President requests $7.5B for NASA’s Artemis program in 2023
As NASA readies its first major Artemis program mission, President Joe Biden’s fiscal year 2023 budget requests nearly an additional billion dollars over 2022’s enacted amount for deep space human exploration.
Overall, the White House is requesting $26 billion for NASA, which includes the Artemis program, International Space Station operations, space technology development, Earth and planetary science, astrophysics, heliophysics, aeronautics research and much more. This is included in the roughly $5.8 trillion budget proposal for 2023 released March 28, 2022, which is still less than a half of a percent of all federal spending.
“Greater than a number, statistic, or fact is what the president’s budget request represents,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in an agency statement. “This budget reflects the Biden-Harris administration’s confidence in the extraordinary workforce that makes NASA the best place to work in the federal government. It’s an investment in the businesses and universities that partner with NASA in all 50 states and the good-paying jobs they are creating. It’s a signal of support for our missions in a new era of exploration and discovery.”
Deep space human exploration
The bulk of the spending, however, is on deep space exploration systems — $7.5 billion. This includes $1.3 billion for Orion, $2.6 billion for the Space Launch System rocket, $779 million for the Lunar Gateway and $750 million for Exploration Ground Systems.
It also includes nearly $1.5 billion for the Human Landing System program, which as of last week is now expected to include the development of two commercial human-rated lunar landers. The first was awarded to SpaceX’s Lunar Starship last year under an “Option A” contract.
The plan is for an uncrewed Lunar Starship demonstration flight as early as 2024 with a crewed landing during the Artemis 3 mission in 2025 — the first humans on the Moon’s surface in more than a half century.
While Lunar Starship funding is likely to consume the bulk of the HLS budget in 2023, a second provider is expected to be awarded a separate contract in early 2023 to develop vehicles for the sustainability phase of NASA’s Moon ambitions.
NASA expects to release a draft request for proposals in early April and a final request for proposals by late spring. The agency said the contract would include additional requirements for sustained exploration.
Companies such as Blue Origin and Dynetics are likely to bid for the new contract, both of which competed against SpaceX for the first contract.
Whichever company is awarded this second development contract, the plan is also for an uncrewed and crewed landing, likely in the 2027-2028 time frame.
While SpaceX isn’t allowed to compete in this new contract, it will have the ability to develop another crewed lander using the same sustainability requirements under the “Option B” provision of the original HLS contract. It would also be required to perform a second crewed demonstration landing.
Following these demonstrations, contracts would be awarded to SpaceX and a second company for an average of one human Moon mission per year. This would likely be done similarly to how NASA awards contracts for commercial crew rotation missions to the ISS.
Artemis program lunar exploration goals
Beyond Artemis 3, NASA expects the next human Moon mission, Artemis 4, to occur in 2027. It would begin delivering additional components to the Lunar Gateway, which is expected to see its first two modules launched atop a Falcon Heavy in 2024.
Artemis 5 would see the second human landing in the 21st century.
Once initial capabilities are tested and established — the Orion spacecraft, Block 1B SLS, the Lunar Gateway — NASA appears to have several phases for its lunar architecture buildup.
First, once Gateway is active, it’d start being used as a rendezvous point for the Human Landing System. It’d also see the addition of a third-generation robotic arm built by Canada — Canadarm3.
Moreover, commercial cargo landers would begin landing heavier equipment to the lunar south pole, such as an unpressurized Lunar Transportation Vehicle.
Once these are in place and regular commercial lending services are established, the Gateway would double as a rendezvous point for refueling, be it for itself or for reusable human landers.
During this phase, the Gateway would continue to be built up, adding more science, communications and viewing capabilities.
Meanwhile on the surface, a pressurized rover would likely be delivered to the south pole site as well as the first permanent surface habitat. Both of these would allow for extended stays and the leveraging of extracted resources.
After all of these are in place, NASA hopes to use Gateway and the Artemis base came for various simulations for Mars missions.
The agency has said in the past that this could include a mock mission traveling to the Gateway to stay for about six months, land on the lunar surface for a period of time, and return to the Gateway for an additional six months before returning to Earth. During all this time, communications delays could be implemented to simulate light delay.
All of this infrastructure and capabilities buildup is also expected to occur alongside a series of uncrewed commercial science missions to the lunar surface. This is scheduled to begin this year with one or two missions under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.
More than just deep space human exploration
As exciting as the Artemis program is, NASA has additional large programs that it is maintaining and developing. This includes the continued operation of the International Space Station and the development of commercial low Earth orbit destinations to succeed the outpost, which has some modules that are currently nearly a quarter century old.
Recently the ISS was approved to be extended to at least 2030 with the goal of fostering a commercial low Earth orbit market and help with planning for future deep space missions. The plan is to deorbit the outpost by 2031.
Overall, the ISS program is proposing a budget of about $1.3 billion for station operations in 2023 and $1.8 billion for crew and cargo transportation. Development of future commercial space stations is proposed to receive $224 million.
Combined with various other research programs and ground operations, NASA’s space operations budget, which includes the ISS and commercial space station development, is requesting $4.3 billion.
The president’s budget request also allocates $1.4 billion for space technology development, including solar electric propulsion and on-orbit satellite servicing demonstration missions.
Science under the fiscal year 2023 budget proposal would receive roughly $8 billion. This includes $2.4 billion for Earth science, $3.2 billion for planetary science (including Mars mission operations and spacecraft development), $1.6 for astrophysics (including Hubble and James Webb Space Telescope operations), $797 million for heliophysics and $100 million for biological and physical sciences.
Aeronautics is proposed to receive $972 million; STEM engagement at $150 million; safety, security and mission services at $3.2 billion; construction at $424 million; and NASA’s Inspector General at $48 million.
With the exception of a slight increase in the science budget as well as in construction and safety, security and mission services, all areas of NASA’s non-Artemis budget remained similar to the president’s fiscal year 2022 budget, which asked Congress for $24.8 billion and received only $24 billion.
The process going forward
These numbers, in particular for NASA’s Artemis program, are generous in these economic times. However, it’s ultimately up to Congress as to what the agency ultimately receives.
While the fiscal year 2023 budget starts on Oct. 1, 2022, Congress in recent years has failed to pass a budget on time, forcing lawmakers to pass several continuing resolutions that fund the government at the previous-year’s levels for specific periods of time. If these aren’t done, a government shutdown occurs, similar to what happened for 35 days at the end of 2018 and early 2019.
Sometimes multiple continuing resolutions are passed before lawmakers agree on a budget. The budget for 2022 wasn’t actually passed by Congress and signed by the president until March of this year, nearly six months into the fiscal year.
Both chambers of Congress — the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate — have to pass a budget that each side can agree on before it is sent to the president for his signature.
Ideally this would be done by Sept. 30, but recent history, combined with the fact that this is an election year, suggests more continuing resolutions are likely.
But regardless, it appears that support for the Artemis program and its various parts more-or-less has bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, as well as the president.
Unless something dramatic changes, progress with the Artemis program is likely to continue, even if the inevitable delay occurs from time to time.
In the president’s fiscal year 2023 budget request for NASA is also a four-year budget outlook for the agency. According to the document, the space agency appears to hope for increases of about $500 million a year over the current budget through 2027.
Video courtesy of NASA
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.