Status Report

CBO Study: A Budgetary Analysis of NASA’s New Vision for Space Exploration

By SpaceRef Editor
September 6, 2004
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CBO Study: A Budgetary Analysis of NASA’s New Vision for Space Exploration

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NASA-CBO budget

September 2004


President Bush’s new vision for human and robotic
exploration of the solar system, which he first articulated
in January of this year, has shifted the main focus of the
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
to, initially, returning people to the moon and, later,
sending human missions to Mars and beyond. Following
the President’s announcement, NASA released its budget
request for fiscal year 2005 and its budget projection,
which forecasts budgetary requirements through 2020.
Relative to previous plans, that request and projection
would significantly reorient the agency’s programs to
achieve the goals of the space exploration vision.

This Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study assesses
the implications that those plans might have for the content
and schedule of NASA’s future activities as well as the
funding that might be needed to execute them. CBO developed
estimates of how the costs to carry out NASA’s
plans for space exploration might differ from its current
budget projection and then assessed potential budgetary
or programmatic options that might be available to address
such cost differences. In addition, CBO examined
options for the continued operation of the space shuttle
and the United States’ participation in the International
Space Station (ISS), two programs that would be significantly
affected by NASA’s proposed program changes.

NASA’s Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2005

To help describe its plans for implementing the President’s
vision for the nation’s space exploration program,
NASA has projected its anticipated funding needs
through 2020—11 years longer than the five-year projection
that usually accompanies its budget requests (see
Summary Box 1). CBO’s analysis is based largely on that
projection, which included the following elements:

  • Completing construction of the International Space Station and retiring the space shuttle by 2010;
  • Developing a new crew exploration vehicle (CEV) for human missions into space, with initial test flights carried out by 2008 and a first crewed mission no later than 2014;
  • Relying on international partners for access to the ISS during the period between the shuttle’s retirement and the start of CEV operations;
  • Resuming robotic missions to the moon starting around 2008 and continuing robotic missions to Mars; and
  • B Returning U.S. astronauts to the moon sometime during the 2015-2020 period. (NASA’s projected budget incorporates the assumption that a first crewed lunar landing will occur in 2020 but does not include explicit plans or schedules for establishing a lunar base or for sending astronauts to Mars. However, the agency proposes to allocate $2.2 billion during the 2018-2020 period to prepare for human missions beyond the first human lunar return landing.)

In realigning its activities to achieve those objectives,
NASA has made significant changes relative to its budget
request for 2004 and the associated five-year projection.
For example, under the new plan, four existing programs
will each experience cuts of more than $1 billion between
2005 and 2009 (see Summary Table 1). Six programs will
receive additional funding of at least $1 billion; five of
them are closely related to the new exploration initiative.
The change for the sixth—an increase of $1.2 billion for
the ISS—is intended to adjust NASA’s activities to reflect
the reorientation of U.S. science research on the space

NASA expects to achieve the new objectives established
for the exploration mission within overall budget levels
through 2020 that are little changed (in inflationadjusted,
or real, terms) from those of today (see Summary
Figure 1). In NASA’s five-year projection, for 2005
through 2009, funding that is directly related to supporting
those new objectives totals over $14 billion, the majority
of which would come from reallocating $11 billion
of the total $84 billion that NASA has projected for its
budget over that period. The other $3 billion would consist
of funding for existing programs whose activities support
NASA’s new plan plus $1.24 billion in new funding
requested for the period. In real terms, those new funds
would represent an increase of 1.5 percent in NASA’s
planned budget relative to the 2004 plan.

Beyond its five-year plan, NASA’s projection through
2020 incorporated the assumption that the growth of
overall funding would be limited to inflation of about 2
percent per year. Over the 2010-2020 period, the significant
rise projected in annual funding for exploration missions—
from about $4 billion in 2010 to over $9 billion
in 2020—would be made possible primarily by retiring
the space shuttle in 2010 and ending ISS activities in
2017. (Under the 2004 plan, the shuttle was expected to
continue operating at least through 2015 and the ISS, at
least through 2017.)

SpaceRef staff editor.