The cancelled Constellation Program.  Credit: NASA

NASA Budget Uncertainties Will Continue Well into 2011

Article Updated: 26 Apr , 2016



A temporary spending measure signed by President Obama on December 22 means NASA and other government agencies will stay at 2010 funding levels until March 4, 2011. This means, according to Jeff Foust at Space Politics, that among other items, the prohibition in the FY10 appropriations bill that prevents NASA from terminating any Constellation programs remains in effect, despite the human spaceflight plan enacted in the NASA authorization act signed into law in October.

The temporary measure, H.R. 3082, known as a continuing resolution, was passed by the House of Representatives on Dec. 21. With its signing by the president, NASA will continue to operate at spending rates proportional to the $18.72 billion appropriated for all of 2010, according to Space News.

An earlier version of the bill would have funded the federal government for the remainder of fiscal year 2011 and would have increased NASA spending by $186 million over 2010 levels and provided authority to cancel Constellation contracts and initiate new programs in the current fiscal year, but the measure stalled in the Senate under Republican opposition to earmarks contained in the $1.1 trillion funding package.

The continuing resolution, however, doesn’t not specify what money at NASA should be used for specific items, and so the additional shuttle flight that was deemed a certainty in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 that Obama signed into law Oct. 11, will likely still happen, but it’s not a sure thing.

NASA spokesman Michael Cabbage said the agency was still reviewing H.R. 3082, but “The continuing resolution by itself does not endanger the extra shuttle mission, because on an annualized basis the continuing resolution provides enough funding to fly the mission,” Cabbage was quoted in Space News.
However, Foust suggested that “there remains the possibility that a new, more fiscally conservative Congress might seek to cut funding below the 2010 levels, either overall or for specific programs, when it convenes in January.”

So while NASA can’t cancel its Constellation contracts, the lack of specificity for NASA programs in H.R. 3082 gives the agency authority to continue developing a the Orion crew vehicle for deep space missions as called for in the authorization act. And because Congress provided $100 million for development of a heavy-lift rocket in the 2010 appropriation, NASA could begin work on that or a similar vehicle as directed in the authorization measure – all the while still paying for Constellation.

And the continuing resolution could pose potential problems for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, said Space News.

Under Obama’s 2011 budget proposal, NASA would have received $500 million for the effort to help commercial companies develop rockets and cargo ships capable of resupplying the space station. But because the program is new, and was not funded in the 2010 appropriation, NASA could be left to await new appropriations legislation before it can get started.

Many other NASA programs face uncertainty in their budgets, as well.

Sources: Space News, Space Politics


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Torbjorn Larsson OM
Torbjorn Larsson OM
December 22, 2010 11:24 AM

And of course this hobbling of Orion alternatives to ISS and LEO is what the HR3082 responsible politicians went for, as they need to keep their dearly paying constituents happy.

The current Orion already looks like a SST repeat – a vehicle to go everywhere will not go anywhere (without people paying through their nose). And it will be everyone related to ISS/LEO projects that will eventually pay for the inefficiencies and inadequacies, not only US citizens. Feh!

December 22, 2010 4:28 PM

It’s no surprise that Senate Republicans killed an earlier version of this bill that would have increased NASA funding. They oppose bills like the START Treaty and funding insurance for catastrophic illnesses incurred by 9/11 first responders. It appears that the future of meaningful space exploration will be the responsibility of commercial ventures. Pity.

December 23, 2010 4:34 AM

Really a pity of one man can due to the space program and in general the United States, if he gets his way we’ll be behind every country in this world and we”ll be a bunch of second stringers.
I hope a America wakes we should be leading space exploration and have a bold plan to go forward.

December 29, 2010 12:26 AM
Folks, you’re not getting the big picture. What’s being played out for us is the interaction of Big League Economic Hardball and The Military-Industrial Global Conglomerate Conspires To Defraud the American People And Nullify International Treaties By Fiat–as a “dog and pony show” for public benefit. Keep your eye on the ball–err, rather the money. Big money. The Helium-3 in the top meter of Moon soil is largely unobtainable on Earth and worth at least several $ trillion because it is vital to make nuclear fusion reactors practical. (NIF at LLNL is going hot with inertial fusion inside 2 years. That’s a virtual done deal. Full commercialization will follow with fusion power to the grid 10-15 years afterward.… Read more »