NASA warns of “very problematic” space technology budget cuts


WASHINGTON — The head of NASA’s space technology directorate warned an advisory group of a “significant impact” to some programs if the Senate version of an appropriations bill for 2024 becomes law.

Speaking at a Nov. 30 meeting of the NASA Advisory Council’s technology, innovation and engineering meeting, Prasun Desai, acting associate administrator for space technology at the agency, said that both House and Senate spending bills for fiscal year 2024 fall short of the administration’s request of $1.392 billion for space technology.

The House version would provide the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) with $1.205 billion. That would be essentially the same as what space technology received in 2023, excluding inflation adjustments.

The Senate bill, though, offers $1.118 billion, a 7% reduction from 2023. “The Senate proposal is very problematic if it comes to fruition,” he warned. “It will have a significant impact if it’s near the Senate proposal.”

That impact would be distributed unevenly across the directorate’s portfolio. Both the House and Senate bills fully fund the largest single project in STMD, the OSAM-1 satellite servicing demonstration mission, at $227 million. NASA small business programs, located in STMD, would also be fully funded at about $300 million.

Both the House and Senate bills sharply increase proposed funding for nuclear thermal propulsion. The agency requested $17.5 million for that work in its proposal, but the House and Senate bills instead provide $110 million.

Other programs, though, could suffer sharp funding cuts. Desai’s presentation stated that STMD programs not mentioned in either the House or Senate bills could face a 22% cut if the directorate receives the overall funding in the House bill and a 27% cut if it gets the Senate funding. Some programs with directed funding in either bill also face reductions.

NASA is operating under a continuing resolution (CR) that funds the agency at 2023 levels through Feb. 2. He said STMD is taking a “conservative” approach with how it is spending that funding now to protect against any cuts below 2023 levels in the final 2024 spending bill.

“If a number significantly below 1.2 [billion dollars] arises, it’s going to be difficult, but it will be less difficult because we’re being a little conservative,” he said.

Other parts of the agency are taking similar approaches. NASA announced earlier this month it was ramping down work on the Mars Sample Return program under the CR because of the large gap between funding offered in the House and Senate bills for 2024. Budget uncertainty also prompted NASA to delay formal confirmation of the Dragonfly mission to Titan this month.

“We’re waiting to see what happens,” he said.



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