The financial road map laid out in President Joe Biden’s budget request for NASA supports greater shared scrutiny of the Earth’s environment to assess climate change, the ambitious Mars Sample Return mission and funding for a large-scale sustainable flight demonstrator aircraft.
That said, NASA’s spending would continue to rise through the 2020s under the Biden administration’s $25.97 billion fiscal 2023 budget request for the space agency submitted to Congress on March 28. The 2023 request represents a $1.93 billion, or 8%, annual increase and another record-high spending plan for science.
- Mars sample-return launch shifts to 2028
- Aeronautics research requests up 10.3%
In a “State of NASA” address from the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson stressed a growing agency commitment to addressing climate change.
“The [fiscal] 2023 budget enables NASA to provide the world with data from its existing fleet of Earth-observing satellites and invest in a future Earth System Observatory [ESO],” Nelson said, referencing a new NASA initiative. That undertaking, which is set to launch by the end of the decade in collaboration with commercial and international partners, includes satellites, instruments and missions focused on generating successive three-dimensional holistic views of interactions among the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and landforms.
While NASA transitions its human exploration focus from the International Space Station to deep space, the agency intends to move its low-Earth-orbit (LEO) astronaut activities to commercial free-flyers beginning in the late 2020s. To support that goal, NASA is seeking $224.3 million for fiscal 2023 under the Space Operations’ Commercial LEO Development budget line, up from the $101.1 million appropriated for 2022.
Looking beyond LEO, the science request for 2023 includes $822 million for the Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission, which will return samples of the Martian surface currently being gathered by NASA’s Perseverance rover to Earth for analysis. The materials could hold evidence of past biological activity on the red planet.
The mission’s complexity has prompted a reevaluation of the cost, previously estimated at $7 billion, and changes in execution that call for two rather than one lander to deliver a rover to gather the samples cached by Perseverance, not to mention a rocket to launch them to a waiting Earth-return Mars orbiter. The projected MSR launch for the landers has shifted from 2026 to 2028, and the planned sample-return date has moved to 2033.
The award of a contract to build a large-scale, sustainable flight demonstrator aircraft is a centerpiece of NASA’s $971.5 million budget request for aeronautics research in fiscal 2023. The request represents an increase of 10.3% over the $880.7 million allocated for aeronautics in the yet-to-be enacted 2022 omnibus spending bill approved by House and Senate appropriations committees in March.
The largest tranche of funding sought in the aeronautics account, at $288.9 million, is for NASA’s Integrated Aviation Systems Program. The funding would support flight testing of the Lockheed Martin X-59 QueSST low-boom flight demonstrator and X-57 Maxwell electric propulsion testbed.
In addition to an award of a contract for the Sustainable Flight Demonstrator to test technologies for ultraefficient and low-carbon single-aisle commercial aircraft, the 2023 request would complete the preliminary design review for at least one of NASA’s two electrified propulsion demonstrators.
The $253.2 million sought for NASA’s Advanced Air Vehicles Program would cover preparations for supersonic community-response flight tests of the X-59 and demonstration of small-core engine technologies for single-aisles. Funding requested also covers electric motor noise modeling and demonstration of automatic transition between a turbojet and dual-mode ramjet in a combined-cycle engine for hypersonic vehicles.