NASA Proposes $27 Billion Budget

NASA is proposing a $27 billion budget for next fiscal year, nearly $2 billion more than what was enacted for fiscal year 2023. Deep space exploration and the Artemis programs command nearly $8 billion of the budget and science programs command about $8.3 billion. The programs requesting the largest amounts of funding include the major Artemis-related efforts, such as the Space Launch System and the Human Landing System and Planetary missions such as Mars Sample Return and the Jupiter moon explorer, Europa. While this is a significant increase, NASA is still finding itself prioritizing missions in light of cost increases and resource constraints.

One of the most significant upcoming science missions is the Mars Sample Return joint endeavor between NASA and the European Space Agency, estimated to launch in 2028. Preliminary costs range from $3.4 billion to $4.9 billion, but NASA reports in its budget submission that it is still looking at potential descopes to lower costs.

A new Venus exploration project known as VERITAS was delayed by 3 years in order to shift resources–including workforce–to other projects such as Mars Sample Return; Psyche, an asteroid mission whose launch was delayed last year because of technical difficulties; and the $2.5 billion Europa mission, which NASA says needs additional funding due to significant COVID impacts and to accommodate increased estimates for operations. VERITAS will map the surface of Venus to determine its geologic history and understand why it developed so different than Earth. NASA also proposes a 2-year delay of the NEO Surveyor mission to support these missions. NEO Surveyor will detect and assess near earth objectives. NASA has been slow to move on the project despite pressures from Congress and others.

Additional sources of NASA’s budget data and analyses:

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Space Program Costs

As you consider the President’s budget, keep in mind the ultimate costs of programs. Here is a list I put together based on GAO reports.

How do these projects compare to other programs like ships and aircraft? Here is a broader list.

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SLS and the Artemis I Mission….Successful First Flight!

This illustration shows NASA’s new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), in its Block 1 crew vehicle configuration that will send astronauts to the Moon on the Artemis missions. For the rocket’s first flight on the Artemis I mission, it will send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft in an orbit beyond the Moon. (Photo from

Well, it looks like the Artemis I mission has finally happened! After more than 10 years of development, the Space Launch System rocket and Orion Crew Capsule, were successfully launched November 16, 2022. The launch and the subsequent uncrewed 25-day flight of Orion demonstrated that SLS and Orion can operate in a spaceflight environment. The next step will be a first flight with crew on Artemis II, now scheduled for 2024. The long-term goal of Artemis is to build a sustainable human presence on the Moon to prepare for missions to Mars.

SLS, Orion, and supporting ground systems, such as a renovated Vertical Assembly Building and a new Mobile Launch System, are among NASA’s most expensive and challenged efforts. The programs collectively cost at least $30 billion–about $5 billion more planned–and the first launch is about 4 years late. Moreover, NASA is expected to spend more than $90 billion for the first five Artemis missions. Though there are concerns about costs, contracts, technologies, management, oversight, and the future direction of these programs, the programs have managed to maintain support from Congress and three Administrations for more than decade. Further, first flight does not mark the end of development. NASA is building a second mobile launcher, for instance, as well as a new upper stage for SLS.

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JWST Is Stunning All of Us

By peering into a well-known star cluster within the Small Magellanic Cloud, Webb’s NIRCam instrument has revealed many new pockets of star formation that have never been seen. Photo from the Space Telescope Institute.

The awesome first images of the James Webb Telescope have been stunning the world, grabbing front page headlines, trending on twitter, and ushering in a new golden age for astronomy. As a Director for the Government Accountability Office (before retiring in 2020), I had the privilege of leading Congress’ yearly oversight reviews of the James Webb Telescope for nearly a decade. These reviews were requested after the program was nearly canceled because of cost and schedule overruns.

I watched the James Webb team contend with one vexing challenge after another–from the cyrocooler (with approximately 33 feet of refrigerant lines) that encountered so many difficulties in the early phases, to the endless problems in manufacturing a sun shield the size of a football field (the layers were so thin and seemingly fragile…I thought they would rip for sure in the unfurling), to the loose bolts that kept the program from reaching the finish line for many months to come. While we worried about technical problems, cost estimates, schedule delays, quality slips, and the many single points of potential failure after launch, I was always impressed with how the team persevered, working through technical or design problems while concurrently dealing with a plethora of stakeholders, inside and outside NASA (us included). And then there was COVID, at the very end, with all the extra supply chain, facility, and workforce dilemmas it presented.

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NASA’s Next Big Telescope

While the science community awaits the first images from the James Webb Telescope, NASA’s next big telescope is moving from the design phase into fabrication with the goal of being launched in 2027. The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope–formerly known as the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST)–will investigate long-standing astronomical mysteries, such as the force behind the universe’s accelerate expansion, and search for distant planets beyond our solar system. According to NASA, Roman will unravel the secrets of dark energy and dark matter, search for and image exoplanets and explore many topics in infrared astrophysics. At present, Roman is contending with delivery delays for the Wide Field Instrument’s optical prism, delays in delivery of the instrument carrier structure due to manufacturing issues, and failures with restraint release actuators on the spacecraft. Analysts are worried about risks going forward.

Image of Nancy Grace Roman Telescope from NASA
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NASA’s Most Expensive Projects Continue to Struggle with Cost Overruns and Schedule Delays

The Government Accountability Office has reported that NASA’s major projects in development have seen cumulative cost overruns of about $12 billion and cumulative schedule delays of 28 years. Just three projects—the James Webb Space Telescope, Space Launch System, and Orion—are responsible for more than three-quarters of the cost growth and almost half of the delays, according to the GAO. These shocking numbers may decrease in GAO’s next report (expected in the spring of 2023), as the James Webb telescope is now operational. On the other hand, a growing portfolio of human spaceflight projects, including a new Mobile Launcher, a new outpost in lunar orbit known as Gateway, new space suits, and landers, will likely see cost increases and schedule delays as they progress further into development. While GAO has recognized there are inherent risks in spacecraft development, it has also identified management shortcomings that exacerbate the challenges projects already face.

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NASA Struggling with Construction of Second Artemis Mobile Launcher

NASA’s Inspector General recently came to some scathing conclusions about the effort to build a second mobile launcher to support future launches of the Space Launch System. “In the nearly 3 years since NASA awarded the ML-2 contract, Bechtel (the primary contractor) has experienced numerous challenges, resulting in projected (contract) costs more than doubling to $960.1 million and the delivery schedule slipping at least 2.5 years to October 2025. NASA finds itself in this precarious position because the contractor severely underestimated the scope and complexity of the project, from labor hours to material and equipment costs to subcontracting,” the IG said.

The Mobile Launcher carries the Space Launch System from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the launch pad on top of the Crawler. (Photo from
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Weather satellites

Weather satellites do not get as much space media attention as human space programs, the growth of commercial space, the new Space Force, or even Elon’s tweets. But there is a lot of money going into weather and like, DOD and NASA, NOAA is looking at diversifying architectures and increasing resilience. Here is a snapshot of budget and total costs for the largest civil programs. 

From NOAA’s budget submission

The $18.2 billion total cost for polar weather satellites may seem shocking. Yet it is just $3 billion more than was predicted for the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) program, a joint NOAA/NASA/DOD effort which was canceled in 2010 in the face of significant cost overruns and a schedule delay of over 5 years. After the cancellation, NOAA undertook the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS). The cost of the Suomi NPP satellite, which was originally to be a technology demonstration under NPOESS, is included in the $18.2 billion. There were several efforts started and stopped on the DOD side after NPOESS, but it is now pursuing the Weather System Follow-on program and additional sensors.

GOES-T was launched in March 2022 (Photo from NOAA)
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