Spaceflight Insider

Acting Administrator talks FY2019 NASA budget at Marshall

NASA's Acting Administrator, Robert Lightfoot, speaks on the agency's proposed 2019 fiscal year budget at the Marshall Space Flight Center on February 12, 2018. Image Credit: Scott Johnson / SpaceFlight Insider

NASA’s Acting Administrator, Robert Lightfoot, speaks on the agency’s proposed 2019 fiscal year budget at the Marshall Space Flight Center on February 12, 2018. Image Credit: Scott Johnson / SpaceFlight Insider.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — On Monday, February 12, the Trump administration released its 2019 fiscal year (FY19) budget request. NASA, via a presentation by its Acting Administrator, Robert Lightfoot, at the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) highlighted NASA portions of the request.

The request calls for funding the agency, for FY19, at $19.9 billion – a $400 million increase over current annual funding.

“It really reflects the administration’s confidence that America will lead the way back to the Moon, and take that next giant leap from where we made the first small step for humanity some 50 years ago,” explained Lightfoot. “The budget focuses NASA on its core exploration mission.”

Of the $19.9 billion, $10.5 billion is allocated to “exploration” and, among other items, will fund continued production of the agency’s new super heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS), the Orion crew capsule, and the Mars 2020 Rover, along with the continued development of the Europa Clipper mission.

In addition, “exploration” funding will allow for the design and production of the power / propulsion element of a lunar-orbiting gateway, along with a series of progressively capable small “pathfinder” lunar landers.

However, despite the recommended increase in the overall NASA budget, the following programs are recommended for elimination – either immediately or in the not-so-distant future:

(1) International Space Station (ISS): The proposed FY19 budget requests continued funding for ISS operation. However, also requested are funds to “stimulate” commercial ISS use in anticipation of the eventual elimination of government funding. “We’d like to get U.S. government support off the international space station in the 2024-2025 time frame,” Lightfoot explained. “We’re not walking away in 2019, but we’re starting that process.”

(2) Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST): WFIRST was the highest priority of the National Research Council’s 2010 Decadal Survey and is intended as a follow-on to the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) which is currently scheduled for launch in 2019. However, “[t]he [FY19] Budget proposes to terminate [WFIRST], given higher priorities within [NASA] and the increasing cost of this telescope . . . . [D]eveloping another large space telescope immediately after completing the $8.8 billion [JWST] is not a priority for the Administration.”

(3) Radiation Budget Instrument (RBI): The FY19 budget proposal states that “RBI would have flown on a future weather satellite to make measurements of the Earth’s reflected sunlight and emitted thermal radiation.” However, cancelation is requested because “[s]imilar instruments flying now, including on the recently launched NOAA-20 satellite, would continue to provide continuity for the data record.” The request further states that “[i]n January 2018 the Science Mission Directorate conducted a detailed review of the RBI project and recommended cancelling the project due to cost growth and technical challenges.”

(4) Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE): The PACE satellite, currently under design, and scheduled for launch in 2022, is intended to extend NASA’s observations of global ocean biology, aerosols, and clouds. The FY19 budget requests the cancelation of PACE stating that “[m]easurements similar to those that would have been taken by the [mission] are or would be taken by other satellites.”

(5) Orbiting Carbon Observatory – 3 (OCO-3): OCO-3 is currently in the planning stage, and is intended as a follow-on to OCO-2 which launched in 2014 to measure carbon dioxide (CO2) levels on Earth. The FY19 budget requests the cancellation of OCO-3 stating that “[m]easurements similar to those that would have been taken by the [mission] are or would be taken by other satellites.”

(6) Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) Earth-viewing instruments: The DSCOVR spacecraft (a/k/a “GoreSat”), launched in 2015, is located at the L1 Lagrange point, and is used, primarily, by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for space weather warnings. However, DSCOVR also contains NASA-managed Earth-observing instruments. The FY19 proposal requests that funding be ceased for these “Earth-viewing instruments” which “do not contribute to the core DSCOVR mission of providing measurements for space weather.”

(7) Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO): CLARREO is a proposed multiphase mission designed to produce highly accurate climate records. A CLARREO Pathfinder (CPF) mission was authorized in 2016, and is scheduled to launch to the ISS in approximately 2020-21. The FY19 request states that the CPF “would have demonstrated measurement technologies for a larger, more expensive, potential future mission focused on improving detection of climate trends. Other missions funded by NASA are maintaining measurements needed for climate data records. The [CPF] mission is in the earliest stages of implementation and is proposed for elimination to achieve cost savings.”

(8) NASA’s Office of Education: The Office receives annual funding of $1 million and provides grants to colleges, universities, and other institutions such as museums and science centers. The FY19 request “proposes the termination of the Office . . . redirecting those funds to NASA’s core mission of exploration.” The request further states that “outcome-related data demonstrating program effectiveness has been insufficient to asses the impact of the overall Office . . . portfolio.”

For more photos from the February 12 event, click here.


Scott earned both a Bachelor's Degree in public administration, and a law degree, from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He currently practices law in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood. Scott first remembers visiting Marshall Space Flight Center in 1978 to get an up-close look at the first orbiter, Enterprise, which had been transported to Huntsville for dynamic testing. More recently, in 2006, he participated in an effort at the United States Space and Rocket Center (USSRC) to restore the long-neglected Skylab 1-G Trainer. This led to a volunteer position, with the USSRC curator, where he worked for several years maintaining exhibits and archival material, including flown space hardware. Scott attended the STS - 110, 116 and 135 shuttle launches, along with Ares I-X, Atlas V MSL and Delta IV NROL-15 launches. More recently, he covered the Atlas V SBIRS GEO-2 and MAVEN launches, along with the Antares ORB-1, SpaceX CRS-3, and Orion EFT-1 launches.

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