FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News

FY 2013 Appropriations Committee Reports: NASA

Richard M. Jones
Number 64 - May 11, 2012  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

Adjust text size enlarge text shrink text    |    Print this pagePrint this page    |     Bookmark and Share     |    rss feed for FYI

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have completed their versions of the FY 2013 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Bill.  The full House passed this bill yesterday, the first of twelve appropriations measures to come to the floor.

Not surprisingly, considering the size of NASA’s budget and its wide range of programs, the appropriators included extensive language in the House and Senate reports accompanying the funding bills regarding NASA.  This FYI provides report language regarding the agency’s science program.  Language within each report on all programs stands, unless there is a conflict that will be resolved in the final conference report.  This final conference report, likely to be written in late fall, will also resolve differences in recommended funding levels.

Readers interested in language regarding other programs should consult each report.  The Senate report language starts on page 86; the House report language starts on page 63.  Both reports have tables with specific funding levels that all readers will find of interest.

Percentage changes shown below are calculated compared to the current year. 

NASA:

FY 2012 appropriation is $17,800.0 million
FY 2013 Administration request is $17,111.4 million
FY 2013 Senate recommendation is $19,399.7 million, an increase of $1,599.7 million or 9.0 percent*
FY 2013 House recommendation is $17,573.8 million, a decrease of $226.2 million or 1.3 percent

*A statement from the Senate Appropriations Committee explains: “The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is funded at $19.4 billion, an increase of $1.6 billion over the fiscal year 2012 enacted level. The large increase results from a reorganization of operational weather satellite procurement from NOAA into NASA. Without the funds for weather satellite procurement, this level represents a $41.5 million cut from the fiscal year 2012 enacted level.”

Science:

FY 2012 appropriation is $5,090.0 million
FY 2013 Administration request is $4,911.2 million
FY 2013 Senate recommendation is $5,021.1 million, a decrease of $68.9 million or 1.4 percent
FY 2013 House recommendation is $5,095.0 million, an increase of $5.0 million or 0.1 percent

See report language below.

Aeronautics:

FY 2012 appropriation is $569.9 million
FY 2013 Administration request is $551.5 million
FY 2013 Senate recommendation is $551.5 million, a decrease of $18.4 million or 3.2 percent
FY 2013 House recommendation is $569.9 million; no change

Space Technology:

FY 2012 appropriation is $575.0 million
FY 2013 Administration request is $699.0 million
FY 2013 Senate recommendation is $651.0 million, an increase of $76.0 million or 13.2 percent
FY 2013 House recommendation is $632.5 million, an increase of $57.5 million or 10.0 percent

Exploration:

FY 2012 appropriation is $3,770.8 million
FY 2013 Administration request is $3,932.8 million
FY 2013 Senate recommendation is $3,908.9 million, an increase of $138.1 million or 3.7 percent
FY 2013 House recommendation is $3,711.9 million, a decrease of $58.9 million or 1.6 percent

Space Operations:

FY 2012 appropriation is $4,233.6 million
FY 2013 Administration request is $4,013.2 million
FY 2013 Senate recommendation is $3,961.7 million, a decrease of $271.9 million or 6.4 percent
FY 2013 House recommendation is $3,985.0 million, a decrease of $248.6 million or 5.9 percent

Education:

FY 2012 appropriation is $138.4 million
FY 2013 Administration request is $100.0 million
FY 2013 Senate recommendation is $125.0 million, a decrease of $13.4 million or 9.7 percent
FY 2013 House recommendation is $100.0 million, a decrease of $38.4 million or 27.7 percent

Cross-Agency Support:

FY 2012 appropriation is $2,995.0 million
FY 2013 Administration request is $2,847.5 million
FY 2013 Senate recommendation is $2,822.5 million, a decrease of $172.5 million or 5.8 percent
FY 2013 House recommendation is $2,843.5 million, a decrease of $151.5 million or 5.1 percent

Other budget categories are Construction and Environmental Compliance and Restoration, and Office of Inspector General.

Selected Report Language: Science

Senate report language:

See pages 88-90 for detailed funding recommendations.

Earth Science Decadal Survey Missions. -- The Committee supports the ongoing development of the Tier I Earth Science missions, and provides the full budget requests for the Soil Moisture Active and Passive [SMAP] and the Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (IceSat-2) missions. The Committee is disappointed in plans to delay the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory [CLARREO] and the Deformation, Ecosystem Structure and Dynamics of the Ice [DESDynI] missions. The National Academies recommended flying a suite of these four missions concurrently to gather critical information about the Earth and its climate.  The Committee supports the pre-Aerosol, Clouds, Ecosystem [PACE] mission, originally introduced as a climate continuity mission in the fiscal year 2011 request. PACE will address ocean ecology, ocean color, and Climate Data Record [CDR] continuity as the primary objectives and aerosol interaction and measurement as a secondary objective.

IceBridge. -- The Committee provides the full budget request for IceBridge to continue making high-resolution measurements of polar sea ice and glaciers during the gap between IceSat-1 and IceSat-2. The Committee encourages NASA to use unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs] for this mission and to seek competitive proposals to improve IceBridge instruments for use on UAVs.

Carbon Monitoring. -- Of the funds provided within the earth science research and analysis activity, the Committee recommends $10,000,000 to continue efforts for the development of a carbon monitoring system initially funded in fiscal year 2010. The majority of the funds should be directed toward acquisition, field sampling, quantification and development of a prototype Monitoring Reporting and Verification [MRV] system which can provide transparent data products achieving levels of precision and accuracy required by current carbon trading protocols. The Committee recognizes that the current orbital and suborbital platforms are insufficient to meet these objectives. Therefore, the use of commercial off-the-shelf technologies is recommended as these products could provide robust calibration validation datasets for future NASA missions. Up to 20 percent of these funds should be made available to international Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation [REDD] projects. Furthermore, the Committee is deeply disappointed with the lack of progress that NASA has made on this initiative thus far within the agency. Therefore, it directs that the above funds shall be competitively awarded within 120 days of enactment of this act.

Cooperation Between NASA and NOAA. -- The Committee remains discouraged by NASA’s lack of cooperation with NOAA’s Ocean and Atmospheric Research office in the area of non-space based Earth science. NASA shall better coordinate with NOAA on all aspects of relevant NASA-funded projects, including project planning, project execution, and post-project data sharing.

SERVIR. -- The SERVIR initiative within the Applied Sciences Program integrates satellite observations, ground-based data, and forecast models to monitor and forecast environmental changes and to improve response to natural disasters. The program allows people in developing regions to use Earth observations for addressing challenges in agriculture, biodiversity conservation, climate change, disaster response, weather forecasting, and energy and health issues. 

“As part of this program, SERVIR intends to initiate up to three new hubs that were selected during fiscal year 2012 to expand the SERVIR program and advance the use of Earth observations to serve U.S. international development interests. The Committee is pleased to see continued support by NASA, in conjunction with the U.S. Agency for International Development and other agencies, for advancing this program.

Planetary Science. -- The bill allows for the transfer of up to $14,500,000 to the Department of Energy to re-establish facilities capable of producing fuel needed to enable future missions. The Committee notes that the most recent decadal survey in planetary science urges NASA to reformulate planetary science flagship missions to fit within the projected budget, as recommended, rather than abandoning flagships altogether.

Mars Exploration. -- The budget request proposes to cut and radically restructure the program of robotic rovers and in-space observatories expected to culminate in a Mars sample return, which was identified as the top priority for planetary science by the National Research Council’s Decadal Survey. The Committee provides $460,900,000 which is $100,100,000 above the request level for Mars Exploration. This amount includes the full budget request of $146,400,000 for MAVEN and also supports any re-planned Mars program that can take advantage of upcoming opportunities to launch robotic science platforms to Mars as early as 2016. NASA is expected to use these funds to retain core U.S. competencies in areas such as entry, descent, and landing.

Competitive Planetary Programs. -- The Committee recommends the budget request of $189,600,000 for Discovery and $175,000,000 for New Frontiers. The Committee fully expects NASA to continue both programs as distinct opportunities awarded on a merit-based, competitive basis, in order maximize the delivery of more high quality science within a constrained fiscal environment. The Committee is also insistent that NASA select proposals for both programs based upon the ability to deliver the highest quality science that is evaluated by peer review.

Decadal Surveys and Mid-session Reviews. -- The Committee supports NASA’s flagship missions but notes that future large projects will need to have a scope that is aligned with a sound and executable budget. On the other hand, once NASA has committed to a mission with an executable funding profile, the Committee does not believe mid-session reviews and other management tools that serve to undermine established missions with broad consensus within their scientific discipline do anything more than unnerve the scientific community. The Committee encourages NASA to focus its management efforts on rigorous requirements definition, program management, and cost discipline so that it can meet the commitments it makes within projected budgets.

Astrophysics. -- Within funds provided to advance scientific knowledge of the origins of the universe, the Committee provides the full budget requirement of $98,300,000 for the Hubble Space Telescope.

Dark Energy. -- The 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt, and Adam Riess for discovering that the expansion of the universe was accelerating. The acceleration implies that the universe is being pushed apart by a force known as dark energy. While scientists have proven that dark energy exists, little is known about it even though it makes up nearly three-quarters of the universe. To understand dark energy, scientists identified the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope [WFIRST] as the highest priority in the recent astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey. Within funds provided for Cosmic Origins, Other Missions and Data Analysis, the Committee provides $10,000,000 in fiscal year 2013 to begin planning and technology development for a cost-effective WFIRST project that builds on the work of the Joint Dark Energy Mission project.

James Webb Space Telescope. -- The Committee strongly supports completion of the James Webb Space Telescope [JWST]. JWST will be 100 times more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope and is poised to rewrite the science books. In 2011, the Committee asked for an independent assessment of JWST. That assessment, led by Dr. John Casani, found that while JWST is technically sound, NASA had never requested adequate resources to fund its development. As with many other projects, budget optimism led to massive ongoing cost overruns because the project did not have adequate reserves or contingency to address the kinds of technical problems that are expected to arise in a complex, cutting edge project. Without funds, the only other way to deal with problems is to allow the schedule to slip. That slip, in turn, makes the project cost even more, when accounting for the technical costs as well as the cost of maintaining a pool of highly skilled technical labor through the completion of the project. 

“In response to the Casani report, NASA has submitted a new baseline for JWST with an overall life-cycle cost of $8,700,000,000.  NASA has assured the Committee that this new baseline includes adequate reserves to achieve a 2018 launch without further cost overruns. The Committee intends to hold NASA and its contractors to that commitment, and the bill caps the overall development cost for JWST at $8,000,000,000. The Committee expects to be kept fully informed on issues relating to program and risk management, achievement of cost and schedule goals, and program technical status.

Explorer Program. -- The Committee recommends an additional $16,000,000 for the Explorer program in fiscal year 2013, split between astrophysics and heliophysics. The Committee expects NASA to select one stand-alone mission for heliophysics and one standalone mission for astrophysics from proposals submitted as part of the most recent Explorer Announcement of Opportunity. These selections should be made regardless of any missions of opportunity in which NASA elects to participate. The Committee directs NASA to ensure that future Announcements of Opportunity allow for two standalone missions to be chosen, one in the field of astrophysics and the other in heliophysics and encourages NASA to request sufficient
funds to accommodate this two mission profile.

Heliophysics. -- Within funds provided to advance scientific knowledge of the Sun’s impact on the Earth, the Committee provides the full budget request of $168,300,000 for the Magnetospheric Multiscale [MMS] mission. The Committee encourages NASA to provide necessary budget resources in fiscal year 2014 for MMS to achieve a launch in early 2015 with the full complement of instruments and both orbit phases.

“The funds provided also include $112,100,000 for the Solar Probe Plus mission, the same as the budget request. The Committee strongly supports this mission and affirms its multi-year commitment to a 2018 launch. According to NASA’s analysis, the advanced technology development funds provided by this Committee have retired substantial technical risk and contributed to a manageable funding profile for this project, which was the highest-priority recommendation of the most recent National Academies’ Heliophysics decadal report.

“The Committee notes that suborbital science missions provide important hands-on experience for science, technology, engineering and mathematics [STEM] undergraduate and graduate students, and directs NASA to increase its participation in these missions.”

House Report Language:

Earth Science and Heliophysics -- The Committee's recommendation includes $1,775,000,000 for Earth Science and $642,000,000 for Heliophysics. In both instances, the modest increases provided are attributable to increased prices in the launch vehicle market and the development phasing of high priority decadal missions already underway.

Planetary Science -- The Committee understands that budget pressures within and outside of the Science Mission Directorate have required reductions in NASA's science portfolio. The Committee is concerned, however, by the Administration's proposal to make those reductions disproportionately within the planetary science program. Planetary science has long been one of NASA's most successful programs, and the cuts proposed in the budget request will endanger this strong record and deviate significantly from the program plan envisioned by the most recent planetary science decadal survey. The Committee's recommendation of $1,400,000,000 seeks to address programmatic areas where the Administration's proposal is most deficient in meeting the decadal survey's goals while also ensuring that the program, as a whole, maintains balance among program elements.

“The first area of deficiency in the request is Planetary Science Research. The decadal survey recommended increasing research funding by a specified rate above inflation, but the request only achieves this standard by including in the total a new Joint Robotics Program for Exploration (JRPE), which is not a traditional research program as envisioned by the NRC. The Committee has addressed this problem by providing $192,000,000 for Planetary Science Research. This level is sufficient to support both the requested level for JRPE and an additional $3,500,000 above the request for traditional research and analysis activities in order to achieve better consistency with the decadal recommendation.

“The request also proposes insufficient funding for the Discovery and New Frontiers programs, resulting in significant delays relative to the mission tempos outlined in the decadal. To improve these tempos, the Committee has provided a total of $480,000,000 for Discovery and New Frontiers, which is $115,400,000 above the aggregate requests for these programs. NASA is directed to divide these funds between Discovery and New Frontiers in a manner that optimizes the potential mission tempos for both programs.

“The final areas of deficiency in the request are Mars Exploration and Outer Planets. The decadal survey chose a Mars sample return mission and a Jupiter Europa orbiter as its top two flagship-class priorities, but the budget request reduces funds for a future Mars mission (‘Mars Next Decade’) to a fraction of previous planning estimates and eliminates all funding for substantive work on a new outer planets mission. As such, the request will inhibit significant progress from being made on either priority, even in descoped form.

“The Committee rectifies this situation by increasing the funds available for Mars Next Decade to $150,000,000, or $88,000,000 above the request, in order to allow for a more substantial mission concept to be developed. According to the decision rules of the decadal survey, however, that mission concept must lead to the accomplishment of sample return in order to remain a top funding priority. Because the Committee is unable to discern whether this condition is being met from the scant information provided to date about Mars Next Decade, NASA is directed to promptly submit its Next Decade mission concept to the NRC for evaluation. The recommendation includes language prohibiting the obligation of funds for the mission unless and until the NRC submits to the Committees on Appropriations a certification confirming that the mission concept will lead to the accomplishment of sample return as described in the Mars Astrobiology Explorer-Cacher section of the decadal survey. If the NRC instead determines that NASA's chosen mission concept will not lead to the accomplishment of sample return, NASA is directed to immediately: (1) notify the Committees; (2) reallocate the funds provided for Mars Next Decade to the Outer Planets Flagship program in order to begin substantive work on the second priority mission, a descoped Europa orbiter; and (3) submit the Mars Next Decade mission concept, or any substitute Mars mission concept, for competition in the Discovery or New Frontiers programs.

Plutonium-238 -- Progress on a Europa orbiter or any other long-range planetary science mission will require a sustainable source of Plutonium-238 (Pu-238), a radioisotope that is an essential source of electricity for spacecraft venturing beyond the range of solar power. The bill makes available $14,500,000 from this account, as requested, to restart production of Pu-238. The Committee directs NASA to provide a plan, including an anticipated schedule and milestones, for the Pu-238 program through the reestablishment of production. This plan should be coordinated with NASA's partners at DOE and should be provided to the Committees on Appropriations no later than 120 days after the enactment of this Act.

“The Committee also directs the Planetary Science Division, in conjunction with elements of the Space Technology program, to continue working on Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generator (ASRG) technology, which will enable NASA to make more efficient use of available radioisotope fuels in the future.

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) --  The recommendation includes $628,000,000 for JWST in order to keep the program on track for a 2018 launch. NASA is expected to continue cooperating with the GAO review of JWST that was begun in fiscal year 2012 and to give GAO access to all relevant and necessary program information.

“The bill retains language establishing a cap of $8,000,000,000 for JWST formulation and development costs and requiring NASA to have the program reauthorized by Congress in the event of further cost increases. These provisions are necessary to ensure that NASA is appropriately managing risks and containing costs.

“As another means of cost control, NASA committed to calculating new cost and schedule estimates for the program. The Committee expected that this process would result in estimates that meet the agency's 70 percent joint cost and schedule confidence level (JCL) standards, but the actual JWST JCL is only 66 percent. NASA has assured the Committee that the lower JCL is not due to any weakness in its estimates but is an artifact resulting from the late application of the JCL tool to a fairly mature project. In the absence of a high confidence JCL, however, the Committee requires additional information in order to regularly monitor the program's fiscal health. NASA shall submit to the Committees on Appropriations, on a quarterly basis, a listing of all JWST performance milestones met and not met for that quarter; a description of the budget and schedule ramifications associated with those milestones; and an overall assessment of the current budget and schedule posture of the program.

Astrophysics -- The recommendation includes $650,000,000 for Astrophysics.

“The Committee believes that NASA's proposal to spend up to $9,000,000 in fiscal year 2013 on a hardware contribution to the European Space Agency's Euclid mission is in conflict with the NRC's recommendation to make such an investment only in the context of a strong commitment to NASA's Wide Field Infra-Red Survey Telescope, for which no funding is requested. Prior to obligating any funding for Euclid hardware, therefore, NASA is directed to report to the Committees on Appropriations on how its proposed plans are consistent with the results of the NRC Euclid review.”

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
rjones@aip.org
301-209-3095