Planetary Radio • Apr 08, 2022
Space Policy Edition: NASA's 2023 Budget Request
On This Episode
Chief of Space Policy for The Planetary Society
Senior Communications Adviser and former Host of Planetary Radio for The Planetary Society
The Biden administration is proposing $26 billion for NASA next year, with significant increases benefiting the Artemis program, Mars Sample Return and Earth Science missions. But not everything is good news: NEO Surveyor and Mars Ice Mapper are both slated for significant cuts, and inflation may take a bite out of any increases NASA would receive on paper.
With Congress facing elections in the fall, how likely is it that NASA will get this funding? What consequences will this have on Planetary Society priorities? And what does this mean for the future of exploration? Chief Advocate Casey Dreier and host Mat Kaplan are joined by The Planetary Society's Chief of D.C. Operations, Brendan Curry, to explore NASA's next big budget.
Mat Kaplan: Welcome everyone to the April 2022 Space Policy Edition, Planetary Radio. I'm Mat Kaplan, the host of the weekly show, joined again by the chief advocate and senior space policy advisor for The Planetary Society, Casey Dreier. Casey, welcome.
Casey Dreier: Hey, Mat, happy to be here, again, finally.
Mat Kaplan: Absolutely. We're only a week off. It happens now and then with very good reason. One reason is that it means we're going to be able to spend time talking about our main topic today. And that's why we're also joined by Brendan Curry, the chief of Washington Operations for The Planetary Society who is talking to us from his place of business there. Are you within the Beltway or just outside, Brendan? Welcome.
Brendan Curry: Well, fellas, it's good to see you. And I'm coming at you live from the beautiful Fairfax, Virginia.
Mat Kaplan: Oh, I love Fairfax. I love Fairfax. I saw a fox there once in the neighborhood, there was a little fox.
Brendan Curry: It's probably the one that harasses our neighborhood too.
Mat Kaplan: Well welcome, Brendan. We're happy to have you. And of course, we're happy to have all the rest of you as well for this monthly Space Policy Edition. We welcome you, and we invite you to dig deeper by going to planetary.org. And maybe specifically, planetary.org/join, where we have offered the opportunity for you to stand behind The Planetary Society. We would love for you to be a part of helping us create all of the stuff that we do at the society, including this very podcast. Casey?
Casey Dreier: Mat, there's even more specific things you can do if you're listening and love the show. We are doing our annual fundraising effort for this program, the Space Policy and Advocacy program that allows Brendan and I to work literally every day, even a lot of weekends on your behalf, advocating for space science and exploration to folks in Washington DC and around the world. That's at planetary.org/takeaction. We only try to ask for funding once a year. And again, it goes directly into our program work here so very important. If you want to be more than just a member, or don't want to be a member with all that entails, you can throw us a few bucks at planetary.org/takeaction.
Mat Kaplan: And if you want evidence of the success of the advocacy work that is done by The Planetary Society and our policy work, well, it's not like we can take full credit, but look at the budget proposal just issued by the Biden administration on behalf of NASA, which is going to be our topic today. Right, Casey?
Casey Dreier: That is. And it's a 988-page document. I've read through it at this point. This is one of the reasons why we pushed the show back. It's a lot in there. We'll do a detailed breakdown. But first, we're going to talk about some big-picture things. Before we even jump into that, Mat, I just want to acknowledge too that something happened in between our two shows, which is that we had our Day of Action with our members of The Planetary Society, getting out there, virtually this time, and meeting face to face with the members of Congress who will be funding NASA and responding to this budget that came out.
Casey Dreier: If nothing else, I want to just first acknowledge and thank the 115 members of The Planetary Society who took a day off of work for the most part and met with over 160 congressional offices last month. These are the folks who are really putting themselves out there and committing serious time to represent all of us here at The Planetary Society. And they just did a fantastic job getting out there and really educating themselves, advocating really well, and leaving a wonderful impression. Brendan, I wanted to toss it to you. You've been following up on a lot of the meetings that our members had. What's the feedback that you've been getting from congressional staff and members.
Brendan Curry: Yeah. Thanks, Case. It's been extremely positive. And one of the things it ties into, what we'll be talking about with respect to the President's FY23 budget submission to Congress is that, when the budget submission came out, Casey was really good about doing a quick apples-to-apples chart analysis, comparing and contrasting what the finalized FY22 budget for NASA was going to look like with respect to the FY23 proposed budget.
Brendan Curry: And that was another example where I could go back to these congressional staffers. Some of which I know very well. Some of them were new. And it was an opportunity to follow up after Day of Action saying, "Again, thanks for meeting with The Planetary Society members. And oh, by the way, I'm sure you're drowning in all types of budget documents that your boss is asking you to provide memos on as the next steps are taken with respect to how Congress adjudicates the FY23 budget." And the charts that I was able to provide due to Casey's work was very much appreciated because a lot of times these congressional staffers, being a former one myself, you just get drowned in the numbers.
Brendan Curry: It's really handy to have a quick reference guide. And we at The Planetary Society were able to provide that information to help those staffers' jobs a little bit easier to service their bosses better. But also, those documents, I was also able to share with other friends in DC, namely our international friends and allies who are here in Washington, who are not quite as familiar with the American federal government congressional process, also some of our friends in the industry. It's an example of how The Planetary Society as a nonprofit can be a trusted resource for information and data. The only angle we're driving is to have robust funding for missions that fit within our goals and priorities. And that's where everyone knows where we're coming from. They treat us as an honest broker and look to us for help. And we're more than happy to provide that.
Casey Dreier: Yeah. And I just want to emphasize there that you were able to follow up with a lot of offices after our members had already been there with this data. So it really emphasizes that when our members participate in the Day of Action, it's not just this one-off thing. We're actually working in concert with them using these touchpoints to further engage and communicate and educate members of Congress and their staff about these really critical issues. You can read it. We'll link to it here in the show notes, but you can read about the event on planetary.org. Again, I just want to thank all of the participants who took their time and really just did a great job representing the society. And you, even if you weren't able to do it, they were out there working on your behalf.
Mat Kaplan: Now, we can move on to that 988 page did you say, a document [crosstalk 00:07:01]?
Casey Dreier: Yeah. I just [crosstalk 00:07:02]. And I recommend reading this. Yeah. It's a great document. And it just gives you a reminder of the breadth and scope of space exploration that NASA does. Before we break down into the details, I'll just give a couple of high-level numbers and then, Brendan can help us understand what are the next steps going to be for this budget. Right?
Mat Kaplan: Go for it.
Casey Dreier: Always the key thing here, this is a President's Budget Request. This is the proposal. This is the starting point of negotiations that the White House prepares, that sets their priorities for NASA. Congress ultimately is the arbiter, where this money goes, how much NASA gets, and really whether they agree with or don't with whatever the White House is proposing. Right? So again, even though this is a proposal, this is still important. I've done the numbers on this.
Casey Dreier: In NASA's entire history, whenever the White House has requested an increase in NASA's budget, Congress has followed through 86% of the time. Right? So even if those numbers don't match up, there's a strong correlation between the overall funding approach that the White House proposes versus what Congress gives.
Casey Dreier: The White House has many more people on staff to put this budget together. Congress generally engages at a higher level. So there's lots of just really important things included in this document even if it's a proposal. So, this is one of the reasons why we spend a lot of time analyzing this. It's a policy document. It sets the White House's overall approach. It sets the administration's attitude about what it wants for our civilian space program here in the United States.
Casey Dreier: Big picture stuff that we're looking at this year. They're requesting an approximate 8% increase over what Congress provided in the previous year. This is nearly a $26 billion budget for NASA. That's great. If you just do a very straightforward adjustment for inflation, this would be the largest budget request for NASA since 1995. There's going to be some inflation adjustments that will drive that number down a bit. Right? Because we're seeing very rapid inflation at the moment. But in overall generalities, this is one of the NASA's best requests in 20 or so years. I think that's fair to say.
Casey Dreier: Decent increases for deep space exploration, particularly for Artemis and supporting the Human Landing System, a second provider. The largest request ever for space science, which is great to see including really strong support for key priorities of The Planetary Society in planetary science, in astrophysics, responsive to the decadal survey. And then, just overall very strong support for NASA's meat and potatoes, aeronautics, and space operations, and construction of facilities. All these other things that go around that we need to invest in, both human and material infrastructure in order to allow these types of missions to happen. So again, $26 billion is what we're looking for as the request for 2023, very solid number. So Brendan, what happens next? Now that we have the request out there.
Brendan Curry: All spending bills have to emanate from the House originally, then the Senate then takes theirs up after the fact. It's now on the Hill, folks are going through it. The next step will be the House Budget Committee. They'll dig into it. And what they have to do is do the 1974 Budget Control Act. They disseminate how much each of the House Appropriations Subcommittees, what their allocations will be. The House Appropriations Committee is split up into a number of subcommittees. There's the Defense Subcommittee, the one that has NASA in it is called the Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee.
Brendan Curry: The Budget Committee will say, "Okay, Defense Subcommittee, you get X billions of dollars. Here you go, have at it." The CJS, again, which holds NASA within it will be told you're given this X amount of billions of dollars. And so then, the next step will be the House Appropriations Committee will then try to... Each subcommittee will take their allocation, and decide within the CJS, "The Commerce Department will get this much of the pie. The Justice Department will get that much of the pie. NASA will get that much of the pie," et cetera, et cetera. In my other example of the Defense Appropriation Subcommittee, the Navy gets this much of the pie, the Air Force get that much of the pie, et cetera, et cetera.
Casey Dreier: This is the point where it becomes zero-sum basically. So they get a chunk of money, and then the subcommittee has to spread that out among the agencies under their jurisdiction.
Brendan Curry: Concurrently though, also, you'll have what are called budget posture hearings. For our purposes, with respect to NASA, Administrator Nelson will have to go to the House Appropriations Committee, the Senate Appropriations Committee, but as well as the House Authorization Committee, and the Senate NASA Authorization Committee to justify why I, Administrator Nelson, deserve this money, that the President suggests that you give me this amount of money for these key priorities. And so you'll also have concurrently that process going on as well.
Brendan Curry: And that usually eats up a good chunk of the springtime. And you really won't see what are called markups take place until late May into early June. Defense Appropriations really is the big driver, especially this year with respect to what's going on with Ukraine and Russia. To give you some comparing and contrasting, I know we're The Planetary Society. We're not the National Security Space society.
Brendan Curry: But Space Force, for example, their budget submission from the President is 24.5 billion. That's 7 billion more than they got for FY22. The situation in Ukraine is really a first test of fire for Space Force and how it's going to operate and contribute to how the United States handles itself with that situation.
Brendan Curry: You'll start having these markups. They'll come out of those appropriations subcommittees in the house. They'll go up to the full appropriations committee. That'll be sometime in June, into July. Then by the 4th of July, they'll start getting the House floor. And then, around late July, usually after Labor Day, the Senate starts really taking action on their end. They're usually slower off the mark. They want to see what the House cranks out. And then, that informs how they're going to write their bills.
Brendan Curry: Now, what's complicating things this year is it's an election year. Some of you have probably seen in the news that the redistricting in all 50 states is just about winding down now. Based on the last census, we're going to be seeing the primary seasons kick-off. Also this year, we are having an unusually high number of incumbents in the House of Representatives electing not to run again. You have four House Republicans, some of them quite prominent, deciding they don't want to run again. You have over 30 House incumbent Democrats deciding they want to run again. So that's going to put a degree of uncertainty on how things will shake out. This is something Casey and I are going to be busy with all throughout the year. And it's probably going to drag on up until election day. And depending on how the election shake out, things may not be settled until around Christmas to be candid with you.
Mat Kaplan: Christmas. In other words, the chance of having an FY23 budget in place by October 1st of 2022 is about as much chance that life will be discovered on Mars tomorrow?
Brendan Curry: Yeah. With respect to NASA, probably, one of the problems in FY22 for the CJS bill, which I said includes NASA. The problem with what the House cranked out with, which was a very good bill from a NASA perspective, there was a lot of political consternation with the Justice Department section of that bill. There was some political high potatoes that we don't need to concern ourselves with and get involved in. But that's part of the problem with having NASA tied in with a bill that has other departments in it.
Brendan Curry: There could be... With respect to defense, I alluded to it being the big driver of all the appropriations bills, that the situation overseas made it's hesitated being passed by October 1st. That may be free and clear, but also sometimes since that is such a big bill, the Senate often will... I don't want to say hold hostage, but they'll leave it hanging out there because everyone knows that's really the big must-pass appropriations bill. And then they'll tie other bills to it and let that be kind of the driver. Because everyone wants to see an appropriations bill for defense, go through. There's a lot of things.
Brendan Curry: And some of you may have heard, Casey and I talk about before, this is a very unique year in that the chairmen of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Patrick Leahy, Democrat from Vermont, and the ranking member from the Senate Appropriations Committee, Richard Shelby from Alabama, are both retiring this year. In the over 20 years I've been doing this kind of stuff, I've never seen the top Senate appropriators walk out the door together at the same time. So we're in a very unusual situation right now.
Casey Dreier: They might actually be motivated to pass something before they retire. So there's kind of an interesting mix of headwinds and tailwinds with this potential budget here that we're talking about. And I think the key takeaway, just as a reminder, is that none of this depends on the politics of NASA. NASA's caught up in the politics of everything else. Regardless of how good this budget is for the space agency. That's not driving the political discussion about what is going to pass versus what may be pushed back.
Casey Dreier: The other issue with the midterm elections, obviously, right now, the Democrats control both Houses of Congress by very small margins. If Republicans win, they may not want to do any kind of a deal to pass the budget before they assume power in the next Congress. They're starting in next January. So that will throw off a lot of, "This is why things tend to get pushed off until after elections, and then who knows after that." But as Brendan pointed out, a lot of complicating factors that may drive some census, particularly these large coalescing bills that fund the entire government vote up or down. So if you want to get your defense money through, you have to vote for everything else. So, it's a long way to think of saying that we don't know what's going to happen. Right? Is that the accurate way? Is this the expert way?
Brendan Curry: No.
Casey Dreier: But these are the key forces I think.
Brendan Curry: Yeah. And sometimes I feel, Casey, you and I were like the old-timey Saturday serials that people used to go see at the theater where I feel like we leave our audience on a cliffhanger at the end of every episode with Casey and Brendan hanging on a cliff.
Casey Dreier: It keeps people coming back. It's always the unpredictable nature of it. But I think that's important. And then also, I think you touched on this, but redistricting that is finalizing right now, changes a lot of where people will be voting, who will be running in their districts. That's become a much more politicized process over the last two decades. That'll influence this, but not again in a direct way. So there's just a lot of change, I'd say, happening this year. And in general, I think it's fair to say that members of Congress don't like to take big votes before elections. Right?
Brendan Curry: No.
Casey Dreier: It's better to have ambiguity than certainty on certain types of things.
Brendan Curry: There's been countless stories of the years of there's been some big vote on whatever it is. Vulnerable members don't want to take a tough vote, and they'll hang out in the bathrooms trying to avoid... Whoever's the whip of their party will have to go searching from the bathrooms to try to drag them out and hold their hand and take them to the floor to make them vote.
Mat Kaplan: It almost doesn't matter which way they vote on a major issue. Their opponent in November is probably going to find a way to criticize them for it.
Brendan Curry: Or if they vote against their leadership, there's a leadership threatening to withhold campaign donor money and things like that. It's kind of a messy business. I mean, this is going to be an unusual midterm. Usually, midterm elections are really kind of only the super political nerds get exercised about it. But this is kind of a unique year, non-space related, but something to be mindful of, especially our members in Pennsylvania and I'm from Pennsylvania. You have an open Senate seat. That you have a Republican senator who said he was going to do term limit himself, and he's staying true to that term limit so he's vacating the seat. So that's an open Senate seat. The Republicans are going to want to hold onto that seat. The Democrats would love to pick that up. But you also have a term-limited governor in Pennsylvania. So that's turning into a big fight.
Brendan Curry: The incumbent that's leaving there is a Democrat. The Republicans would love to pick up that governorship. So there's other big races taking place across the land that maybe do not directly involve space, but they're going to suck up time and attention. And obviously, the day after the '22 election is the first day of the '24 cycle. And it's just going to keep getting more and more complicated and obtuse in some ways.
Brendan Curry: The one thing I wanted to mention, Casey and I were talking about it earlier. Mat, you were there too. To the administration's credit, this week they unveiled an In-space Servicing Assembly and Manufacturing Interagency Working Group. It's something that's trying to address a number of the challenges with space, traffic management, debris, how things are going to be handled in Earth orbit. Our friends and allies are looking to us for leadership, and really want to give some kudos to the administration. They're really trying to press ahead on addressing an issue that's been crying out to be looked at.
Brendan Curry: And it's a group of folks from commerce, state, defense transportation, the Space Council, NASA, the Pentagon, and they're looking at trying to promote R&D in orbit service activity, infrastructure, engage in the commercial industry, promoting international collaboration, environmental sustainability, and helping promote an invigorated workforce on this issue. And they want to just keep working on a collaboration with all stakeholders because this is an issue that all the stakeholders in space have for a while been viewing this as a challenge within their own little stove pipe. And this is really a good faith first step in trying to get everyone together to work on this. And so, that's something that Casey and I are going to be wanting to keep an eye on, and where appropriate, make our own inputs to this group. So that's something positive that's come out of Washington this week. I just wanted to get that on the record.
Mat Kaplan: Very good news, especially in light of the story I just read this morning as we're recording, about the announcement by Amazon, by Jeff Bezos of what rocket he's going to use to get his thousands upon thousands of satellites up in Earth orbit to put his network in place. For some reason, he didn't contract for any from SpaceX. It seems like an oversight, I'm sure. But it's good to hear that these kinds of policy things are taking place, even if they're somewhat outside of our agenda.
Casey Dreier: Brendan, before we move on here, I wanted to ask, what kind of response are you hearing from Capitol Hill to this budget request for NASA? Has it been positive, negative, or have they been so distracted with the other big things going on in the world right now that it's been relatively muted?
Brendan Curry: It's been pretty positive. I don't think when administrator Nelson goes in front of those various committees, he's going to get yelled at. It again, remains that NASA still is a very bipartisan part of the federal government and enjoys a lot of support. I'm very hopeful and optimistic. Of course, there'll be some nitpicking on the periphery on some points, but the major thrust has been very well received. And looking forward to those hearings. The next big space hearing is going to be, I think, on the 28th of this month, dealing with space traffic management, not a NASA budget hearing, actually. I'm a glass-half-full kind of guy and I'm very optimistic, and it's just something that Casey and I work on day in and day out, and try to make sure our objectives are met.
Brendan Curry: Already, a lot of the congressional offices that our members met with on Day of Action have reached out to me asking us precisely what our priorities are for NASA. They want our input. After this recording, I have a meeting with the House Space Subcommittee folks about a bill specifically being drafted. Probably, it may not see action until the next Congress, dealing with specifically NEOs. They want our input on it. So it's another example of the work that we do on behalf of our members to help inform policymakers on good space policy, the betterment of all of us.
Mat Kaplan: I am so impressed. Brendan, first of all, thank you for bringing these insights to the Space Policy Edition, as always. But just hearing how deeply involved you are on the Hill, representing the interests of our members and so many other fans of space exploration. Thank you so much, and keep up the good work.
Brendan Curry: Well, thanks, Matt. Appreciate it. It's always great to be with you guys.
Mat Kaplan: That's Brendan Curry, Chief of Washington Operations for The Planetary Society. Casey, let's take a very quick break. We'll hear some words from the boss and be right back to dig deeper into this brand new Presidential Budget Request for NASA.
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Mat Kaplan: We're back. Glad you stuck with us because now we're going to get into, well, it won't be the nitty-gritty, not as detailed as you will be able to find from Casey at planetary.org, but a great overview as we dig somewhat deeper into this new Presidential Budget Request. Casey, where do you want to start?
Casey Dreier: Well, we can start big picture, and then we can hit... I want to hit a couple of big topics that the society is really interested in, namely deep space exploration for human space flight, and then space science, particularly planetary science and astrophysics. And then we can touch on a few technology key development issues around nuclear power and propulsion. These big future-forward aspects of NASA.
Casey Dreier: Now, it's really valuable to read through this. For anyone interested in why NASA does what it does, or how NASA spends its money, or why they justify all of these sections within this budget, justify what they're doing, say what they've done in the past year, and say what they're to do. Again, it's a fantastic summary of this hugely massive space program that we have. It's kind of a pick me up, frankly, when I see all of the really amazing stuff this space program is doing and will do.
Casey Dreier: And I think that's the key takeaway for me reading this budget. Artemis is happening. We're going back to the Moon. I don't know. We've really internalized this. Right? This is huge in my lifetime, and I'm not a young man anymore. In my lifetime, humans...
Mat Kaplan: [inaudible 00:27:32].
Casey Dreier: ... have never, unlike some people here, have never been more than a few hundred miles away from Earth. Within two years, we're going to see humans. This Artemis 2 mission. This isn't just a repeat of Apollo 8. They're going to go on this huge looping orbit around the Moon. They will be further from Earth than any human ever has been, ever, including Apollo. This is happening. The money is there. This is being built as we speak, and this budget supports it. This is going to be such an exciting decade. This budget, because it's a President's Budget Request projects what NASA intends to ask for in the future as well, not just for the upcoming fiscal year.
Casey Dreier: We're seeing now projections through 2027, 70% of the way through this decade that we're in, and we're seeing this funding continue. The key investments that we're making now are going to be leveraged in building into these... They develop their own inertia, these programs, for human space flight at the Moon. And then these bigger programs, for example, Mars Sample Return and other really major planetary missions, Europa Clipper and also space telescope after the JWST.
Casey Dreier: These are being built now and are funded now, and funded reasonably well. Again, big picture, very positive budget. There's always going to be a few nitpicks and a few poor decisions. We'll highlight a couple of them, particularly in planetary defense, but the money is basically going there.
Casey Dreier: There's an 8% increase over the previous year. Important to remember that NASA did not get its full request that it had proposed previously from Congress. So it may not get this again, but it's still moving in the right direction. We're also seeing again the priority. And this is why looking at where dollars go is so insightful. Rhetoric is cheap. You can say as much rhetoric about anything you want. You can say this is important or that's important in politics, but you can only spend the dollar once. And so, by the time you're making the decisions about where to spend the dollars, that tells you, that's the real proxy for political priority. And so, looking at where they propose money to go, tells you what they really prioritize in terms of funding, in terms of enduring programmatic support, and also where they believe they will find support from Congress.
Casey Dreier: This is yet another reason to look at numbers. Because again, you can have all the rhetoric you want, like going back to the journey to Mars era of the mid-Obama period, but then you'll see that there was actually no money for that. Rhetoric is cheap. Money tells you what they care about, and this is what we're going to dive down now.
Mat Kaplan: Got some pretty graphics out of the journey to Mars. Yeah, got it.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, we got it. It wasn't nothing. It was the journey to Mars always went to the Moon first so at least we can acknowledge that now. But again, that's useful to compare back a few, not even that many years ago, where NASA was so cash-strapped, it couldn't formally even ask to go back to the Moon, even though it was building a Moon rocket with SLS, congressionally mandated. It couldn't ask to build a lunar space station. It couldn't ask to build lunar habitats or landing systems. These are all being built now and are being funded now. And the request we're looking at are billions of dollars more than NASA was a few years ago. So what do you think, Mat? Do you want to start with human space flight as our big first topic?
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. I'm looking forward to it. I'm excited.
Casey Dreier: Well, Mat, put it this way. Are there things that you felt you were surprised by hearing some of the analysis or were there worries that you had going into this budget cycle about some of these human space flight programs?
Mat Kaplan: Yeah, I worry every year. I wonder...
Mat Kaplan: Because you said talk is cheap, rhetoric. You never really know where an administration is. I mean, after all, the Biden administration was brand new at this last year. And so, there might have been some carryover. Maybe now, we're getting their actual approach, their actual philosophy. I have to say I'm pretty encouraged, almost across the board. Human space flight? Who listening to this show would not be thrilled to know, as you have put it, that we really, really are going back to the Moon. I mean, we've been doing this show, the monthly Space Policy Edition long enough now, that I can remember conversations where we said, "Yeah, they're saying the right stuff, but where's the money? Where's the money to build the lander and how are we going to do this by 2024?" Well, of course, the answer is, "We're not." But at least, that's recognized now, and there is a pathway laid out, and that couldn't make me any happier.
Casey Dreier: Mat, you bring up a really good point that is worth emphasizing which is, even though last year was the Biden administration's first budget, you're right, it only had come out... They'd only been in power for a couple of months. They still didn't have a lot of key people confirmed in NASA or in the Office of Science and Technology Policy or throughout the White House. So you're right, this 2023 budget request, generally, after their first year in office is really the administration's priorities now. Right? There's no excuse. There's no inertia being carried over from the prior administration.
Casey Dreier: And yes, we see total continuity from what had really started to ramp up under the Trump administration. Obviously, as he said, 2024 is out of the question, it's been out of the question almost since the beginning in terms of lunar landing. But we're seeing again, they were requesting $7.5 billion for Deep Space Exploration Systems. Right? So that includes the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System, of course, and then the Gateway and Human Landing System. Human Landing System, the public private partnership with SpaceX. And now, that they've announced that they will be onboarding a second provider, this budget increases the total planned request for that program over the next four years by an additional $1.1 billion. So it's not the 10 billion that's floating around Congress over the next few years to authorize, but it's a significant increase, an extra billion dollars over their planned amount to start procuring another partner to come in in addition to SpaceX. That's real money. They were specifically asking for a $300 million increase over the previous year.
Casey Dreier: Something else is really interesting about the budget we're seeing for human space flight and deep space exploration here for Artemis. Last year, they brought in Jim Free to run this. They're breaking apart what's called HEOMD, Human Explorations, and Operation Mission Directorate. All this catchall directorate management organization for low-Earth orbit, and for going back to the Moon. They've split those in two. So that we have one dedicated to developing everything you need for Artemis, and the other one focused on operating what we have.
Casey Dreier: We're seeing the consequences of that now. They've restructured and reprogrammed how they are managing themselves. And this is really important too. Even if it sounds a bit esoteric or bureaucratic, bureaucracy is very powerful in government. Right? And you can build an enduring self-interested bureaucracy that defends its interests. If those interests are getting humans to the Moon, that can be a very savvy thing to do. In this budget, you're seeing a complete restructuring of big portions of the Deep Space Exploration program, specifically focused on Artemis. And Artemis operations which is just a wonderful thing to think about really.
Casey Dreier: The implications of that is that's regular trips to the Moon. Right? Also, we've seen some very important ways. You can elevate a program politically by breaking it out into its own management structure. Something that we've seen in this budget is moving the next-generation EVA. It's basically the next generation spacesuits, which have been prior to this, and somewhat baffling to me, previously included in the Gateway space station program. It was a sub-program within Gateway which is meant to get people in orbit, not to get people walking on the Moon.
Casey Dreier: You've broken out EVA into its own program now, and surface mobility, so lunar rovers, lunar spacesuits. They now have a self-interested management structure high enough and can secure and spend their own money for their priorities. And so, Gateway won't be tempted to dip into that to fund their priorities when they run into management issues versus focusing on the human spacesuit stuff. Which was identified, right, just the other year, as one of the key issues preventing a lunar landing by 2024, even 2025. We just don't have the next-generation spacesuits ready. Right? All of these things have to come together.
Casey Dreier: We're also seeing a new division called, this is a fun one, Mars Campaign Development. So really taking and separating out a management area within NASA to always have this eye on Mars exploration for human space flight. To really focus on what Artemis is doing and make sure that will be extensible to getting people out to Mars. To investing in the basic technologies, particularly for life support systems that will be able to sustain human life for longer periods of time autonomously on the trip to and from Mars. $163 million is the proposed amount to spend on this for 2023. And in perpetuity, it's kind of restructuring some previous grab bag of R&D areas and sticking them together as this. But again, names and bureaucracies matter. So we now have a Mars Campaign Development Division with this charge to focus on this aspect. Right? Again, elevating that policy by imprinting it in the bureaucracy is a smart way to do this.
Mat Kaplan: Another factor that occurs to me here is that... And it's something you haven't talked about, and I'm glad you haven't had to talk about it, is that with this investment in Artemis and all of these facets of it, deep space, human exploration, you haven't had to say, "Oh, we're seeing great support in this area, but it's stealing from other areas that we care deeply about like planetary science. It's unlike Apollo, unlike the Space Shuttle."
Casey Dreier: That's a great point. And we're in this really privileged situation right now where we're just seeing growth, where the money is just being added to NASA instead of being taken from other aspects of it, and creating that political tension and division. What do we choose to invest in? We really started to see this under the Trump administration where Congress in general, likes not to have to choose. It really works out as an easier pathway as what my colleague Brendan was saying, where Bill Nelson's going to go to the House and Senate and people won't be very angry with him because this is an all of the above budget. Everything is getting elevated here and they're not really going after one, like science or aeronautics or something to pay for Artemis. Politically, that makes it just so much easier. And again, a lot of that just has to start with where the White House is, where the White House is willing to put money to NASA in a way that creates this feel-good, aligned strategy that Congress will then fund. Right?
Casey Dreier: I think that's ultimately a much smarter strategy than creating these political fights over certain areas. So, yes, that's a great point. We're seeing growth without having to sacrifice other aspects of NASA that are really important.
Casey Dreier: We're seeing on the order of $700 million, $900 million increase proposed to deep space exploration next year compared to this year. Really substantial, most of that's going to new Artemis stuff, Human Landing System, spacesuits, and then also the Gateway space station.
Casey Dreier: Something else that's worth mentioning here, as we're recording this, we're in the midst of the big first wet dress rehearsal of the SLS rocket. Right? I'd say there's a general attitude online, really picking at the SLS. And the SLS deserves a lot of critiques. It's an expensive program. It was mandated by Congress. But at the same time... And I keep emphasizing this, I cannot think of a more stable program politically than the SLS. Right?
Casey Dreier: The administration requests $2.58 billion. That's an increase of a hundred million over the previous year. It's completely extended into the future. Right? It just gets multi-billion dollars as far as the budget projects out. It is moving into production for the Block 1B upgrade as we speak. It is profoundly and passionately supported by members of Congress, particularly in the states that really benefit from it financially. It is not going anywhere. The entire Artemis exploration campaign is in fact designed around it. So while it's integrating other things on the margins, notably, I'd say most importantly, SpaceX with the Human Landing System, the SLS is going to be a continued pillar of political support for Artemis in general.
Casey Dreier: And I think there's a good argument to be made, frankly, Mat. That if we hadn't been building this Space Launch System for the last 10 years, we would not have this type of support or funding for Artemis in general that we would have now. Without this Moon rocket, without having to justify the investments into this Moon rocket, we may not ever had a Moon program.
Mat Kaplan: Fascinating. And just an element that came out in the current episode of the weekly show, where I talked to Brenda Clyde and Kirby Runyon, who are part of this Neptune Odyssey concept study, not a mission proposal, but a concept study for the Decadal, the Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal that we are only a few days away from the publication of. They were able to wrap this concept study around the fair confidence that there will be a big enough rocket, whether it's SLS or Falcon Heavy, which is because they're hedging their bets, that they can go directly to Neptune without having to do planetary flybys. Which means, they can launch any time to Neptune. They don't have to wait until the planet's literally aligned. Here's some of the fallout of knowing that we're going to have another really big rocket that we can hope is going to be available for planetary science missions as well.
Casey Dreier: It's worth emphasizing here again that this is discretionary spending. And if you take it literally, Congress, if they wanted to, any year could just decide to spend no money on NASA. There's nothing mandating NASA to be consistently funded every year. In some ways, it's a miracle that NASA gets as much stable funding as it does, in a discretionary system with geographically distributed elected officials, who are by the framework that we have, responsible for their particular constituency, which again is in a certain geographic area.
Casey Dreier: They all get together and decide every year to fund NASA and these programs. Regardless of what's happened in the past, they always have to decide to fund it again. Things like SLS are product of the system itself. Right? In a democratic system where people have to show results to their constituency, these types of programs, these big programs give in almost a foundational baseline of political support for NASA that can then, I think in a savvy way, be used to leverage to do the really exciting stuff at the Moon, getting humans beyond Earth, or what Kirby's talking about, getting these new slate of missions that can go directly to these really deep parts of our solar system much faster than before.
Casey Dreier: That doesn't mean it's efficient. And democracies by definition are not efficient. They're the opposite of, that's baked into the system. The more we can accept that, it can be just understanding why we have these. It's not a business. Right? NASA, this is the public sector. It's by definition, not a business. And there's advantages and disadvantages to both models. But when we have the framework that we do, how do we best utilize it? And again, I think if we get Artemis out of having the SLS, that is more than worth it to me. That is a price I'm willing to pay than no Moon program because we didn't have a built-in constituency around a Moon rocket that had to be used to justify its existence.
Mat Kaplan: Once again, we learn that all politics are local, even when they leave the planet altogether.
Casey Dreier: Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. There's something else I want to mention in human space flight before we move on. Not a huge amount of changes in the human space flight portfolio, be it, obviously, we talked about the restructuring for the deep space stuff. That's great. We talked about some bumps for Human Landing System. Orion and SLS they're relatively flat. There's a big bump for ground systems, which is basically representative of the second mobile launcher. So people want to get angry about the SLS again. They can see that they have to build a new mobile launcher for the Block 1B version. And it is already wildly over budget and behind schedule somehow. And they're asking for an additional, I think, $200 million bump for ground systems to help accommodate that. I believe the NASA Inspector General is working on a report saying exactly what went wrong. But the budget specifically highlights, "Due to poor performance and big design requirements, we need more money."
Mat Kaplan: Brutal honesty.
Casey Dreier: Not the best. Yeah. Not a great... Clearly, a serious problem going on there. There's two other things I want to highlight. So let's shift from exploration to space operations. This is International Space Station, commercial crew, commercial cargo, but also this future of commercial low-Earth orbit development. Basically, commercial space stations. The follow-on to the ISS as currently proposed, is that we invest in one or multiple commercial space stations that NASA is an anchor tenant. A renter, instead of the owner. Obviously, this has become a far more salient issue since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the subsequent threats by Dmitry Rogozin to withdraw Russian participation in the ISS.
Mat Kaplan: Which you mentioned Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos?
Casey Dreier: Yes. Right.
Mat Kaplan: The Russian Space Agency, basically. And he can be countered on to make some fairly wild statements now and then.
Casey Dreier: Yes. He's performative of some of those statements. Right?
Mat Kaplan: Yes.
Casey Dreier: We can emphasize. Right? And we'll have a future episode diving more into this, but nothing has yet changed with that relationship. And even recent claims, to the contrary, it's not even clear what Russia can really do. They actually need the ISS way more than any other country does. They have no other space program really besides the ISS. It would be very difficult and expensive for them to separate their modules from the ISS. Potentially, doable, but debatable whether they would. The big question is, will the Russians recommit with all the US and its allies to keeping the space station going through 2030? This budget acts like the space station will continue to 2030. I think there's a good chance that it will. However, at 2030, this space station is 30 years old.
Casey Dreier: It's getting clearly more difficult to operate this. So this commercial space station follow-on has become much more important. And so you see a more than doubling of the money for this area, 230 million. It kind of flattens out. They're asking for a total of about $1.4 billion for this over the next five years. That's a quarter billion more than what they were proposing in the previous year budget proposal, the run out for that. So there's some additional priority being given to this if you just look at it again, where are they putting the money? It's still relatively low though. But again, we're starting to talk about a quarter billion dollars a year being spent on this. That's real money. So I just wanted to highlight that that could help support these companies like Axiom and others that really invest in their demonstration missions.
Casey Dreier: 2030 is going to feel closer than you think for these human-rated, long-endurance, high-safety requirements space stations. These are not just easy things that... You don't swipe some credit card and buy a space station off the shelf.
Mat Kaplan: Not yet.
Casey Dreier: Not yet. And we're not there. So that's Commercial LEO, just wanted to highlight that. The other thing I thought was interesting is space operations, which until now basically has been exclusively the domain of low-Earth orbit now has a funding line for what's called exploration operations. This is the transition of the Orion deep-space crew capsule from its development phase, which takes it through Artemis 2, the first time it flies with people into a production phase. You're building the same thing multiple times now as opposed to creating it for the first time. So it moves from development into production. It's very reminiscent, I think it's 1984, that the Space Shuttle went through the same transition in the budget.
Casey Dreier: You stopped development and you moved into production. So-called, even though it was never really quite the stamping off the shelf that they hoped it would be. Again, it's moving basically from one directory to another. It implies again this regularity of operations, which is really fascinating, and it saves, compared to what the development was about half a billion a year. So hopefully, there'll be a lower cost for Orion in production, which, there should be.
Casey Dreier: But also what was fascinating to me about this request is that in Fiscal Year 2023, it actually doesn't request a dollar amount of money. This is the first time I've ever seen this in a NASA budget request. It just has three letters, TBD.
Mat Kaplan: Really?
Casey Dreier: Yeah, they requested to be determined amount of money, which is pretty funny to me in a spreadsheet numbers area. So I think they're acknowledging the dynamic situation of not knowing what the wet dress rehearsal's going to be. The earliest possible time for Artemis 2 is going to be 2024 at this point anyway. So clearly, there's some churn in this program. Maybe this is somewhat ambitious or declarative of an intention versus immediate reality. But overall, their point is they're trying to shift this deep space lunar program into regular operations. And they're moving that. That is reflected in this budget as well.
Mat Kaplan: All right. Let's move on to the science side of what NASA is hoping to achieve in this proposed budget, most especially including planetary science. But overall, how does it look?
Casey Dreier: Again, overall, very good. This is a total of about $8 billion requested for science as the budget. It's eager to point out, this is the most ever requested for NASA science programs. I'd have to run the inflation numbers, but it's a wonderful number. And almost everything grows or at least maintains a pretty solid footing. I'll just quickly mention Earth Science sees the largest proposed growth from 2 to $2.4 billion, really to support this new Earth system's observatory mission line that they're really trying to build up to do more climate monitoring in response to the Earth Science Decadal Survey. A very fascinating thing to me was that last year, they had proposed a 10% increase to Earth Science. And the Congress, which was run, again, by Democrats at the moment, which take climate change as a very important priority for them as a party, did not actually fund that increase.
Casey Dreier: They kept Earth Science flat at about $2 billion, a very minor, maybe 1% increase instead. That was again, my biggest surprise of the congressional budget last year. So it'll be interesting to see if we see this, now 20% growth, matched by this Congress sometime this year. Big...
Casey Dreier: Most things to talk about here in planetary science. Right? And so let's move to planetary science, our bread and butter, what we've been fighting for, for decades now. Right, Mat?
Mat Kaplan: Yeah.
Casey Dreier: Before I nitpick a few things that I'm not as happy about, it's so important just to acknowledge the big picture here. That they're proposing $3.16 billion for planetary. That is a huge amount. That is double what we used to pie in the sky ask for, back in the early 2010s. Planetary science has seen just enormous and amazing growth in the last five years, getting up to about a $3 billion a year program.
Casey Dreier: And that has enabled just a burst of new missions and activity that we have really never seen planetary at this. This is historic highs. The last time it was roughly $3 billion a year was in the early 1970s. And two-thirds of that was spent on the Viking Project. A very brief spike for that. Right? So we've never seen such a broad investment in planetary science as what we're seeing now. So starting out, let's just acknowledge, this is a fantastic situation to be in. And I think a real direct outcome of the ongoing work that The Planetary Society and its members have been doing for 10 years now. Right?
Mat Kaplan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Casey Dreier: This is the long game finally paying off. So fantastic number top line. Let's just acknowledge that first.
Casey Dreier: Okay. Where does this money go? This is the huge thing. This is crazy. Mars Sample Return, which now is set to launch in 2028, is accounting for roughly 26% of this entire planetary science budget. That's huge. That's $822 million from our sample return next year. That is larger than the JWST appropriation ever was for any single year. Even though for many, many years, the total was higher. This is a huge amount of money for a single program line. This is bigger. 822 million is actually bigger than NASA's entire Heliophysics division going into Mars.
Mat Kaplan: Wow.
Casey Dreier: Just from Mars Sample Return. We're seeing 345 million for Europa Clipper. The overall budget for this is tailing downwards as they complete the spacecraft and get ready to launch in 2024, or excuse me, 2025. And that program has seen some budget increases due to COVID and other technical difficulties. Mars Sample Return is costing more than they originally anticipated too. Those will be relevant here later.
Casey Dreier: Again, we're seeing funding for Dragonfly. Right? We have a mission being built at our octocopter going to Titan, really lovely to see two new missions reflecting the two new Venus missions in the budget, DAVINCI, and VERITAS. Both of those are at low levels right now. And they don't really start to ramp up until later in the decade. So actually, even though we're at a huge level for planetary science because of Europa Clipper and because of Sample Return, the overall budget is actually surprisingly tight. It's being very squeezed by those two mega missions at the moment, which is putting a lot of pressure on things again, like this pushing back. The discovery, selection rates, it's pushing down money being spent on research.
Casey Dreier: And the real problem. The one real issue that I have with this budget. It delays the NEO Surveyor space telescope. This asteroid hunting planetary defense mission that we've been fighting for, for a long time, had just gotten a great funding, and a new start approved by Congress last year. NASA wants to basically put the whole mission on ice for a couple of years in order to work through Mars Sample Return and Europa Clipper. The overruns in those two missions came out of NEO Surveyor. So that's not a good situation. That's the one bad thing that we have. Notably, thankfully, NASA did not propose to cancel this mission. They just proposed to delay it. So this is a fixable problem. We hope we can get the resources that we need for that.
Mat Kaplan: It is troubling. It seemed like we were in such a good place when we were having this same sort of conversation last year. Planetary defense getting the attention finally that it deserved in our view for so long. And this telescope that we need so badly to fill in our knowledge. I mean, of course, Mars Sample Return, love it. Dragonfly Europa Clipper, want them all but none of them are going to help save us from a near-Earth asteroid.
Casey Dreier: Right. And it's, again, frankly, a bit baffling to me in the aftermath of COVID, of a pandemic. I've made this connection in the pages of Scientific American, in this op-ed that I submitted where planetary defense has a lot in common with pandemic prevention. Right? These are both giant disasters, in a sense, natural disasters that can be mitigated through smart investments in advance. Something like NEO Surveyor is doing your viral testing and detection early on so you know that there's a problem. And so, to delay this mission that can have such a clear, positive consequence to the long-term survivability of the human species is frustrating. But if you look at the very pragmatic situation that NASA was in, my interpretation is, Mars Sample Return has to launch on the Mars launch windows. Right? This 26-month cadence of windows that open up in '26. It has to launch then, very tight timeline for that.
Casey Dreier: Europa Clipper, likewise, is on a tight launch window opportunity to Jupiter. You have needs of missions going to the Moon. You have other needs with missions going... Dragonfly, same, of being able to launch to the Saturn system on a certain timeline. Everything else has a much more fixed timeline while NEO Surveyor, you can launch that in a much more flexible window because you're just sending it to L2. There's no specific celestial event or mechanics you have to really focus on as tight. So it's much more of a delayable program and hence it was delayed.
Mat Kaplan: One quick correction. In your first reference to Mars Sample Return, you talked about that two-year delay to 2028. You just mentioned 2026 just in passing there, which was the original window...
Casey Dreier: Sorry. Yes.
Mat Kaplan: ... for that mission, but just to... Because somebody out there in our sophisticated audience will probably have caught that. Well, all right. We keep advocating for NEO Surveyor, of course, across this year. And what are the chances that Congress might feel differently about this and want to see that move forward?
Casey Dreier: I think that it's a very strong opportunity that Congress can come in and correct this. We've seen a lot of positive feedback on NEO Surveyor in the past. We have a lot of built-in support, particularly, from the senators at Arizona where NEO Surveyor has run out of. Also, Gary Peters from Michigan. Other members of Congress have shown a lot of interest in this. So I'm optimistic that we can help improve this situation, particularly with the help of our members.
Casey Dreier: The other mission I wanted to mention that was flat-out canceled in this budget for planetary science was the Mars Ice Mapper mission. This was kind of a weird mission specifically to detect near-surface ice at latitudes where humans could potentially go on Mars. Right? So it was kind of a resource detection mission. It was proposed to be extremely low budget with large contributions coming from the Canadian Space Agency and ISSA, with NASA maybe kicking in around $200 million over the course of five years, which is relatively cheap for a spacecraft. Again, because of overruns in Mars Sample Return and Europa Clipper, NASA said that they no longer have money for this mission, and proposed to cancel it outright.
Casey Dreier: Now, this is an interesting situation because besides Mars Sample Return, again, it's this weird tension where Mars Sample Return is getting huge amounts of funding. It's getting tons of stuff. We have all these current missions at Mars, but there's nothing in the works beyond it. Mars Sample Return does not have its own set of scientific instruments. Right? It goes to Mars, grabs the rocks that Perseverance is collecting, brings them back. That's it. There's no follow-on. For the first time in 25 years, there's no future Mars mission that's just a science mission on the books anymore.
Casey Dreier: The cancellation of Mars Ice Mapper, even though it was kind of this dual-use human exploration resource detection thing, obviously, could do a lot of science. It's not clear how the scientific community was planning to integrate that. We will find out when the decadal survey comes out for planetary science. But it could throw off a lot of future thinking about Mars exploration. And again, if nothing else, this was the only nominally scientific Mars mission on the books. And so, that's gone. It's just Sample Return right now. We have a very uncertain future for the entire scientific Mars program right now. And that's again, a weird to think about given that we're seeing so much success. This future is not being invested in beyond this.
Mat Kaplan: Casey, we're nearing the end of our time together. I know you want to get to that other major part of NASA science. Well, there are several. But we've talked Earth Science. We've talked planetary science. What about astrophysics?
Casey Dreier: Astrophysics sees a flat growth. It's a bit complex in astrophysics because the James Webb Space Telescope moves back to astrophysics after it had been separated out for development. So it includes money for operations and they actually bump up operations funding for James Webb in order to provide more scientific opportunities for people which is great. It does propose again to cancel the Flying Observatory, SOFIA, which would save them $75 million a year. That's been highlighted through the decadal survey, it's not worth the money. So NASA's trying to cancel it. Congress didn't let them do it last year. Good chance they won't let them do it again. I'd want to highlight that the Roman Space Telescope is funded and is now planning for a May 2027 launch. So we'll have our follow-up to JWST within the next five years here, which is really great to see.
Casey Dreier: And then, in response to the astrophysics decadal survey, which we've talked about, they include funding for future strategic astrophysics technology development. This is specifically called out in the decadal survey to basically start doing serious work on the technologies needed for the next generation of mega telescopes that we would start building in probably the late 2030s. So it's a very responsive budget to this decadal survey. And I was just very happy to see this funding for this critical technology development you do now to help keep costs down in the future. No one wants another JWST.
Mat Kaplan: And yet it is absolutely brilliant to see JWST coming together so perfectly.
Casey Dreier: That's true.
Mat Kaplan: Because if you only imagine damage that might have done if that big new telescope had not decided to unfold exactly as planned. Anyway, figures are still crossed though. Casey, there's so much more that we could talk about. You're going to address much of this in what people will be able to find at planetary.org. Where do they go to learn more?
Casey Dreier: Planetary.org in the article section. I'll have my piece up by the time this comes out. You can read my analysis and see some further numbers. We also have a tracking page for NASA's 2023 budget request that highlights all these kind of key elements we've talked about here. And then we'll follow, and list and link to all congressional actions as they happen throughout the year. That's also on our website at planetary.org. So lots of ways to keep tracking this, and of course, keep listening to the show. We will let you know when there's action by Congress.
Mat Kaplan: And while you're there at planetary.org, join us if you haven't already. If you are a member of The Planetary Society, thank you. Thank you. Thank you for making of this possible, including the monthly Space Policy Edition that I enjoy doing with our chief advocate and senior space policy advisor, Casey Dreier. We will be back, I believe the first Friday in May for the next one of these SPE shows. In the meantime, every week, Planetary Radio. And we've got some great stuff coming up for you. Casey, I got Fred Haise. Apollo 13 astronaut, Fred Haise, will be heard. Actually, the show will be published on the day that Apollo 13 had, well, Houston was told that they had a problem.
Casey Dreier: I will eagerly listen to that one, Mat. Good work.
Mat Kaplan: It's going to be great fun. He's got a fun new book out. Thank you everybody for tuning in. Thank you. Especially, Casey, I look forward to talking again soon. And we'll see all of you on the airwaves and hopefully out there in deep space as well. Thanks for listening, ad astra.