The White House has released its budget plan for NASA for the 2017 fiscal year, requesting $19 billion from Congress to fund the space agency. That's more than the $18.5 billion requested for NASA last year. But it's also $300 million less than the agency actually received in the recent 2016 Omnibus Bill. The preliminary figures are detailed in a summary of the NASA budget request out today.
More than the $18.5 billion requested for NASA last year
A large portion of the funds — $8.4 billion — will go toward NASA's human exploration programs, comparable to what NASA wanted last year. These include maintaining the International Space Station, as well as furthering development of NASA's commercial partnership programs; those are the initiative that tasks private companies, including SpaceX, Boeing, and more, with creating spacecraft to ferry cargo and astronauts to and from the ISS.
The funds will also be used to continue developing NASA's next big rocket, the Space Launch System, and the Orion crew capsule. However, both of those projects are getting some substantial cuts. The SLS program has only been allotted $1.3 billion, far less than the $2 billion Congress gave the program for 2016. The Orion would also get $150 million less. These two vehicles are critical parts of NASA's plans to send astronauts onto Mars someday.
However, the budget summary hints that NASA may be turning its focus toward the Moon, in addition to the Red Planet. A fact sheet accompanying the budget summary notes that some of the human exploration budget will go toward "early-stage public-private partnerships leading to the development of habitation capabilities near the moon." Up until now, NASA's only lunar plans involved sending astronauts near the vicinity of the Moon to study an asteroid. Now, it's possible NASA may incorporate the Moon or the space around it more in their future plans.
Meanwhile, NASA's Science division will get a big chunk of the budget as well: $5.6 billion. About $1.5 billion will go toward the study of planetary sciences, furthering development of the new Mars rover slated to go to the Red Planet in 2020. It will also be used to formulate a plan for a mission to Jupiter's icy moon Europa, a trip recently mandated by Congress. However, the Europa project suffered some big cuts too. The new budget proposal only allots $49 million for the project for 2017; the initiative received $175 million from Congress in the 2016 Omnibus Bill.
Additionally, a whopping $2.032 billion is being allotted for Earth Sciences, an area that encompasses NASA's various Earth-observing satellites. The budget nearly triples funding for CubeSats — small research satellites that can be used to conduct different types of space research.
Check out the entire 710-page budget proposal here.
Update, 2:04PM, February 9th: Article updated to include information about SLS, Orion, and NASA's Europa mission.