NASA Looks for Ways to Keep Artemis on Track Regardless of Budget Outcome

 In Uncategorized, Space, Environment

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine (left) and Doug Loverro, the asso­ciate admin­is­tra­tor for human explo­ration and oper­a­tions, said they would not let fund­ing issues be an excuse for not achiev­ing the goal of return­ing humans to the moon. Credit: Lisa Nipp for SpaceNews

WASHINGTON — As the fiscal year 2020 appro­pri­a­tions process approach­es its endgame, NASA lead­er­ship says it will find ways to keep efforts to return humans to the moon by 2024 on track even if the agency doesn’t get all the fund­ing it’s request­ed.

Leaders of the appro­pri­a­tions com­mit­tees in the House and Senate announced Dec. 12 what they called an agree­ment “in prin­ci­ple” on pass­ing appro­pri­a­tions bills to fund the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment through the rest of the 2020 fiscal year. The gov­ern­ment is cur­rent­ly oper­at­ing on a con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tion (CR), fund­ing agen­cies at 2019 levels through Dec. 20.

The announce­ment offered few specifics about fund­ing levels or even how the bills would be struc­tured. There are 12 sep­a­rate appro­pri­a­tions bills, such as the com­merce, jus­tice and sci­ence bill that includes fund­ing for NASA; they could be bun­dled into a single omnibus spend­ing mea­sure or two or more small­er “minibus” bills.

NASA’s orig­i­nal fiscal year 2020 budget pro­pos­al sought $21 bil­lion for the agency, and the admin­is­tra­tion fol­lowed that with an amend­ment request­ed an addi­tion­al $1.6 bil­lion in order to sup­port the 2024 lunar return goal announced after the release of the orig­i­nal pro­pos­al. A House bill pro­vid­ed $22.3 bil­lion for NASA, while a Senate bill funded the agency at $22.75 bil­lion.

While the over­all, or topline, amounts between the budget pro­pos­al and con­gres­sion­al bills are sim­i­lar, how the fund­ing is allo­cat­ed is not. Notably, the House did not include $1 bil­lion in addi­tion­al fund­ing for work on a human lunar lander includ­ed in the budget amend­ment, while the Senate bill pro­vid­ed less than $750 mil­lion in fund­ing for that pro­gram.

At a Dec. 10 inter­view during the third annual SpaceNews Awards for Excellence & Innovation, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine was opti­mistic that some kind of appro­pri­a­tions bill would be passed before the CR expires Dec. 20.

“I’ve heard good things about an appro­pri­a­tions bill,” he said, declin­ing to go into what he called “rumors” about its con­tents. “If it doesn’t happen, we’re not going to stop because we have to get to the moon by 2024.”

Bridenstine said there were con­tin­gency plans should Congress instead pass a short- or long-term CR. Such res­o­lu­tions typ­i­cal­ly pre­vent the start of new pro­grams unless explic­it­ly autho­rized in the bill.

“There are ways we can con­tin­ue moving for­ward,” he said. He noted that the Human Landing System pro­gram, which would fund devel­op­ment of human-rated lunar lan­ders, is part of the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships, or NextSTEP, pro­gram, which has exist­ed for sev­er­al years. “It’s not a new start. We can actu­al­ly con­tin­ue fund­ing activ­i­ties for human land­ing sys­tems.”

He also sug­gest­ed the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) pro­gram could be used to sup­port lunar lander devel­op­ment. That pro­gram funds the deliv­ery of research pay­loads to the lunar sur­face on com­mer­cial­ly devel­oped lunar lan­ders, but if needed could be reshaped into back­ing work on human lunar lan­ders.

“Nothing says those pay­loads can’t be humans,” he said. “So there’s anoth­er mech­a­nism by which we can find resources to con­tin­ue moving for­ward.” He added that the agency’s Centennial Challenges prize pro­gram, part of the Space Technology Mission Directorate, could also be pressed into ser­vice to sup­port Artemis.

How those pro­grams could be adapt­ed to sup­port Artemis was some­thing that would have to be care­ful­ly stud­ied, Bridenstine acknowl­edged. “I’ve got to talk to the lawyers about what we can do with­out me going to jail.”

“We’ve got to look at cre­ative ways where we can keep moving for­ward, even in this polit­i­cal­ly charged envi­ron­ment,” he said.

Bridenstine also said NASA would have to “get more cre­ative” if it does get a full-fledged appro­pri­a­tions bill, but one that falls short of the $1.6 bil­lion in addi­tion­al fund­ing for Artemis. “We have knobs that we can turn,” he said, but sug­gest­ed reduced fund­ing would also reduce the chances of making the 2024 date. “The $1.6 bil­lion gives us the most oppor­tu­ni­ty to have the high­est prob­a­bil­i­ty of suc­cess, but there are other things we can do and be cre­ative and main­tain the momen­tum even while we have tem­po­rary con­straints.”

The person who will be making many of the deci­sions about what knobs to turn agreed. “I refuse to go ahead and use fund­ing as a crutch for not making it to the moon by 2024,” said Doug Loverro, the new NASA asso­ciate admin­is­tra­tor for human explo­ration and oper­a­tions, in the same inter­view. “I refuse to allow that to become a thing.”

Loverro said it was his job to figure out how to achieve the 2024 goal with fund­ing as just one of sev­er­al obsta­cles. “I don’t com­plain about grav­i­ty. I don’t com­plain about the radi­a­tion belts. I don’t com­plain about all the other obsta­cles stand­ing between me and the moon,” he said. “Funding is no dif­fer­ent from one of those obsta­cles.”

That obsta­cle, he added, won’t go away after the 2020 appro­pri­a­tions cycle is com­plet­ed. “We are not going to get funded for every dollar that we look for every year between now and ’24. We know that’s not going to happen,” he said. “There are cre­ative things we can do to go ahead and both spur indus­try to rise to the occa­sion, and there’s many tools in the budget process we can use to con­tin­ue to make progress.”

Source: SpaceNews

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