The final version of a fiscal year 2016 spending bill will provide NASA with nearly $19.3 billion, funding most agency programs at or above the administration’s original request.
The omnibus spending bill, released by House and Senate appropriators early Dec. 16 after extended negotiations, allocates $19.285 billion to NASA for fiscal year 2016. That total is $756 million above the administration’s requested budget and the total provided the agency in a House spending bill passed in August. It is nearly $1 billion above a Senate bill that appropriators approved in June but was never passed by the full Senate.
That increased spending, enabled by a budget bill passed in October that raised overall spending caps for discretionary programs, allowed appropriators to avoid long-standing debates about agency spending priorities by funding most programs at, or in some cases well above, the administration’s request.
One big winner in the bill is the Space Launch System. The heavy-lift launch vehicle receives $2 billion in the omnibus spending bill, nearly 50 percent more than administration’s request of $1.36 billion and higher than levels in the House and Senate bills.
The report accompanying the spending bill requires that NASA spend not less than $85 million of the SLS funding on an “enhanced upper stage,” a reference to the Exploration Upper Stage NASA has planned to use on the first crewed SLS mission and subsequent flights. Agency officials have previously raised questions about whether that new upper stage could be ready in time for that mission. However, the increased funding, and a prohibition on spending funding to human-rate the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage that will be used on the first SLS mission, is intended to address that.
Another agency program winning a significant budget increase is NASA’s planetary sciences program. The omnibus bill provides $1.631 billion for the program, $270 million above the administration’s request and $74 million above the House bill.
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