NASA Appropriations – Focus on the Future
October 8, 2019
The innovations of the next 30 years will drive the way we move, connect, explore, and defend our nation. From a return to the moon and leap to Mars, to quiet and efficient supersonic flight, our future will be defined by our advances in space and aeronautics. Just as it’s done for more than 60 years, NASA, in partnership with the aerospace industry, is poised to make these game-changing developments possible. But they will need a unified commitment from the Administration and Congress to American leadership and superiority in space – a commitment dependent on robust, sustained funding.
AIA and our nearly 340 member companies are encouraged by Congress’ emerging commitment for NASA’s fiscal year 2020 appropriation. We commend the House of Representatives for passing the then-highest NASA appropriation in history earlier this year and the Senate Appropriations Committee for unanimously passing the highest NASA appropriation in history last week. These bills could form the basis of the sustained strategic vision that is needed across all of NASA’s programs.
Back to the Moon
Like the grand vision of the Apollo program 50 years ago, the Artemis program looks to challenge and inspire us once again. The return of American astronauts, including the first woman, to the lunar surface will be the start of a sustained human presence by the United States beyond low Earth orbit. But this is far easier said than done. To succeed in meeting its targeted launch date of 2024, NASA will need a continued commitment to its national spaceflight programs and significant investments in its human space flight and exploration spending. These investments should include the Space Launch System, concurrent development of the Exploration Upper (EUS) stage to meet the Artemis-3 mission launch date in 2024, the Orion spacecraft, and the Gateway – all with international partnerships. As with many past programs, the success or failure of Artemis will hinge on our willingness to fund this historic endeavor in the coming fiscal year and beyond.
NASA’s continuing mission is not just one of space exploration. The agency also conducts crucial research in space science. Three key investments can enable near-term success in these fields: the construction and launch of the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, the development of a new subsonic X-Plane demonstrating increased energy efficiency and decreased life cycle emissions, and funding for launch procurement of low-cost, dedicated orbital flights for small scientific payloads using emerging “small launch” capabilities. These are just a few examples of programs that will ensure American scientific research and aerospace manufacturing remain at the forefront of ever-growing global competition.
New Means to Explore
For America’s exploration of the final frontier, new space transportation propulsion methods must be established. One developing technology with great potential is a solar electric propulsion transfer vehicle. Another example is nuclear thermal propulsion, which was first developed in the late 1960s. Nuclear thermal propulsion promises an engine that will drive American space exploration across our solar system in timeframes currently unobtainable. Investment in these types of game-changing technologies are vital for future inter-planetary exploration.
The American aerospace industry is unmatched on the global stage, in part, because of NASA’s inspirational endeavors. But our competitors grow by the day, and NASA’s funding must grow to meet these challenges. Thankfully, Congress has taken the initial steps. Now it’s time to get a bipartisan and bicameral bill signed by the president, so we can make the critical investments today that will unlock the potential of aerospace tomorrow.