NASA’s science budget is increasing by 4% in fiscal year 2022 and the Biden administration is seeking a 5% increase for fiscal year 2023. The agency’s Earth Science Division would receive a relatively large boost under the proposal, but there would be some pressure on the budgets for the Planetary Science, Astrophysics, and Heliophysics Divisions.
Congress’ appropriation for fiscal year 2022 increased NASA’s annual budget by 3% to about $24 billion, short of the 7% increase the Biden administration sought. The agency’s Science Mission Directorate received a 4% increase to $7.6 billion, which was itself short of the 9% boost requested. That funding outcome will keep most efforts proceeding along their current track.
For fiscal year 2023, the administration is seeking to increase NASA’s budget by 8% to almost $26 billion. The Science Mission Directorate would receive a 5% increase to almost $8 billion, which is percentage-wise the smallest proposed increase among the agency’s directorates.
As is the case across science agencies, the administration aims to significantly expand funding for NASA activities related to priorities such as climate change research and mitigation. However, other parts of NASA's science budget would be squeezed. Despite historically high funding for planetary science, cost growth on major projects has led NASA to propose cutting back on certain other missions. Budget constraints would also significantly affect activities in astrophysics and heliophysics.
Detailed congressional direction for fiscal year 2022 is included in an explanatory statement accompanying its appropriations legislation, as well as in a report prepared by House appropriators. Summary figures for the appropriation and the request are compiled in FYI’s Federal Science Budget Tracker.
Last year, the administration sought to increase the $2 billion budget of NASA’s Earth Science Division by $250 million, but Congress only provided an additional $65 million. This year, the administration is seeking a nearly $350 million increase to about $2.4 billion.
Earth System Observatory. NASA established ESO last year as a rubric for coordinating work on four satellites that will make observations responding to priorities identified in the most recent decadal survey for Earth science. Congress ramped up its budget to about $140 million in fiscal year 2022, and the administration is seeking an increase to $212 million in fiscal year 2023, with the goal of starting to launch the satellites in the latter part of this decade.
Earth System Explorers. NASA is also planning to ramp up the budget for the new Earth System Explorers program to $23 million. The program will competitively select small-scale projects that address decadal survey recommendations, and it intends to select about four proposals for in-depth studies late in fiscal year 2023. NASA intends to announce a new competition within the program every three years.
Landsat. NASA is seeking $107 million for its Sustainable Land Imaging program, about five times its fiscal year 2021 level. The program funds R&D efforts related to the Landsat program, a partnership between NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey that has now provided a continuous record of satellite-based land imagery for almost 50 years. Landsat 9 launched last fall, on time and under budget, and NASA states it is planning to make “key strategic decisions” in fiscal year 2024 about the follow-on mission, called Landsat Next.
MAIA. NASA reports that the cost of its Multi-Angle Imager for Aerosols mission is likely to more than double from the original $130 million estimate, due in part to pandemic-related disruptions. The MAIA team is currently searching for a platform to host the mission’s centerpiece instrument after an arrangement to carry it on the General Atomics Orbital Test Bed-2 satellite fell through.
GeoCarb. Construction of the Geostationary Carbon Cycle Observatory instrument is expected to finish in fiscal year 2023. At that time, it may be placed in storage, because, like MAIA, it requires a new platform after losing access to the communications satellite that was supposed to host it. That difficulty and others have caused the project’s costs to balloon past its initial $172 million cost cap. A new baseline is pending, but NASA expects the project is likely to cost more than $250 million, and this past fall NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center took over its management from the University of Oklahoma.
Research, technology, and data. NASA plans to ramp up work on wildfire detection and response and greenhouse gas monitoring through programs that support Earth science research and the development of technology and data products. These efforts include a new Technology Development for Support of Wildfire Science and Disaster Risk Management (FireTech) activity, as well as a new Earth Information Center that will provide “actionable data” to a range of users, starting with prototype capabilities for greenhouse gas monitoring.
Separately, NASA requests an additional $20 million in its Earth Science Data Systems budget to “develop satellite data products that are responsive to civil agency satellite needs” identified through the U.S. Group on Earth Observations.
After roughly doubling the budget of NASA’s Planetary Science Division over five years, Congress added another $420 million for fiscal year 2022, bringing it to a total of $3.12 billion. The administration is seeking an extra $40 million in fiscal year 2023, but that would be more than outweighed by the expanding needs of the Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission, putting an immediate squeeze on other efforts. Cost growth on MSR and the Europa Clipper could also affect how quickly NASA can respond to recommendations in the next decadal survey for planetary science, which is scheduled for release on April 19.
Mars Sample Return. Funding is ramping up from about $250 million to about $650 million for NASA’s contribution to MSR, an international mission to retrieve samples currently being cached by the Mars Perseverance rover, and the administration is seeking $822 million for next year. NASA notes the mission’s total lifecycle cost is expected to increase substantially as it moves to a two-lander architecture for conveying the mission’s rover and an ascent vehicle to the surface of Mars. The agency recently concluded that a single lander capable of carrying both vehicles would depart too far from proven designs. The landers are expected to launch in 2028, two years later than when the single lander was supposed to launch, with the aim of returning samples to Earth in 2033.
Europa Clipper. After peaking above $450 million, the budget for NASA’s mission to conduct repeated flybys of Jupiter’s moon Europa is set to decline to $345 million as it nears its target launch date in late 2024. However, NASA reports the mission’s total lifecycle cost estimate is rising from $4.25 billion to $5 billion, mostly due to revised expectations about how much it will cost to operate.
Mars Ice Mapper. Due to the cost increases on the Mars Sample Return and Europa Clipper missions, NASA plans to withdraw from the Mars Ice Mapper, a planned international science orbiter mission that would also rejuvenate the communications infrastructure at Mars.
Planetary defense. The administration seeks $88 million for efforts related to detecting and potentially countering threats to Earth from asteroids and other near-Earth objects (NEOs). That would be far less than the current $197 million appropriation and mostly reflects a sharp reduction in the development budget for the space-based infrared telescope NEO Surveyor. The mission was aiming to launch in 2026, but under the revised budget it would have a launch readiness date no earlier than 2028. NASA describes the move as a response to budget pressure. Meanwhile, the Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) mission is entering its final year of funding as it voyages to the Didymos double-asteroid system, where it will collide with the system’s smaller asteroid this fall so that the dynamical effects can be studied.
Discovery missions. NASA is seeking $230 million for its Discovery program, which funds relatively inexpensive missions that are awarded through periodic competitions. The level represents an expected budget trough reflecting the recent launch of the Lucy asteroid mission and the impending launch of the Psyche mission to a metallic asteroid. Funding for early work on the DAVINCI and VERITAS missions to Venus would ramp up to $80 million under the request. Due to budget pressure, NASA states it is delaying its competition for the next Discovery mission, which it had expected to announce in 2023.
New Frontiers missions. NASA is seeking $478 million for its New Frontiers program, which received $272 million in fiscal year 2022 and funds the division’s most expensive competitively selected missions. The proposal mainly reflects the ramp up of work on the Dragonfly rotorcraft mission to Saturn’s moon Titan, which is driving toward a target launch date in 2027. The $11 million budget for OSIRIS-REx is set to almost triple ahead of its arrival at Earth in September 2023 carrying its sample from the asteroid Bennu. NASA states it may announce its competition for the next New Frontiers mission in the program as early as 2023 — two years earlier than previously planned.
Lunar missions. The budget for the Lunar Discovery and Exploration program has rapidly ramped up to nearly $500 million over the past few years, and it is now set to remain at a steady level going forward. NASA has been working to reinvigorate its lunar science activities by partnering with commercial mission-services providers to launch missions at a cadence of up to three per year for the foreseeable future. The first two missions in the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program are expected to launch later this year, and the NASA-developed Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) is expected to launch to the Moon’s south polar region in 2023.
With the James Webb Space Telescope now safely launched, NASA is folding the telescope’s reduced annual budget into the Astrophysics Division after a decade of handling it through a separate account. To facilitate simple comparisons, within this bulletin the division’s prior-year budgets are treated as including the Webb budget.
Using that definition, the Webb telescope’s lower budget has led overall funding for astrophysics to decrease 11% in fiscal year 2022, and the administration is proposing a marginal topline cut for fiscal year 2023 to about $1.56 billion. That flat funding will allow missions currently in development to proceed, but it will keep the division from responding quickly to the recommendations of the new decadal survey for astronomy and astrophysics.
SOFIA. As it has in previous years, NASA proposes to terminate the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, now wielding the decadal survey’s concurrence with its assessment that the mission’s $85 million operating budget is unjustifiable in view of its relatively low scientific productivity. Congress has consistently rejected SOFIA’s termination, but in the latest appropriation for NASA it “notes” the survey’s recommendations and directs the agency to fund the mission using “current and prior year resources,” perhaps hinting it will accede in fiscal year 2023. NASA requests $10 million to wind the mission down.
Webb telescope. With the Webb telescope preparing to commence science operations this summer, for the first time NASA is dividing its funding into an operating budget and a science budget, requesting $122 million and $51 million for them respectively in fiscal year 2023. In future years, NASA anticipates spending $127 million on operations and $60 million on science annually.
Roman telescope. Maintaining a steady budget of about $500 million this year, the flagship Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope has now passed the peak of its funding profile and NASA is requesting $482 million for next year. Last year, NASA reported that the overall cost of the mission has increased by $400 million due to the pandemic and that its launch will be pushed from 2026 to 2027. Congress now directs NASA to adhere to a “firm” $3.5 billion cap on the mission’s development costs.
Probe mission. For fiscal year 2022, NASA requested $75 million for its Astrophysics Explorer Future Missions account and projected it would ask for $150 million in fiscal year 2023, much of which was tentatively reserved for work on a new mid-scale “probe” mission. Now, though, NASA is requesting just $24 million for fiscal year 2023 and anticipates asking for $54 million next year. That less-aggressive funding profile aligns with the division’s newly announced plans to fund studies of two or three proposals for probe missions starting in early 2024 with a final selection slated for mid-2025. Following a recommendation in the new decadal survey, the mission will be either an X-ray or far-infrared space telescope.
Flagship mission maturation. The decadal survey also recommended that NASA establish a “Great Observatories Mission and Technologies Maturation Program” to develop mission concepts for future flagship telescopes before the agency commits to particular designs. NASA has indicated it intends to begin funding “precursor science” and “enabling technology” immediately and will set up a dedicated maturation program in “a few years,” pending budget availability.
The Heliophysics Division budget is increasing 4% in fiscal year 2022 to $778 million, and the administration is now requesting a 2% cut to $760 million, leaving funding tight for various efforts.
IMAP. Under the request, some funding would be freed up by shifting the budget profile for the Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP), which is currently the division’s most expensive mission-development project. The administration is seeking a reduced mission budget of $121 million in fiscal year 2023 and anticipates asking for $145 million in fiscal year 2024. IMAP passed its preliminary design review last year and, despite the shifted budget, NASA continues to target a launch in 2025.
Geospace Dynamics Constellation. NASA seeks to ramp up funding for GDC to $63 million in fiscal year 2023, up from $16 million in fiscal year 2021. The mission was recommended in the 2013 decadal survey for heliophysics and will comprise six satellites enabling research on the interaction between the solar wind and the Earth’s upper atmosphere at a global scale. NASA intends to finish selecting instruments for the mission this fiscal year with the aim of launching later this decade.
DYNAMIC. NASA plans to terminate early work on the Dynamical Neutral Atmosphere Ionosphere Coupling mission. Like GDC, DYNAMIC was recommended in the last decadal survey and NASA had been planning to implement it as a small-satellite mission that would launch alongside GDC.
Magnetospheric Multiscale mission. NASA is seeking to cut the operating budget for MMS from $26 million to $16 million, but Congress has just rejected the agency’s request for a cut to $21 million in the current fiscal year.
Space weather. The division is creating a dedicated space weather program with proposed funding of $22 million, which is about half what it spent on predecessor activities in fiscal year 2021. The program will oversee development of the HERMES instrument suite for NASA’s planned lunar-orbiting outpost called Gateway, and will manage the existing Space Weather Science and Applications project. In the current fiscal year, the project has a $25 million budget and is launching two initiatives: a Space Weather Applied Research Challenges grant competition and multidisciplinary space weather science centers that were called for in the PROSWIFT Act.
Biological and Physical Science
The Biological and Physical Sciences Division primarily supports research aboard crewed space platforms and is currently focused on work aboard the International Space Station. However, it is planning to pivot in new directions as the station nears the end of its lifecycle and as NASA ramps up its plans for crewed exploration beyond low Earth orbit.
Following the division’s transfer from NASA’s human exploration directorate to the science directorate in 2020, the administration sought to increase its budget from $79 million to $109 million in fiscal year 2022, but Congress ultimately only provided about $83 million. For the moment, the division is limiting its immediate ambitions to focus on efforts related to quantum science and sustaining human life in deep space, with the aim of further branching out once it has guidance from the next decadal survey for the field, which is currently underway. Accordingly, the administration is requesting $100 million.
Human Landing System. A year ago, NASA awarded the company SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to provide a crewed lander for the Artemis lunar exploration campaign. The agency’s decision to contract for only one lander followed Congress appropriating significantly less funding than the Trump administration requested for the lander program in fiscal year 2021. However, a number of lawmakers criticized the decision and pressed NASA to contract for at least one more lander, and last month the agency announced a new competition for landing capabilities it intends to use later on in the Artemis campaign.
These developments have not yet resulted in large changes to the Artemis budget. Congress’ appropriation for fiscal year 2022 provides no less than the $267 million increase to $1.2 billion that NASA requested for the landing system and directs the agency to plan for ensuring “safety, redundancy, sustainability, and competition” in the lander program. For fiscal year 2023, the administration requests almost $1.5 billion, stating the budget would support continued work on the SpaceX contract as well as the contractor selection for the follow-on lander effort.
Gateway. Meanwhile, NASA continues to move ahead with the Gateway lunar-orbiting outpost, aiming to launch its first two elements in 2025. NASA reports that it spent about $500 million on the project in fiscal year 2021 and it is now requesting $779 million for fiscal year 2023, and that is expected to be its highest request for the foreseeable future.
Although the administration sought a 30% increase for NASA’s Science Technology Mission Directorate in fiscal year 2022, Congress instead kept its budget flat at $1.1 billion. The administration is trying again this year, asking for a 31% increase to $1.44 billion.
Nuclear propulsion and energy. Congress provided steady funding of $110 million for nuclear thermal propulsion efforts, rejecting the Biden administration’s proposal to refocus NASA’s efforts on developing a nuclear reactor that could power crewed bases on the Moon and eventually Mars. The administration now requests $45 million for space nuclear technologies in fiscal year 2023, of which $15 million is for nuclear propulsion. NASA plans to continue work on nuclear thermal and nuclear electric propulsion, including collaboration on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s DRACO project, and to solicit proposals for NASA’s next step toward developing a fission surface power system. The administration anticipates ramping up its request for nuclear technology to about $270 million by fiscal year 2026.
In-space service and assembly. Congress is continuing to provide a $227 million annual budget for NASA’s first On-Orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing (OSAM-1) mission, which aims to robotically refuel the Landsat 7 satellite and assemble a 3-meter communications antenna in space. NASA is requesting the same amount for fiscal year 2023 and reports that the project has recently experienced new schedule delays and cost growth that are still being assessed. NASA is also requesting a final installment of $11 million for the smaller project OSAM-2, also known as Archinaut, which will demonstrate capabilities for 3D-printing and assembling large spacecraft components in space. Archinaut is being built on a $74 million contract and has just passed its critical design review with a launch planned for no earlier than 2023. NASA further reports that in fiscal year 2023 it plans to launch an “OSAM Consortium” of federal agencies, NASA centers, universities, companies, and nonprofit institutions.
The Aeronautics Mission Directorate budget is receiving a 6% increase to $881 million in fiscal year 2022, short of the 10% increase requested. The administration is now seeking a 10% increase to $972 million for fiscal year 2023.
Sustainable flight. NASA launched a Sustainable Flight National Partnership initiative last summer that aims to reduce fuel burn, emissions, and noise from commercial aircraft. NASA is not yet requesting a specific amount for the initiative, but states it aims to increase funding for its centerpiece, a demonstration aircraft, with the goal of awarding a contract in fiscal year 2023 and notionally undertaking flights in fiscal year 2027.
The administration also seeks to ramp up the budget for its Electrified Powertrain Flight Demonstration program to $107 million. During fiscal year 2021, the program had a budget of $77 million and selected two demonstration projects to fund, with an estimated combined total lifecycle cost of about $400 million. NASA states it also plans to increase funding for university-based R&D on “beyond next-generation zero-emissions aircraft concepts and technologies.”
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