February 13, 2020
NASA is poised to get a big raise in its funding should Congress approve the latest budget out of the White House. This is great news for the Artemis program as well as the many private companies and startups serving the growing space market. But celebrations are likely muted as the space agency is reeling from the discovery of major problems in its partnership with Boeing which led to the company's failed, nearly catastrophic, Starliner spaceflight last December.
Keep scrolling for more on NASA’s mixed fortunes and we’ll see you in a fortnight.
NASA's Budget History
NASA Gets A Raise
- The White House is asking Congress for a budget of $25.2 billion for the fiscal year beginning in October. This represents an increase of 12% over the current year's funding and is one of the largest increases in years. NASA's annual budget has increased steadily from about $19 billion to $22 billion under President Trump.
- Nearly half of the proposed budget would fund the Artemis program, NASA’s mission for returning humans to the moon in 2024 and later to Mars. $3 billion would go toward developing human lunar lander systems to take astronauts to the moon's surface from staging positions in lunar orbit.
- The budget request favors Boeing’s massive Space Launch System rocket which has already been plagued by overruns and delays. The summary budget document also expresses continued support for NASA’s partnerships with other private companies, although the exact details are not yet specified.
- Several organizations are vying for the human lunar lander system contract, including Boeing, SpaceX, Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper.
- The budget calls for cuts to several NASA projects including the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission, and the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) Pathfinder. These projects have been cancelled by the president's budget request and reinstated by Congress many times.
NASA Acknowledges Poor Oversight Of Boeing Starliner
- Sufficient lack of government oversight is partly to blame for Boeing’s 737 Max debacle, and recent reports point to a similar situation at play with the aerospace company’s botched flight of its Starliner spacecraft in December.
- Following the flight, NASA and Boeing officials repeatedly emphasized a lot went right during the mission, even though the spacecraft failed in its main objective of docking with the International Space Station.
- Now, NASA is acknowledging that problems were far more severe than previously reported and will require a complete review of Boeing, its safety procedures and the way the space agency oversees Boeing’s work.
- While NASA and Boeing were able to fix the problems that plagued Starliner during the mission, there were multiple failures along the way that could have led to a "catastrophic" outcome. This is especially worrisome considering Starliner is intended to ferry astronauts into space.
- NASA says that, much like with the 737 Max, a litany of software defects are to blame for the spaceflight failure that should have been uncovered with the proper quality control processes. As a result, NASA plans to conduct a more thorough review of Boeing’s safety culture.
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