Today the Senate Appropriations Committee published a draft bill authorizing the 2021 budget for the U.S. government including NASA. If the bill becomes law, NASA is set to receive $23.5 billion in funding for the next fiscal year.
That’s an $866 million increase year-over-year, but the amount allocated to developing a human landing system for NASA’s Artemis program to send astronauts to the Moon by 2024 is underfunded by $2 billion.
The space agency has previously said it would need $3 billion allocated to developing a 21st-century human landing system to transport astronauts to the surface of the Moon in time for a 2024 deadline.
This deadline is widely viewed as political as it would achieve sending the first woman and next man to the Moon by the end of President Trump’s second term in office.
President Trump lost his reelection bid against former Vice President Joe Biden, however, but the near-term timeline serves another purpose. Setting a deadline in the first half of this decade potentially accelerates work on the Artemis program. In turn, this reduces the risk of defunding and canceling the program if it doesn’t see material results in a reasonable amount of time.
Under the Senate Commerce Committee’s budget proposal, NASA will be allotted $1 billion in funding for developing the lunar landing system. While the amount is a huge increase over the $628 million allotted by the House of Representatives budget proposal, the likely outcome is that a dollar amount somewhere in the middle will be achieved.
Here’s the highlight from the Senate Commerce Committee draft before markups:
The bill provides an increase of $866 million above the funding level for the previous year. It includes a funding increase of $689 million for human exploration activities related to returning U.S. Astronauts to the Moon. Funding levels for the Space Launch System, Orion, and associated ground systems remain unchanged from previous year levels, while funding for lunar landing systems is funded at $1 billion. Also provided is $120 million to restore funding for NASA’s STEM education programs while also funding ongoing science missions, including the Roman telescope and PACE, and continuing critical aeronautics research.