FY18 Appropriations Bills: NASA

Share This

Share/Save
Publication date: 
3 August 2017
Number: 
107

The House appropriations bill for NASA would raise the Science Mission Directorate’s $5.77 billion budget by 2 percent, while the Senate bill would cut it by 3 percent. As in previous years, the appropriations committees take opposing stances on funding for the Earth Science and Planetary Science Divisions.

The House and Senate Appropriations Committee’s fiscal year 2018 spending bills for NASA diverge on funding for science. The House bill would raise the Science Mission Directorate’s current $5.77 billion budget by 2 percent while the Senate bill would cut it by 3 percent. These proposals straddle the Trump administration’s requested 1 percent increase for the directorate.

At the division-level, the bills largely agree on overall funding amounts for the Astrophysics and Heliophysics Divisions but take opposing stances on funding for the Earth Science and Planetary Science Divisions.

As in previous years, the House bill would boost funding for the Planetary Science Division and scale back support for the Earth Science Division. This is in line with the Trump administration’s request, although the bill would provide $191 million more than requested for Planetary Science. In contrast, the Senate bill would maintain funding for Earth Science at the current level and slash funding for Planetary Science.

The first chart below displays the proposed funding changes for NASA’s mission directorates and the Office of Education. The second displays the proposals for the four divisions of the Science Mission Directorate. Detailed tables containing funding figures for selected accounts are available in FYI’s Federal Science Budget Tracker.

fy18-nasa-house-senate.jpg


Click to enlarge

Below are summaries of selected provisions from the appropriations committee reports that accompany the bills. The full House report is available here and the full Senate report is available here.

Planetary Science

The House bill would raise the current Planetary Science budget of $1.85 billion by 15 percent while the Senate bill would cut it by 13 percent.

Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), the chair of the House’s appropriations subcommittee for NASA, is a strong advocate for planetary exploration and is championing a mission to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa. The House bill includes $495 million for development of both a Europa orbiter and a lander, directing NASA to plan for launching the orbiter no later than 2022 and the lander no later than 2024. The administration requested $425 million for work on the orbiter but no funds for a lander. The Senate bill does not specify amounts for either.

Some worry that pursuing both missions on this timeline could overburden the division or unbalance its portfolio. At a recent House Science Committee hearing, Space Subcommittee Chair Brian Babin (R-TX) expressed support for the lander concept, but noted his concern about potential impacts on other programs if the division simultaneously pursues the lander, the orbiter, and the Mars Rover 2020 – all three of which are considered “flagship” missions.

The House report also provides more direction than the Senate version for the Mars Exploration program. For example, it expresses support for a mission to return a sample from Mars to Earth and specifies $62 million for R&D on a Mars orbiter. The budget request does not contain a figure for such an orbiter and only seeks $2.9 million for “Mars Future Missions.” Some scientists are concerned that the program currently does not have major missions in development beyond Mars Rover 2020.

Earth Science

The Senate bill would maintain the Earth Science budget at the current level of $1.92 billion, while the House bill would cut it by 11 percent.

The Senate report explicitly rejects the administration’s request to zero out funds for several programs, specifying $147 million for the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission, $28 million for the CLARREO Pathfinder, $9.5 million for the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3, and $1.9 million for instruments on the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCVR). However, it would permit the Radiation Budget Instrument project to be terminated if NASA determines that it will be unable to meet certain schedule and cost requirements. The House report is silent on these five programs.

The reports also diverge on Landsat-9, with the House recommending the requested $176 million and the Senate specifying $198 million.

Astrophysics

Both bills would provide the requested $534 million for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) project, which is ramping down in funding as the telescope nears its planned launch in 2018. Both would also significantly increase funding for the Astrophysics Division, raising it by about 10 percent to near $820 million.

For the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (W-FIRST), the House report would provide the requested $127 million and the Senate report would provide $150 million. The House report specifies $20 million for starshade technology development efforts and directs NASA to “accelerate work on Starshade and W-FIRST to ensure that W-FIRST is Starshade compatible, and that Starshade will launch and be capable of working with W-FIRST to identify the nearest Earth-like planet that shows evidence of extant life.” The Senate report is silent on the subject. NASA has not yet decided whether to seek a starshade capability for the telescope.

Both reports comment on the telescope’s projected costs, which have been the subject of increasing attention recently. The House report says the committee is “concerned about potential cost growth” and that it “expects that NASA will ensure that the cost growth experienced by James Webb Space Telescope is not repeated in this program.” The Senate report says the committee “supports the independent analysis of W-FIRST and other large projects to ensure sustainable cost and schedule and encourages NASA to establish a cost cap for W-FIRST based on that analysis.”

Heliophysics

The House bill would keep the Heliophysics budget at the current level of $678 million, while the Senate bill would raise it by $10 million.

Beyond the topline, the House report provides no direction to the division. The Senate report expresses support for increasing the share of the division’s budget allocated to the competitive research program from 10 to 15 percent and establishing new Heliophysics Science Centers. The report also specifies $10 million for establishing a space weather research program, citing the National Space Weather Action Plan and decadal survey recommendations as motivating factors.

Education

Both reports reject the administration’s proposal to shutter the Office of Education, which currently has a budget of $100 million. However, the Senate report says that the committee is “not averse to considering funding these activities either within a revised Education directorate or other alternative locations” if NASA determines that doing so would be prudent.

Both would also provide the requested $44 million for the education activities funded by the Science Mission Directorate. The House report directs NASA to allocate the funds “proportionally” among the divisions, and the Senate report supports the Astrophysics Division administering these directorate-wide funds.

Committee report comparison

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

Earth Science

Missions

House: “The recommendation includes $175,800,000, as requested, for continued development of the Landsat-9 mission to support a 2020 launch and maintain data continuity. NASA shall keep the Committee informed of the status of this program. Also within amounts provided is $55,400,000, as requested, for the NASA–ISRO Synthetic Aperature Radar mission.


The Committee is supportive of NASA’s Earth Science Pathfinder Venture Class Missions and includes the requested amount of $199,100,000 for these activities. This program was established in response to decadal survey recommendations to provide flight opportunities for low cost earth science investigations that can be flown in five years or less. Within amounts provided, NASA is encouraged to acquire, where cost effective, space-based and airborne Earth remote sensing data from commercial partners. The Committee notes the recent award of the Geostationary Carbon Cycle Observatory mission from the second Earth Venture Mission announcement of opportunity. NASA shall keep the Committee informed regarding these activities.”


Senate: “Within the amount for Earth Science, the Committee recommendation includes $198,000,000 for Landsat 9 to maintain a 2020 launch profile, $147,000,000 for the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud ocean Ecosystem [PACE] mission to maintain a 2022 launch date, $28,000,000 for CLARREO Pathfinder to continue progress on a Tier-1 decadal survey recommendation, $9,500,000 for OCO–3, and $1,900,000 for NASA instruments on the Deep Space Climate Observatory. The amount provided for PACE reflects the project’s successful passage of Key Decision Point B in July 2017. The recommendation fully supports Earth Venture and NASA–ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar at no less than the request level.”

Radiation Budget Instrument

Senate: “The Committee is aware of challenges reported by GAO on NASA’s Radiation Budget Instrument [RBI] program, to include problems controlling scope of requirements against desired costs and maintaining schedule to meet the JPSS–2 need date with sufficient time for integration on the satellite and testing prior to the JPSS–2 launch. NASA shall report in writing to the Committee within 14 days of the date of enactment whether RBI can meet the launch date under the development parameters that the Committee had already established for this instrument in previous appropriations bills, and does not meet the programmatic cost overruns outlined in section 521 of this act. If such conditions are favorably met, then NASA shall continue the RBI program in fiscal year 2018 with appropriated funds within Earth Science subject to section 505 reprogramming guidelines. NASA shall update the Committee on RBI cost and schedule immediately after the completion of the Critical Design Review in September 2017.”

Planetary Science

Outer planets and ocean worlds

House: “The Committee appreciates that NASA has created an Ocean Worlds Exploration Program whose primary goal is to discover extant life using a mix of Discovery, New Frontiers and flagship class missions. The recommendation includes $527,900,000 for Outer Planets and Ocean Worlds, of which $495,000,000 is for the Jupiter Europa Clipper and Lander missions to fulfill the requirements of the most recent Planetary Science decadal survey. To support progress on these programs, NASA shall ensure that future funding requests are consistent with achieving a Europa Clipper launch no later than 2022 and a Europa Lander launch no later than 2024, pending final mission configuration. NASA shall keep the Committee informed of the status of the Announcement of Opportunity for the Lander to ensure progress toward a 2024 launch. While the Committee remains very supportive of the Europa mission, the Committee also expects that this program will meet development milestones on time and within budget.”

Discovery and New Frontiers missions

House: “One of the primary recommendations of the National Academies’ 2012 Decadal Survey for Planetary Science was for NASA to achieve a balanced program through a mix of Discovery, New Frontiers, and flagship missions and an appropriate balance among the many potential targets in the solar system. 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.
....
Discovery.—The recommendation includes $335,800,000 for the Discovery program. The current cost cap for these missions is $450,000,000 plus launch costs. The Discovery program currently has two operational spacecraft, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Dawn; one flight mission in development, the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport; and two newly selected missions, Lucy and Psyche, which are in formulation.


New Frontiers.—The recommendation includes $90,000,000 for New Frontiers. The current cost cap for these missions is $1,000,000,000 plus launch costs. New Frontiers missions explore the solar system with frequent, medium-class spacecraft missions. The program includes three missions in operations: New Horizons, Juno, and OSIRIS–Rex.”

Juno mission

House: “Juno, a mission to Jupiter launched in 2011, is collecting data to help NASA understand the formation of planets and the origins of the solar system. While the Juno spacecraft is healthy and all instruments are fully operational, the Committee is aware that the original Juno flight plan may be modified and that NASA is examining options to determine if valuable science may be gained from continuing beyond the planned mission scope. NASA shall keep the Committee informed of this matter. Further, NASA shall keep the Committee informed of the overall progress and science gleaned from the Juno mission, especially risk reduction activities in advance of the Jupiter Europa Clipper and Lander missions.”

Research and analysis

House: “The Committee expects NASA to request sufficient funds for Research and Analysis to ensure that data collected by NASA assets can be exploited by scientists and researchers. The recommendation includes $305,600,000 for Planetary Science Research, including $197,900,000 for Planetary Science Research and Analysis.”

Asteroid detection and deflection

House: “Also included is $60,000,000 for NASA’s efforts to detect and monitor near Earth objects and for its asteroid impact and deflection assessment (AIDA) and double asteroid redirection test (DART) activities. Commensurate with this funding, NASA is urged to conduct research into directed energy as a means of asteroid deflection. Further, the Committee encourages NASA to examine its use of NSF’s ground-based telescopes to fulfill its planetary protection mission to determine if additional funds are required.


Near Earth Object Camera (NEOCam).—The Committee is supportive of the NEOCam mission, which follows a 2010 National Academy of Sciences report regarding space-based infrared survey telescopes required to discover asteroids that pose a hazard to Earth. NEOCam will also assist NASA in meeting the congressionally mandated directive to detect and characterize hazardous near Earth objects. The Committee understands that NEOCam has been approved for extended Phase A studies that are intended, in part, to review projected overall cost estimates. NASA shall provide a report no later than 120 days after enactment of this Act regarding estimated life cycle costs, including schedule and milestones toward a projected 2020 launch date.”


Senate: “The Committee recommendation includes $660,000,000 for Mars Exploration and $66,000,000 for Near Earth Object Observations, including no less than the fiscal year 2017 amount for Double Asteroid Redirection Test [DART]. The Near Earth Object Observations program supports a network of search and characterization observatories and the data processing and analysis required to understand the near-Earth population of small bodies. The Committee urges NASA to meet the congressionally mandated goal of detecting and characterizing at least 90 percent of the potentially hazardous Near Earth Objects [NEO] 140 meters or larger by 2020. NASA shall develop a plan for its planetary defense activities, including DART and subsequent activities, which will support successive space-based surveys/surveillance missions and/or technology demonstration and rapidly advance the Nation’s planetary defense capabilities.”

Asteroid resources

House: “The Committee remains supportive of government and commercial space missions to the Moon, Mars, and other locations in the Solar System. Recognizing that the identification, extraction, and utilization of natural resources found on asteroids are foundational to facilitating long-term missions, the Committee directs NASA, in cooperation with the domestic commercial space industry, to conduct an assessment and submit a report within 180 days of enactment of this Act on the utilization of asteroid-based natural resources to support U.S. government and commercial space exploration missions and timeframes for when such resource extraction could possibly occur. This report also shall evaluate the status of U.S. development of commercial asteroid resource exploration activities, as well as international entities.”

Green Bank Observatory

Senate: “The Committee recognizes the significant investment the NSF has made to develop the world-class scientific facility at the Green Bank Telescope Observatory [GBO]. NASA is encouraged to continue its use of GBO to support its Planetary Science Research program, including orbital debris monitoring activities, and to coordinate with NSF and other government agencies to develop potential multi-agency management plans for GBO. NASA shall include in its fiscal year 2019 budget request any planned support for the subsequent 5 fiscal years.”

Plutonium-238

House: “The recommendation also includes no less than $16,000,000, as requested, for NASA to continue its collaboration with the Department of Energy to produce plutonium-238 domestically for use as a source of energy in space missions.”

Mars exploration

House: “The Committee remains supportive of NASA’s ongoing Mars missions gathering data about our nearest neighbor which may have once supported microbial life. These missions and the Mars 2020 mission will provide NASA and its partners with valuable data about future landing sites for the Mars 2020 rover and eventually humans. The recommendation includes $646,700,000 for the Mars Exploration program, including $374,300,000 for the Mars 2020 mission that meets scientific objectives from the most recent Planetary Science decadal survey, including the sample return mission, and $62,000,000 to continue research and development of the Mars 2022 Orbiter. Funding for the Mars helicopter technology demonstration is included within the Planetary Technology program described below. NASA shall provide quarterly briefings on all aspects of the Mars program.”


Senate: “The Committee recommendation includes $660,000,000 for Mars Exploration …”

Impact craters and STEM education

House: “Impact craters in the U.S. that are well preserved and accessible provide researchers and educators with the opportunity to expand our understanding of the Earth’s and the Solar System’s history and 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 provide education and outreach on Earth’s erosion processes and the scientific method of research.”

Astrophysics

Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope

House: “The recommendation includes $126,600,000, the requested amount, for WFIRST. The Committee is concerned about potential cost growth in this program and directs NASA to brief it on the results of an independent, external review that NASA initiated in April 2017 to address the scope of WFIRST to ensure it will provide compelling scientific capability with an affordable cost and a reliable schedule. NASA shall brief the Committee on the results of this independent examination. The Committee expects that NASA will ensure that the cost growth experienced by James Webb Space Telescope is not repeated in this program. Within amounts provided for WFIRST, $20,000,000 is for continued development of the Starshade technology demonstration effort. The Committee expects WFIRST to accommodate the Starshade technology demonstration mission. The Starshade, in tandem with WFIRST, will enable NASA to identify the nearest Earth-like planet around the nearest star, and thereby identify a target or multiple targets for the interstellar mission discussed later in this report.

The Committee also directs NASA to accelerate work on Starshade and WFIRST to ensure that WFIRST is Starshade compatible, and that Starshade will launch and be capable of working with WFIRST to identify the nearest Earth-like planet that shows evidence of extant life. The Committee directs NASA to include a section in the interstellar propulsion technology report which details NASA’s plan to make WFIRST Starshade compatible and what size, design and funding requirements are necessary for Starshade and WFIRST to resolve the planet from the star and spectrographically analyze the atmosphere of rocky Earth-like planets in the habitable zones of stable, long-lived stars out to a distance of 10 parsecs. NASA is encouraged to collaborate with the National Academies of Sciences to create a permanent Decadal Survey for Exoplanet Exploration for the next decade and beyond, and NASA is directed to follow the recommendations of this new Exoplanet Exploration Decadal Survey in developing America’s long-term plans for systematic interstellar exploration missions to Earth-like planets harboring life in our galactic neighborhood.”


Senate: “The Committee recommendation includes … $150,000,000 for the Wide-Field InfraRed Survey Telescope [W–FIRST]. The Committee supports the independent analysis of W–FIRST and other large projects to ensure sustainable cost and schedule and encourages NASA to establish a cost cap for W–FIRST based on that analysis. The Committee reiterates its expectation that NASA will streamline W–FIRST science operations to take advantage of scientific and operational experience and synergies with Hubble and the James Webb Space Telescope, including linking science operations and the science archive.”

James Webb Space Telescope

House: “The recommendation includes $533,700,000 for JWST, which is the same as the request and $35,700,000 below fiscal year 2017. NASA shall provide the Committee with quarterly briefings on JWST’s technical status, budget and schedule performance, including program integration and tests that must be completed prior to its October 2018 launch. NASA shall brief the Committee within 180 days of enactment of this Act regarding the future funding profile of the Astrophysics portfolio as JWST concludes development.”


Senate: “The Committee maintains its strong support for the completion of the James Webb Space Telescope [JWST], and provides $533,700,000, 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.”

Astrophysics observatories and probe missions

House: “Astrophysics observatories.—The Committee commends NASA for providing the science community with observations of astrophysical objects conducted simultaneously over a broad range of wavelengths. In anticipation of the forthcoming decadal survey, NASA shall provide a report within 180 days of the enactment of this Act that summarizes NASA’s plans for maintaining U.S. leadership in obtaining astrophysical observations in the x-ray and gamma-ray wavelengths following the completion of the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope missions.


Astrophysics probe missions.—NASA shall seek input from the National Academy of Sciences and the academic and scientific community regarding the need for, and benefits of, establishing a competitive, principle investigator-led astrophysics program to bridge the gap between Explorer and less-frequent Flagship missions. NASA shall provide an interim report on these matters within 180 days of enactment of this Act, with a final report to be submitted no later than one year after enactment of this Act.”

Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy

House: “The recommendation includes $85,200,000, the fiscal year 2017 level, for SOFIA, a state-of-the-art far-infrared observatory with a planned 20-year life cycle. NASA shall issue a call for fourth generation instrument proposals and select step 1 instrument proposals on or before September 30, 2018. NASA shall keep the Committee informed of the status of these activities. In addition, NASA is encouraged to undertake at least 100 SOFIA science mission flights during fiscal year 2018, including both Northern and Southern hemisphere missions, as determined by science community demand through competitively-selected proposals. 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 not undertake any changes that would be disruptive to the SOFIA program and the management of its operations.”

Education and Public Outreach

House: “The recommendation includes $44,000,000 for Science Mission Directorate (SMD)-wide EPO activities. NASA shall, in the fiscal year 2018 spending plan, allocate these funds proportionally among the SMD divisions, resulting in a dedicated budget line for each division’s EPO activities.”


Senate: “The Committee provides no less than $44,000,000 for education as reflected in a more transparent single line within the SMD funding chart. 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.”

Heliophysics

Decadal survey recommendations

Senate: “As recommended by the National Research Council Decadal Survey, the Committee directs NASA to implement a 2- year cadence of alternating Small Explorer [SMEX] and Mid-sized Explorer [MIDEX] missions, and enable a regular selection of Missions of Opportunity [MOs] to allow heliophysics researchers to rapidly respond to and participate in missions both inside and outside of NASA. The Committee also supports implementation of the Diversify, Realize, Integrate, Venture, Educate [DRIVE] initiative, a top priority of the National Research Council Decadal Survey, which would increase the competitive Heliophysics research program from 10 percent to 15 percent of the budget request to enable the development of new technologies, and establish competitively awarded Heliophysics Science Centers. The Committee recognizes the increasingly multidisciplinary nature of Heliophysics, and so seeks to provide researchers with the necessary tools to enable continued scientific progress in this field.”

Space weather research program

Senate: “In response to the Space Weather Action Plan and the recommendations of the Decadal Survey, the Committee recommendation provides $10,000,000 for establishing a space weather research program. NASA should coordinate with NOAA and the Department of Defense to ensure that NASA is focused on research and technology that enables other agencies to dramatically improve their operational space weather assets and the forecasts they generate using data from those assets including current and future ground-based telescopes and instruments that are expected to come on line, such as the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope.”

Office of Education

Assessment

House: “The Committee understands that the Office of Education is undergoing a series of internal reviews and assessments; NASA shall brief the Committee when these assessments are concluded. The Committee expects NASA to continue implementing the programs below and to ensure that overhead costs to support these programs do not exceed five percent.”


Senate: “The Committee does not agree with the proposed cancellation of the activities within Education and has provided funding for the programs for the upcoming fiscal year. However, if NASA determines that the programs would be better managed, executed, and evaluated in other places within NASA, the Committee is not averse to considering funding these activities either within a revised Education directorate or other alternative locations. The Committee directs NASA to use fiscal year 2018 to review the Education Mission Directorate, along with its other education-related activities, in order to inform the appropriate location and activities NASA should undertake in future years. As part of this activity, NASA is directed to consider maintaining administrative costs at no more than five percent and provide the Committee a report on the results of this comprehensive review not less than 90 days from enactment of this Act. The funds provided are to ensure continuity in the ongoing programs as NASA evaluates its role in STEM education and development of students in science and engineering fields.”

Space Grant

House: “The recommendation includes $40,000,000 for the Space Grant program. This amount shall be allocated to State consortia for competitively awarded grants in support of local, regional, and national STEM needs.”


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.”

Competitive program

Senate: “The Committee provides up to $10,000,000 for the Competitive Program for Science, Museums, Planetariums, and NASA Visitors Centers within the STEM Education and Accountability Projects. This competitive grant program creates interactive exhibits, professional development activities, and community-based programs to engage students, teachers, and the public in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”

Space law

Senate: “As the civilian space market continues to grow and national policies are developed for remote sensing and commercial space launches for cargo and crew, there is an increasing need for education on the legal aspects of human use of aerospace technologies. To encourage legal research in this area, the Committee provides up to $1,000,000 for space law education and outreach. NASA shall provide a spending plan to the Committee within 45 days of enactment of this act on how NASA will implement this direction.”

Other

Restriction on cooperation with China

House/Senate: “(a) None of the funds made available by this Act may be used for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) or the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement, or execute a bilateral policy, program, order, or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company unless such activities are specifically authorized by a law enacted after the date of enactment of this Act.  


(b) None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to effectuate the hosting of official Chinese visitors at facilities belonging to or utilized by NASA.


(c) The limitations described in subsections (a) and (b) shall not apply to activities which NASA or OSTP, after consultation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, have certified— (1) pose no risk of resulting in the transfer of technology, data, or other information with national security or economic security implications to China or a Chinese-owned company; and (2) will not involve knowing interactions with officials who have been determined by the United States to have direct involvement with violations of human rights.


(d) Any certification made under subsection (c) shall be submitted to the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, no later than 30 days prior to the activity in question and shall include a description of the purpose of the activity, its agenda, its major participants, and its location and timing.”


[Note: This language is from the bill itself.]

Reporting of travel to China

House: “The Department of Commerce, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation shall provide a quarterly report to the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate on any official travel to China by any employee of such Department or agency, including the purpose of such travel.”


[Note: This language is from the bill itself.]

Nuclear propulsion

House: “It is estimated that a nuclear thermal propulsion system may reduce the round-trip transit time to Mars by as much as 20 percent and may therefore be beneficial to human space travel. Of the funds provided, no less than $35,000,000 shall be for ongoing nuclear propulsion activities. NASA shall provide a report within 120 days of enactment of this Act regarding the status of its nuclear thermal propulsion activities and include as part of this report yearly funding required and associated milestones that must be met in order to conduct a nuclear thermal demonstration project by 2020. This report shall include amounts spent to date, estimated life cycle costs, and cost and transit time comparisons with chemical propulsion systems. Finally, this report shall describe how NASA could integrate nuclear thermal propulsion into the deep space gateway concept or use in broader applications such as interstellar travel.”


Senate: “Nuclear Propulsion.—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 $75,000,000 for ongoing nuclear thermal propulsion technologies for space transportation and exploration. This funding is provided for NASA to work towards the goal of being able to conduct a propulsion subscale ground test by 2020.
...
Advanced Propulsion Research.—The Committee notes that NASA has funded preliminary fusion energy research that could eventually assist in shortening transit time for interplanetary missions. The Committee strongly encourages NASA to pursue academic led research opportunities as continued early technology development is advanced.”

Next generation propulsion / interstellar mission

House: “The Committee encourages NASA, in collaboration with academia and the private sector, to establish a research and technology development effort for next generation space propulsion technologies. This effort should pursue advances in Earth-to-orbit propulsion systems, in-space propulsion systems, and propulsion systems for planetary ascent/descent vehicles. The Committee expects that this technology research and development effort will advance technologies needed for nuclear thermal propulsion systems that also may be applicable to interstellar travel.”


“Interstellar mission.—The Committee directs NASA to ensure that the United States is the first nation to launch an interstellar mission to the nearest Earth-like planet that shows evidence of extant life. The Committee expects that as NASA develops a roadmap for humanity’s first interstellar mission, NASA will stay true to its heritage by being bold and pushing the limits of science, engineering and technology without being constrained by short-term budget concerns. The Committee looks forward to receiving, no later than May, 2018, a technology assessment report from NASA, as required by the fiscal year 2017 appropriations Act, that includes a draft conceptual roadmap for developing an interstellar propulsion system that will achieve at least .10 of the speed of light, and that will launch no later than July 20, 2069, the 100th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.


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). In developing the propulsion technology assessment report, NASA should examine concepts that include, but are not limited to: (1) fusion-based propulsion (including antimatter-catalyzed fusion and the Bussard interstellar ramjet); (2) matter-antimatter annihilation reaction propulsion; (3) beamed energy propulsion coupled with photon sails; (4) ion or plasma propulsion; (5) superconducting magnetic sails; (6) and immense ‘sails’ that capture solar photons or 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. The interstellar propulsion technology assessment report and draft conceptual roadmap submitted by NASA to this Committee shall include updates on relevant concept studies funded by NIAC and shall 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.”

National Space Council

House: “The Committee supports Executive Order 13803: Reviving the National Space Council. The National Space Council, to be managed within the White House, is in the national interest because space leadership and space exploration are essential to our character as a nation, to our economy, and to our national security. The Council will coordinate Federal agencies’ space activities.”


Senate: “The bill provides for the funding of the National Space Council [NSC] which was reinstated through Executive Order 13803, signed on June 30, 2017. The Committee understands that the newly reconstituted NSC is in the early phases of standing up its staffing and operations, and expects that further information on the appropriate funding levels will be presented to the Committee before the end of the current fiscal year. In the absence of that information, the Committee has chosen to initially fund the NSC in fiscal year 2018 through OSTP and will consider separate funding as further information is presented in the coming months.”


[Note: The House language is in the NASA section of the report and the Senate language is in the OSTP section.]

Prize funding

House/Senate: “Funds for any announced prize otherwise authorized shall remain available, without fiscal year limitation, until a prize is claimed or the offer is withdrawn.”

[Note: This language is from the bill itself.]

About the author

headshot of Mitch Ambrose
mambrose [at] aip.org
+1 301-209-3095