A U.S. Senate spending panel has proposed giving healthy boosts to space research at NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF) next year.
The increases are part of a 2019 spending bill marked up yesterday by the Senate Appropriations Commerce, Justice, and Science subcommittee. It is slightly less generous to research than a version approved last month by the parallel spending committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, but stands well above what President Donald Trump requested for those agencies. The bills cover the fiscal year that begins on 1 October.
The panel has allocated $21.3 billion for NASA, $6.4 billion of which would go to the science division. That is an increase of 2.8% for science, or $180 million above fiscal year 2018 levels, and $500 million above Trump’s request. Within the science division, earth sciences would receive $1.9 billion, planetary science would receive $2.2 billion, and astrophysics would receive $1.5 billion, of which $305 million is for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the overbudget project whose launch has been delayed to 2020. The earth science allocation includes money to reinstate the Carbon Monitoring System, a $10-million-a-year research program that studies how sinks and sources of carbon can be remotely monitored from space. After the Trump administration quietly killed the program, House appropriators voted to put the money back. Now, the Senate has taken its first step in following suit. “Thank goodness Congress has a say in the matter,” said Senator Bill Nelson (D–FL) in a statement.
The House spending panel was even more supportive of NASA science, allocating $6.7 billion. It matched the Senate figure for earth sciences but poured $2.76 billion into planetary science, thanks in large part to the efforts of its chairman, Representative John Culberson (R–TX), to develop a lander component to a planned orbiter around Europa, a moon of Jupiter. The House mark of $1.3 billion for astrophysics also contained $305 million for the JWST.
NSF would receive $8.069 billion under the Senate proposal. That’s a 4% increase, or $302 million, over fiscal year 2018, and nearly $600 more than the president’s request. But it would be $106 million less than the House spending panel has approved. The $6.3 billion account for its six research directorates would rise by $222 million, versus $317 million in the House bill. Conversely, Senate appropriators were slightly more generous to NSF’s $900 million education account than their House counterparts, giving it a $13 million hike rather than flat funding.
Both bodies want NSF to go full-speed ahead on building three midsize research vessels, a change from previous years when the Senate prevailed over low-ball allocations in the House. The Senate bill adds $60 million to start construction of a third ship, topping NSF’s request for $29 million to finish building two ships. House appropriators were all-in this year, giving NSF $98 million above its request.
Yesterday’s markup was short and sweet after Republicans refrained from adding any “poison pill” provisions to the justice and commerce portions of the $63 billion bill. But expect some fights tomorrow in the full committee when those provisions are brought up and Democrats offer amendments. There will also be more details after the dust settles: As is its custom, the Senate committee has delayed posting both the bill text and an accompanying report language until after the full committee vote.