NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told members of a Senate subcommittee the nation’s proposed $19 billion appropriation would be well spent next year, as the agency and its commercial partners prep for a slew of missions.
Bolden addressed the Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies on March 10 to lay out future spending plans following President Obama’s request to give NASA another $19 billion in fiscal 2017. That’s the same amount as the agency was awarded in a record fiscal 2016 allotment hammered out last month.
“This request … will allow NASA to continue to lead the world in space through a balanced program of exploration, science, technology, and aeronautics research,” Bolden told the bipartisan panel.
New proposals for the next fiscal cycle include development funding of a new x-plane, planned as the latest in a series of experimental military aircrafts. Bolden also gave an update on plans for new deep-space missions including a Mars journey — possibly as early as 2018 — a resumption of U.S.-led astronaut shuttles in 2017 and this year’ Juno and Cassini probe missions around Jupiter and Saturn, respectively.
Additionally, he touted commercial partners such as SpaceX and Orbital ATK, and their support of U.S. missions to the International Space Station, set to continue at least through 2024.
“Both companies have worked closely with NASA to understand the anomalies they experienced over the last year and a half,” Bolden said in a veiled reference to the companies’ high-profile rocket explosions during ISS cargo missions.
He noted NASA recently added Sierra Nevada Corp. as a third contractor on the cargo shuttles. And he stressed the value to the agency of the new Space Launch System, a deep-space rocket under development by NASA and Boeing, Aerojet Rocketdyne and others. SLS is designed to carry the new Orion spacecraft, a crew ship also in development.
“We will also continue to invest in exploration research and development that will make future missions safer, more reliable, and more affordable. NASA’s initial deep-space mission,” Bolden said. “The NASA-industry teams building SLS and Orion have made tremendous progress over the last year in building and testing vehicle components.”
Other development projects include what the agency has dubbed its Asteroid Redirect Mission.
“This will include a robotic mission that will remove a multi-ton boulder from a target asteroid and use solar-electric propulsion to move the boulder into lunar orbit,” the agency administrator explained.” A human mission using the SLS and Orion vehicles will then rendezvous with and take samples from this asteroidal mass.
“The mission demonstrates the use of advanced solar-electric propulsion, automated rendezvous and complex crew operations in the proving ground of lunar orbit, and improves NASA’s ability to identify and respond to potentially dangerous asteroids.”
Bolden also put in a good word for NASA’s satellite-based science missions to study an array of space, environmental and technical areas.
The Senate subcommittee plans to continue its hearings on NASA’s 2017 budget request in the weeks and months ahead.