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) so that it may fulfill its congressional mandate to report on the status of large-scale projects at NASA. Such information includes, but is not limited to, copies of preliminary cost estimates; access to online agency applications, databases, and web portals; and access to contractor and agency personnel."

Senate: "GAO’s most recent assessment of NASA’s large-scale projects found the agency’s cost and schedule performance on major projects has improved since GAO’s first assessment in 2009, with the average cost overrun down from 4 percent to 1.3 percent. NASA is directed to cooperate fully and to provide timely program analysis, evaluation data, and relevant information to the GAO so that GAO can report to Congress shortly after the annual budget submission of the President and semiannually thereafter on the status of large-scale NASA programs, projects, and activities based on its review of this information."

Federally-Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs)

House: "In June 2004, the Report of the President’s Commission on Implementation of the United States Space Exploration Policy recommended that NASA, through an open, competitive process, transition its Centers to FFRDCs, noting that the FFRDC model is a proven management structure that results in successful and innovative research. The Commission stated that with the exception of some specific governmental functions such as contracting, launch operations, and flight operations, which should remain under direct Federal management within the Centers, the FFRDC model would work well for NASA Centers.

NASA shall, within 90 days of enactment of this Act, contract for an independent examination of the benefits and constraints of increasing NASA Centers’ collaboration with academia and the private sector. To conduct this assessment, which shall be published no more than 2 years after enactment of this Act, NASA shall choose an organization that will convene individuals with recognized relevant expertise and whose collective credentials sufficiently cover the entire range of NASA’s mission activities. The study shall include the feasibility of increasing partnerships between the Centers and academia, and the feasibility of transitioning some or all Centers to become FFRDCs. This review shall examine the Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories, which are FFRDCs, and NASA’s relationship with the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), a current NASA FFRDC, to determine if the DOE or JPL model would be feasible or advantageous for adoption at any of the NASA Centers. This review shall also include recommendations for incentives to address potential employee concerns with respect to Federal employment status."


Earth Science

House: "The recommendation includes $1,690,000,000 for Earth Science programs. NASA shall ensure that the Earth Science portfolio is focused on the science priorities outlined in the most recent Earth Science decadal survey. Within amounts provided, NASA shall prioritize funding for the NASA–ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) to maintain the 2020 launch for this satellite that will observe ecosystem disturbances, ice-sheet collapse, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes and landslides. NASA shall also prioritize funds for continued development of the Landsat-9 mission. The Committee expects NASA and its partners to evaluate commercially available data in the event that there is a data gap in the Landsat program."

Senate: "The recommendation includes $1,984,000,000 for Earth Science, including $130,900,000 to continue formulation and development of Landsat-9 with a target launch date for Landsat- 9 during calendar year 2020. The Committee expects to receive a plan, along with the spending plan required under section 533, which details the technical and schedule progress needed to achieve the 2020 target launch date, by each major subsystem needed for the mission. The recommendation also includes $90,000,000 for the Pre-Aerosol, Clouds, and Ocean Ecosystem [PACE] mission to continue formulation and development of the mission. In apportioning work for PACE, including development of primary mission components, NASA shall make every effort to preserve key intermural capabilities."

Planetary Science

House: "The recommendation includes $1,846,000,000 for Planetary Science. The Committee urges NASA, in subsequent budget requests, to ensure that it requests sufficient funds across its Discovery and New Frontiers programs to ensure a balanced cadence of missions that the science community can adequately plan for and participate in. Within amounts provided for Planetary Science, the recommendation includes $284,700,000 for Planetary Science Research, including $178,100,000 for Planetary Science Research and Analysis. The recommendation also includes $50,000,000 as requested for NASA’s continued efforts to detect and monitor near Earth objects."

Senate: "The Committee supports Planetary Science at $1,355,900,000, including $387,700,000 for the Mars 2020 Rover which is $10,000,000 above the request level, $60,000,000 for Near Earth Object Observations within Planetary Science Research, $44,000,000 for the Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification and Security-Regolith Explorer, and $14,000,000 for New Horizons to continue to analyze and interpret data from the Pluto fly-by and exploration of the Kuiper Belt. Within funding for Near Earth Objects, $16,100,000 is for Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment [AIDA] Double Asteroid Redirection Test [DART]. In future requests, NASA shall identify total resources for AIDA– DART as a separate activity."


House: "The recommendation includes $232,300,000, including an increase of $30,000,000 above the request, to support the selection of up to two competitively selected missions from the Discovery 2014 Announcement of Opportunity. Discovery missions allow scientists and engineers to assemble teams that launch small missions using fewer resources and shorter development times; their main objective is to explore planets, moons of planets, comets and asteroids. Successful Discovery missions that have produced a wealth of science and spurred public interest include the Mars Pathfinder, Dawn, and Kepler, among many others. In subsequent budget requests, NASA is encouraged to plan for and select two Discovery missions every four years."

New Frontiers

House: "The recommendation includes $144,000,000 for New Frontiers. New Frontiers missions explore the solar system with frequent, medium-class spacecraft missions. The Committee notes that the Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS–Rex) New Frontiers mission, which will launch during 2016, will collect samples from an asteroid and return them to Earth."

Mars Exploration

House: "The recommendation includes $647,000,000 for the Mars Exploration program, including $408,000,000 for the Mars 2020 mission that meets scientific objectives from the most recent Planetary Science decadal survey. Additional funding above the request is provided to achieve maximum efficiencies from early buys of hardware with commonality with the Curiosity Rover. Also included within amounts for Mars Exploration is $239,000,000 for Other Missions and Data Analysis (OMDA). Within amounts provided for OMDA, $20,000,000 is for Mars Technology, including $15,000,000 for a Mars helicopter technology demonstration to be flown on the Mars 2020 mission; and $20,000,000, $10,000,000 above the request, is for Mars Future Missions to initiate the next Mars mission after Mars 2020, including the enhancements needed for telecommunications capability around Mars. NASA shall continue technology development for subsequent sample return stages to ensure that it meets the highest priority Planetary Science decadal survey objectives."

Europa / Outer Planets & Ocean Worlds

House: "The Committee appreciates that NASA has created an Ocean Worlds Exploration Program whose primary goal is to discover extant life on another world using a mix of Discovery, New Frontiers and flagship class missions. The recommendation includes $348,000,000 for Outer Planets and Ocean Worlds, of which not less than $260,000,000 is for the Jupiter Europa Orbiter and Lander to fulfill the requirements of the most recent Planetary Science decadal survey. To support progress on this mission, NASA shall ensure that future funding requests are consistent with achieving a Europa Orbiter launch no later than 2022 and a Europa Lander launch no later than 2024, pending final mission configuration. NASA is encouraged to select the Lander payload during fiscal year 2017 to support the above launch window."

Senate: "The Committee remains supportive of a scientific mission to Europa, as called for in the Planetary Science Decadal Survey, and continues its directive to use the Space Launch System as 103 the baseline launch vehicle for mission planning purposes. The Committee believes that any ongoing mission planning should seek to maximize the scientific return for exploring Europa with an expeditious launch and reduced travel time. To assist the Committee in evaluating potential mission configurations, NASA shall provide the Committee with a report, no later than 90 days from enactment, that compares options of flying the Europa Clipper mission with an orbiter and lander launched together, or separately. As part of this report, NASA shall consider mission cost, schedule, potential scientific return, and technical complexity."

Impact Craters

House: "Impact craters in the U.S. that are well preserved and accessible provide researchers and educators with the simultaneous opportunity to expand our understanding of the Earth’s and the Solar System’s history and to show students research in action as a part of their STEM education. NASA is encouraged to make funds available for external competitive funding to conduct further scientific investigation of well-preserved and easily accessible impact craters and simultaneously provide education and outreach on Earth’s erosion processes and more broadly on the scientific method of research."


House: "The recommendation includes $792,900,000 for Astrophysics. The Committee commends NASA for its long-standing efforts to provide the scientific community with observations of astrophysical objects simultaneously over a broad range of wavelengths. The Committee understands that NASA and the community are working on concept studies for the next Astrophysics Decadal survey and that missions are being proposed for the upcoming Astrophysics Explorers Announcement of Opportunity. As appropriate, NASA shall keep the Committee informed of any future plans to obtain astrophysical observations in the x-ray and gamma-ray wavelengths."

Hubble Space Telescope

Senate: "The Committee supports continued operations of Hubble at the fiscal year 2016 level. The 2020 Vision Study confirms that constant funding will allow Hubble to continue to deliver outstanding science by ensuring attention is paid to addressing operational anomalies and other risks to Hubble’s scientific output. The Committee is concerned that NASA has increased the risks to Hubble science by requiring the program absorb costs for the well-regarded Hubble Fellowship program that were previously funded within Astrophysics. NASA shall detail to the Committee how it will maintain operational capability and science productivity through at least 2 years of overlap with JWST while also continuing support for the Hubble Fellowship Program."

WFIRST Science Mission

Senate: "The Committee has provided $120,000,000 for the WFIRST mission using the Astrophysics Focused Telescope Assets, with the goal of launching the telescope no later than 2024. The Committee is concerned about the cost of the prime mission, especially because inadequate early investment, schedule delay, and creeping mission requirements have contributed to high cost growth in previous NASA missions. The Committee directs NASA to cap WFIRST life cycle costs at no more than $3,500,000,000 through the end of its prime mission. NASA should pursue the most efficient development program for WFIRST and its instruments, and take advantage of scientific and operational and synergies with Hubble and JWST, as directed in fiscal year 2016. To reduce mission costs and ensure that overlap with JWST is maximized, NASA should consolidate management of the telescope, including its optical assets, and its instruments. An increase of $10,000,000 is provided for the Exoplanet Exploration program to develop the technology for a possible StarShade demonstration mission using WFIRST."

Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA)

House: "The recommendation includes $85,200,000, the fiscal year 2016 level, for SOFIA, a state-of-the-art far-infrared observatory with a planned 20-year life cycle. When determining future observation cycles, NASA shall not undertake any actions leading to the premature shutdown of the SOFIA program without the participation of international partners, as appropriate, in any scientific reviews and formulation of recommendations. Consistent with the approach NASA has taken with the Great Observatories, NASA shall also not undertake any changes that would be disruptive to the SOFIA program and the management of its operations."

Senate: "Within funds provided to Astrophysics in order to advance scientific knowledge of the origins of the universe, the Committee provides $83,800,000 for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy [SOFIA]."

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)

House: "The recommendation for the JWST is $569,400,000, which is the same as the request and $50,600,000 below fiscal year 2016. While the Committee remains supportive of the JWST and the science that will result from its mission, GAO’s March 2016 Assessments of Major Projects found that major integration and test events remain to be completed prior to its October 2018 launch readiness date. NASA shall continue to provide the Committee with quarterly briefings on JWST’s technical status, achievement of program milestones, and budget and schedule performance."

Senate: "The Committee maintains its strong support for the completion of the James Webb Space Telescope [JWST], and provides $569,400,000, the same as the budget request. The bill maintains an overall development cost ceiling for JWST at $8,000,000,000, and the Committee intends to hold NASA and its contractors to that commitment. The Committee expects to be kept fully informed on issues relating to program and risk management, achievement of cost and schedule goals, and the program’s technical status. The Committee appreciates GAO’s continuing work to monitor JWST progress, costs, and schedule."

Search for Life Technology Development

Senate: "According to GAO’s most recent assessment of NASA’s major projects, ‘‘As of 2015, 9 of the 11 major projects that passed preliminary design review matured all technologies to the level recommended by GAO best practices.’’ While GAO characterizes this as a positive trend for cost and schedule performance, NASA needs new technologies to make new discoveries. NASA’s goal should be to invest in technologies early to mitigate risk and continue to mature technologies to position the U.S. scientific community to advance its world class science. The Committee encourages NASA to strengthen industry involvement in leveraging and scaling new technologies developed for the JWST to larger segmented-aperture telescopes that will be required to achieve the goals of the next decadal survey such as detecting biomarkers in faint signals of light from distant Earth-sized planets. The recommendation includes $5,000,000 for such technology development."


House: "The recommendation includes $698,700,000 for Heliophysics, which is $25,000,000 above the discretionary request."

Senate: "The Committee provides $678,700,000 for Heliophysics including the budget request of $232,500,000 for the Solar Probe Plus mission to launch in 2018 and $17,400,000 for the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission. The Committee recognizes that a greater understanding of our Sun will help to mitigate the hazards that solar activity poses to the ground- and space-based platforms that strengthen our national security, economic security, and scientific prowess. Therefore, the Committee expects NASA to request adequate discretionary funding in future years to continue progress toward Decadal Survey priorities, including the release of Explorer Announcements of Opportunity every 18 months, alternating between small and mid-sized opportunities. Within the amount for Heliophysics, the recommendation includes $61,200,000 for Heliophysics Research, Other Missions and Data Analysis, an increase of $5,000,000 above the President’s request, to continue implementation of the Diversify, Realize, Integrate, Venture, Educate [DRIVE] Initiative."

Education and Public Outreach (EPO)

House: "The recommendation includes $37,000,000 for Science Mission Directorate (SMD)-wide EPO activities. NASA shall, in the fiscal year 2017 spending plan, reallocate these funds proportionally among the SMD divisions, resulting in a dedicated budget line for each division’s EPO activities. This approach will still permit competition among projects for the best use of funds; focus that competition among projects that are more easily compared to one another; and provide better stability for the educational communities in each major SMD discipline."

Senate: "Within Astrophysics, the request includes $25,000,000 for education funding within the Science Mission Directorate [SMD], which is $12,000,000 below the fiscal year 2016 level. For fiscal year 2017, the Committee provides no less than $42,000,000 for education as reflected in a more transparent single line within the SMD funding chart. This includes the $25,000,000 education funding included in the budget submission within the Astrophysics program. However, the Committee supports the recommendation that the Astrophysics program administer this SMD-wide education funding. The Committee encourages SMD-funded investigators to be directly involved in outreach and education efforts. NASA should continue to prioritize funding for on-going education efforts linked directly to its science missions and conclude its on-going formal education assessment so the moratorium on formal education activities can be lifted."


Hypersonics Research

House: "NASA is encouraged to work with other Federal partners to conduct fundamental hypersonics research, applied research in propulsion, vehicle technologies, and hypersonic flight experiments."

Advanced Materials Research

House: "The Committee recognizes the role NASA and university research institutions play in developing advanced materials platforms for next generation air and space vehicles. Within amounts provided, NASA is encouraged to partner with academic institutions that have strong capabilities in aviation and aerospace structures; materials testing and evaluation; and with a demonstrated and recognized record of integration of these materials into manufacturing and production within the aviation and aerospace industry."

Vertical Lift Research

House: "The Committee is supportive of NASA’s Revolutionary Vertical Lift Technology initiative. NASA shall provide a report within 90 days of enactment that describes NASA’s current rotary wing and fixed wing vertical lift research as well as planned out-year investments in this area."

Space Technology

Nuclear Propulsion

House: "When considering energy and propulsion grants, including fusion energy, NASA is encouraged to seek partnerships with agencies and universities with expertise in this area. The recommendation includes no less than $35,000,000 for nuclear propulsion technologies for space transportation and exploration. NASA shall provide a report to the Committee within 180 days of enactment of this Act on ongoing nuclear propulsion research, how NASA intends to employ this technology to support various exploration programs, and a comparison of nuclear propulsion and use to other forms of propulsion, in terms of speed and ease of construction."

Senate: "NASA is continuing its work to develop the foundational technologies and advance low enriched uranium nuclear thermal propulsion systems that can provide significantly faster trip times for crewed missions than non-nuclear options. The Committee provides $28,900,000 above the request for ongoing nuclear thermal propulsion technologies for space transportation and exploration. NASA shall update its report to the Committee within 180 days of enactment of this act on ongoing nuclear thermal propulsion research and how the research into this technology supports NASA’s exploration programs."


House: "…included within the Technology program is $20,000,000 for NASA to continue its collaboration work with the Department of Energy to domestically produce plutonium-238 for use as a source of energy in space missions."

Alpha Centauri Mission / Interstellar Propulsion Research

House: "Current NASA propulsion investments include advancements in chemical, solar electric, and nuclear thermal propulsion. However, even in their ultimate theoretically achievable implementations, none of these could approach cruise velocities of one-tenth the speed of light (0.1c), nor could any other fission-based approach (including nuclear electric or pulsed fission). The Committee encourages NASA to study and develop propulsion concepts that could enable an interstellar scientific probe with the capability of achieving a cruise velocity of 0.1c. These efforts shall be centered on enabling such a mission to Alpha Centauri, which can be launched by the one-hundredth anniversary, 2069, of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Propulsion concepts may include, but are not limited to fusion-based implementations (including antimatter-catalyzed fusion and the Bussard interstellar ramjet); matter-antimatter annihilation reactions; multiple forms of beamed energy approaches; and immense ‘sails’ that intercept solar photons or the solar wind. At the present time, none of these are beyond technology readiness level (TRL) 1 or 2. The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program is currently funding concept studies of directed energy propulsion for wafer-sized spacecraft that in principle could achieve velocities exceeding 0.1c and an electric sail that intercepts solar wind protons. Over the past few years NIAC has also funded mission-level concept studies of two fusion-based propulsion concepts. Therefore, within one year of enactment of this Act, NASA shall submit an interstellar propulsion technology assessment report with a draft conceptual roadmap, which may include an overview of potential advance propulsion concepts for such an interstellar mission, including technical challenges, technology readiness level assessments, risks, and potential near-term milestones and funding requirements."


Mission to Mars

House: "While the Committee recognizes the benefits of some of the technology that is under development as part of the asteroid redirect and retrieval missions, namely advanced propulsion technology research, asteroid deflection, and grappling technologies, the Committee believes that neither a robotic nor a crewed mission to an asteroid appreciably contribute to the overarching mission to Mars. Further, the long-term costs of launching a robotic craft to the asteroid, followed by a crewed mission, are unknown and will divert scarce resources away from developing technology and equipment necessary for missions to Mars, namely deep space habitats, accessing and utilizing space resources, and developing entry, descent, landing, and ascent technologies. Toward that end, no funds are included in this bill for NASA to continue planning efforts to conduct either robotic or crewed missions to an asteroid.

Instead, NASA is encouraged to develop plans to return to the Moon to test capabilities that will be needed for Mars, including habitation modules, lunar prospecting, and landing and ascent vehicles. Further, the Committee is supportive of NASA’s efforts to use the International Space Station (ISS) to conduct research necessary to enable long-term human spaceflight, or ‘‘Earth reliant’’ technology development; cis-lunar space activities, or ‘‘proving ground’’ efforts such as Orion flights on SLS in the vicinity of the Moon, and deployment and testing of deep space habitation modules; and finally, NASA’s ‘‘Earth independent’’ activities which include using cis-lunar space as a staging area, mapping potential human exploration zones and caching samples on Mars as part of the Mars Rover 2020 mission."

Space Launch System

House: "The recommended level of $2,000,000,000, an increase of $817,600,000 above the discretionary request, for launch vehicle development includes no less than $250,000,000 for continued exploration upper stage (EUS) development and $47,500,000 for SLS program integration. Funds provided above the request are to ensure that the EM–1 launch date does not slip beyond 2018 and to complete EUS for EM–2. The Committee notes that despite specific direction and funding in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, the request does not include funding for the EUS and its propulsion systems required for EM–2, the second flight of SLS/Orion planned for 2021.

NASA shall provide the Committee with a report within 120 days of enactment of this Act describing investments to date on the EUS, a spend plan with milestones for the funds provided in fiscal year 2017 and funds necessary to complete EUS for use on EM–2 and to develop EUS for use on subsequent SLS launches. This report shall also include an analysis regarding the most efficient and cost effective means of manufacturing subsequent EUSs for use on future SLS flights. In addition, NASA shall continue submitting quarterly reports on SLS spending by major program element, as first required in the statement accompanying Public Law 112–55. To the maximum extent possible, NASA shall ensure that all vehicle development leverages existing investments; promotes efficiency through commonality of design and concurrent development; and minimizes the need for redesigns or other costly changes affecting future SLS vehicle configurations.

The Committee reminds NASA that Public Law 114–113 directed NASA to submit long-term plans for maximizing the use of the SLS. NASA shall include the Europa Orbiter and Lander missions in this plan, as directed elsewhere in this report and accompanying bill. As part of this effort to develop a long-term plan to use SLS to the fullest extent possible, NASA shall make SLS available on a cost reimbursable basis for non-NASA payloads, as appropriate. To ensure that the significant investment in SLS is maximized, within one year of enactment of this Act, NASA shall also issue a Request for Information to determine what payloads might benefit commercial and educational providers, when space is available on an SLS flight beyond low Earth orbit."

Senate: "The Committee reiterates its unwavering support of SLS and the ability for SLS to open the human exploration of space to a wide range of missions and to enable unprecedented scientific discovery. The Committee finds that the budgetary resources proposed for SLS in the fiscal year 2017 budget request are insufficient and would prevent SLS from meeting NASA’s baseline commitment to a November 2018 launch. The Committee is further concerned that NASA did not request any funding for the Exploration Upper Stage [EUS]. In doing so, NASA is ensuring that EM–2 will not occur in 2021 and places in doubt NASA’s support for meeting the baseline commitment of a launch in 2023. To ensure funding that enables NASA to adequately meet management agreement goals for EM–1 and EM–2, the Committee provides $2,150,000,000 in fiscal year 2017 for SLS, with no less than $300,000,000 provided for the direct development of the EUS. The 108 funding provided sets SLS on a path from development to sustained production."

Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle

House: "The recommendation provides $1,350,000,000, which is $80,000,000 above the enacted level and $296,600,000 above the discretionary request, for the Orion program. NASA shall continue to provide quarterly briefings to the Committee on the overall status of Orion. The Committee remains concerned that NASA’s current schedule does not provide adequate time to conduct in-situ tests and fully test all systems necessary to support humans on, prior to sending humans on Orion in EM–2. NASA shall provide a report to the Committee describing and documenting why this approach is acceptable. NASA shall keep the Committee informed of ongoing work with respect to the Orion Service Module. Nothing in this report or accompanying Act shall be construed as directing NASA to proceed with any human spaceflight until all of the risks have been retired."

Senate: "Orion is an essential component of NASA’s human exploration goals that extend beyond low-Earth orbit and represents the Nation’s next human exploration vehicle designed to carry astronauts to deep space destinations and provide a safe return to Earth. Consistent with NASA’s direction that Orion be managed in order to fly a crewed mission as early as 2021, the Committee has provided $1,300,000,000 for Orion to continue its progress toward a successful EM–1 test flight and continue preparations for a crewed flight in 2021."

Exploration R&D

House: "The recommendation includes $404,000,000 for Exploration R&D. The Committee urges NASA to continue its work with the private sector and academia to develop exploration capabilities such as advanced propulsion, habitats and landers that may be used with Orion and SLS and are necessary to enable space and human exploration to the Moon, Mars, and other deep space destinations."

Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships

House: "The recommendation includes no less than $75,000,000 under the Advanced Exploration Systems program for development of a demonstration habitation module. NASA shall provide periodic updates regarding the status and funding of this project to ensure timely completion."

Lunar Surface

House: "The Committee supports the development and launch of low-cost missions to explore and characterize the lunar surface and encourages NASA to work with commercial industry, academia, and international space agencies to better understand the subsurface lunar geology, particularly in-situ water resources, to support future robotic and astronaut operations. Not later than 180 days after the enactment of this Act, NASA shall submit a report detailing ongoing and planned lunar programs."

Space Operations

International Space Station (ISS) Operations

House: "The Committee remains concerned about annual ISS operations costs and encourages NASA to implement cost savings measures with the goal of slowing and reducing the ISS operations budget while maximizing research opportunities. Given that NASA operations on the ISS are extended through only 2024, NASA is encouraged to begin efforts to determine what follow-on activities are necessary, within budget constraints, to maintain a U.S. human presence in space."

Commercial Cargo

House: "NASA shall continue to provide quarterly updates on the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) –1 contract and shall begin including data on CRS–2 contracts and associated milestones. These reports shall include information currently provided and shall now also include cost per flight, date of actual flight, and date when payments for each mission are made."

Senate: "The Committee is encouraged with the ability of both domestic cargo suppliers to respond to launch mishaps and find solutions that keep the ISS supplied and operating as a scientific platform in space. NASA has reaffirmed its confidence in 109 the current suppliers and added a third in its next round of contracted supply flights, providing further redundancy and additional capabilities for delivering cargo to, and from, the ISS. Within the funds provided for Space Operations, $1,028,000,000, equal to the budget request, is for fully funding the continuing support of cargo flights by domestic companies under the first and second rounds of commercial resupply contracts."

Commercial Crew

House: "The Committee understands and is concerned that some fiscal year 2016 and 2017 project milestones have slipped. NASA shall continue submitting quarterly reports on the status of the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability and Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contracts and advise the Committee promptly if milestone slips will impact the planned 2017 uncrewed and crewed flights to the ISS. As part of the quarterly reporting requirements, NASA shall submit information describing the planned operations tempo of the Commercial Crew program, to include numbers of astronauts per flight and per provider; training needs, costs, and status of U.S. based training facilities; and a description of any Commercial Crew seats that will be allocated to foreign partners. NASA also shall provide an assessment by the second quarter of fiscal year 2017 on the cost and need to reserve flights on foreign partner capsules in tandem with the Commercial Crew program in 2018 and future years."

Senate: "The Committee provides up to $1,184,800,000, for the Commercial Crew program. The Committee remains concerned about the tight schedule for delivering crew to the ISS by commercial crew participants by 2017. Both companies now anticipate completing contracted milestones on a delayed schedule, closer to the anticipated launch dates, compressing already aggressive and optimistic schedules. This leaves little margin for either provider to maintain schedule as unanticipated challenges emerge during vehicle production and testing. The Government Accountability Office, in its most recent report on NASA’s large scale projects, has indicated that commercial crew contractors have asked for variances to design standards, that if they are not granted, could have significant impacts to cost and schedule. The report found that NASA, in the face of such impacts, has accommodated variances that might lead to design changes. Unfortunately, in doing so, neither commercial crew contractor is meeting the requirement that the chance of a loss of crew be less than 1 in 200. The Committee considers astronaut safety its highest priority, and NASA must ensure that safety standards for transportation are not compromised as NASA begins to replace its reliance on existing Russian capabilities with services from domestic crew transportation providers. It is the intent of the Committee to closely monitor and review the progress of each commercial crew participant through the quarterly reports that are provided by NASA and to continue to assess the need for this funding as milestone schedules and timelines are reevaluated by NASA."


Overhead Costs

House: "The Committee is concerned that despite direction in Public Law 114–113, overhead costs remain excessive. To ensure that the program is operating efficiently with minimum overhead, NASA shall provide a report to the Committee within 180 days of enactment that analyzes how funds have been spent over the last three fiscal years, to include 1) a list of cooperative agreements, Space Act Agreements, and grantees, including the amount and purpose of grant or funding allocation; and 2) a complete description, including amounts and purposes, of how remaining funds have been spent. This analysis shall also include a plan to ensure that no more than five percent overhead is charged within the Education account by fiscal year 2018."

Space Grant

House: "The recommendation includes $40,000,000 for the Space Grant program, which is the same as fiscal year 2016. These funds shall be allocated to the consortia lead institutions in all 52 participating jurisdictions according to the percentage allocation provided to States in the current five year grant award period."

Senate: "The Committee provides $40,000,000 for Space Grant, and directs NASA to support an extension of the current Space Grant program, and to allocate the entire funding amount for consortia-led institutions in all 52 participating jurisdictions according to the percentage allocation provided to States in the current 5-year grant award."

Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR)

House: "The recommendation includes $18,000,000 for EPSCoR, which is the same as fiscal year 2016."


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