Space

Congress Just Gave NASA A Massive Budget For Next Year

December 17, 2015 | by Jonathan O'Callaghan

Photo credit: NASA

Good news, everyone. NASA’s latest budget has just been put forward by Congress – and they have allocated the agency $750 million more than they requested. This means the agency’s full budget for 2016 is $19.3 billion, which incredibly – in an age of cutting costs – is almost $1.3 billion more than last year.

The budget increases funding to several key programs at NASA, including its Commercial Crew program, its Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, and the Orion spacecraft. "We are going back into space with Americans on American rockets, and we are going to Mars," Senator Bill Nelson said yesterday.

Perhaps most interestingly, $175 million of the budget has been set aside for the Europa Multi-Flyby Mission, a spacecraft that will be sent to Europa in the early 2020s, and the budget dictates that NASA must include a lander for the surface of this icy moon of Jupiter. "This mission shall include an orbiter with a lander that will include competitively selected instruments and that funds shall be used to finalize the mission design concept," it reads, reported Ars Technica.

A lander has been touted for the upcoming Europa mission before, but NASA has not been keen to firmly commit to anything yet, as there are many unknowns about undertaking such a landing. It remains to be seen how they'll go forward with this request.

Nonetheless, the large amount of funding essentially allows NASA to meet most of the other goals it has set itself. Crucially, they were given the $1.243 billion of funding for the Commercial Crew program that they have been pushing so hard for. Administrator Charlie Bolden recently told IFLScience that he counted this – getting SpaceX and Boeing’s manned spacecraft up and running – as one of the key goals of his time in office.

Wish you were here? Congress has told NASA they must send a lander to the surface of Europa. NASA

Elsewhere, planetary science has received a boost in the form of $1.631 billion – $270 million above what the President requested. According to The Planetary Society, this "allows both the MER Opportunity rover and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to continue science operations." The upcoming Mars 2020 rover, meanwhile, gets a $22 million boost.

The huge SLS, which Congress seems very keen to overfund, has been given $2 billion, $640 million above the $1.36 billion requested by the President. The SLS, if you aren’t aware, will eventually be used to take humans to Mars with the Orion spacecraft, which has been given an increase to $1.91 billion.

Of the areas to miss out on their requested levels of funding, one is the Earth Science Division, which received $1.921 billion – less than the President’s request but $149 million more than last year. Another is the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), which gets $686 million – $39 million less than requested, but $90 million more than last year.

The budget still needs to pass a vote in Congress this week, which seems likely at the moment, although a controversial surveillance bill was snuck in along with it. If it gets by this test, the White House will almost certainly sign it into law.

Onto Europa, then.

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