NASA's budget for fiscal year (FY) 2021 is $23.3 billion. This represents a 3% increase over the previous year's amount. It was passed by Congress on 21 December 2020—nearly three months into the fiscal year.
The President's Budget Request (PBR), released on 10 February 2020, had proposed $25.2 billion for FY 2021, an increase of 12%. The increase almost fully directed toward supporting a 2024 crewed lunar return, with over $3 billion proposed for human landing systems. Ultimately, Congress provided only 25% of those requested funds, all but guaranteeing that a lunar return will not happen by 2024.
The congressional budget did restore a number of programs slated for cancellation by the White House: including the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, the Odyssey Mars orbiter, NASA's STEM Outreach program, and several Earth Science missions.
The Planetary Society was generally pleased with the outcome. The final legislation funded our top priorities, including operations for all existing Mars missions, the start of a Mars Sample Return mission, and called for a 2025 launch of the NEO Surveyor mission, which would help identify potentially hazardous asteroids.
|2020 Enacted||2021 PBR||House CJS||Senate CJS||Final|
|Biological & Physical Science (ISS)||--||--||--||$79||$79.1|
|Orion Crew Vehicle||$1,407||$1,401||$1,401||$1,407||$1,407|
|Safety, Security, & Mission Services||$2,913||$3,010||$2,953||$2,937||$2,937|
|Construction and Environmental Compliance||$373||$539||$419||$390||$390|
|NASA Inspector General||$41.7||$44.2||$44.2||$44.2||$44.2|
NASA proposed transferring the Biological & Physical Science account from ISS Operations to the Science Mission Directorate midway through 2020. This was approved by Congress. *The President's Budget request proposed renaming the Space Technology Mission Directorate to the Exploration Technology Mission Directorate. Congress rejected that change. All values are in millions of dollars. Directorate/top-level line-items are in boldface, divisions and major projects are in standard formatting; sub-programs are in italics. All major directorates are listed but not all sub-divisions or projects are included here.
The FY 2021 Presidential Budget Request
|2020 Enacted||2021 PBR||% Change|
|Orion Crew Vehicle||$1,407||$1,400||-0.5%|
|Safety, Security, & Mission Services||$2,913||$3,010||+3.3%|
|Construction and Environmental Compliance||$373||$539||+45%|
|NASA Inspector General||$41.7||$44.2||+6%|
* The proposal renames the Space Technology Mission Directorate to the Exploration Technology Mission Directorate.
All values are in millions of dollars. Directorate/top-level line-items are in boldface, divisions and major projects are in standard formatting; sub-programs are in italics. All major directorates are listed but not all sub-divisions or projects are included here.
The President's Budget Request for NASA was released on 10 February 2020. Highlights of the proposal include:
- Significant funding increases to support crewed lunar landing and surface operations by 2024.
- The indefinite deferral of the upgraded second stage for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket (a.k.a. the Block 1b variant) to focus work on the Block 1a version, which serves NASA's immediate needs around the Moon.
- "Proposes to launch the Europa Clipper on a commercial launch vehicle to save over $1.5 billion compared to using an SLS rocket."
- Funding for Mars exploration, "including a Mars Sample Return mission and Mars Ice Mapper, as a precursor to human exploration."
- $451 million for commercial and scientific lunar exploration, an increase of 50% from FY 2020.
Proposed Cuts in FY 2021
- Proposes termination of two astrophysics missions, Roman Space Telescope and SOFIA. The Roman telescope (RST) is a top priority for the astrophysics community and is in development with a launch date of 2025. The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), an airborne observatory, is in active operations. The White House's official rationale for their cancellation is so NASA can "focus on higher priorities including completion of the James Webb Space Telescope." The James Webb telescope is struggling to meet its launch date and is billions of dollars over-budget.
- "Termination of two Earth science missions (PACE and CLARREO-Pathfinder)." Both were proposed for cancellation but ultimately funded by Congress last year.
- "Redirects funds from the Office of STEM Engagement's portfolio of grants and cooperative agreements to NASA's core mission of exploration."
Note: all quotes are from NASA's FY 2021 president's budget request and related documents.
President's Budget Request Source Documents
NASA's budget during the Trump Administration. The vertical axis displays both NASA's total congressional appropriation in billions of dollars and the amount requested by the President. The horizontal axis is fiscal years. NASA's full budget history dataset is available to view or to download as an Excel spreadsheet.
Legislative activity was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. It wasn't until 7 July 2020 that the House of Representatives' Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) subcommittee released their draft legislation for NASA's FY 2021 budget. The bill rejected the proposed top-line increase in the President's request, freezing NASA at its FY 2020 level. Within this amount, it shifted money to NASA's science missions, notably Earth Science, Astrophysics (by restoring funding for the Roman Space Telescope), and provided a modest increase to Planetary Science. The legislation rejected the President's proposal to end NASA's STEM Outreach program.
The bill restricted spending on NASA's lunar activities until the agency "submits a multi-year plan...that identifies estimated dates, by fiscal year, for Space Launch System flights to build the Gateway; the commencement of partnerships with commercial entities for additional LEO missions to land humans and rovers on the Moon; and conducting additional scientific activities on the Moon."
On 31 July 2020, the House of Representatives voted on—and passed—6 appropriations bills combined as a single "minibus" legislative package. Though largely unchanged from its draft, the final bill incorporated a number of minor amendments, including one stating that NASA must spend at least $40M on the NEO Surveillance Mission, though no additional funding was provided.
The Senate's appropriations committee waited until after the Presidential elections to release their draft legislation of NASA's FY 2021 budget. The largely bipartisan legislation also restored funding for the Roman Space Telescope, several Earth Science missions, and STEM outreach. It proposed increasing NASA's budget by $866 million, with up $1 billion provided for human lunar lander development—far short of the $2.6 billion increase requested by the White House.
A compromise bill was included as part of the massive full-government funding and COVID relief package passed by Congress on 21 December 2020. The compromise legislation increased NASA's top-line by 3% to $23.3 billion. It funded all the science missions proposed for cancellation and funded the human landing system project at only 25% of the requested amount.
The final agreement incorporated language requiring NASA to better outline its lunar exploration plans, fund existing Mars missions, a small increase to NASA's Planetary Defense Program, and a call for NASA to launch the NEO Surveyor mission in 2025. It provided a $30 million increase over the requested level to support the start of a Mars Sample Return project.
Notably, the legislation also loosened the requirement that the Europa Clipper mission use the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. NASA had requested to use another launch vehicle, given concerns over the availability and the cost of the SLS.
House Appropriations Committee FY 2021 Documents
- Summary of House CJS FY 2021 legislation
- FY 2021 House CJS Appropriations, NASA Section (HR 7617) (as amended)
- FY 2021 House CJS Appropriations Committee Report, NASA Section
Senate Appropriations Committee FY 2021 Documents
- Summary of Senate CJS FY 2021 legislation
- FY 2021 Senate CJS Appropriations bill, NASA Section
- FY 2021 Senate CJS Appropriations Committee Report, NASA Section
Final FY 2021 Appropriations Documents
Planetary Society priorities, including Mars Sample Return and the Roman Space Telescope, were funded by Congress in its NASA budget. But Project Artemis's human landing system received only a fraction of its requested amount, pushing a return to the Moon further into the 2020s.
A new budget submission from the White House would continue record-high funding for planetary science, but proposes deep cuts to 2 productive Mars missions and defers funding for deep space telescope dedicated to finding hazardous near-Earth objects.