Senate passes NASA budget that slashes environment spending


Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.

While keeping NASA’s overall budget the same, the Senate has passed a NASA budget bill that will slash NASA’s environmental spending and pass the money to other programs within the agency.

The budget zeros out all budget items dedicated to climate research. The budget also outlines a number of important space policy approaches that are now endorsed by Congress:

  • Commercial crew and cargo are fully supported
  • Privatizing ISS is encouraged
  • Congress reaffirms its support of SLS and Orion
  • NASA is asked to prep Orion for ISS flights, using other rockets
  • NASA is tasked to create a roadmap for reaching Mars
  • The Mars roadmap is not restricted to using SLS or Orion
  • An alternative to Obama’s asteroid redirect mission is requested
  • Funding is provided to pay for astronaut health needs
  • NASA science is to focus on astronomy, planets, exoplanets, asteroids, aviation, and space technology

It is expected that the House will also pass the bill, and that Trump will sign it.

I also expect that most of NASA’s climate work will now be shifted to NOAA, under new management. Thus, the climate budgets are adjusted, and the people in charge are changed. A nice way to drain the swamp.

11 comments

  • Tom Billings

    “I also expect that most of NASA’s climate work will now be shifted to NOAA, under new management. Thus, the climate budgets are adjusted, and the people in charge are changed. A nice way to drain the swamp.”

    NOAA has its own imbroglios with climate research, as shown by the Karl study disputes. However, adding a new separate group to NOAA that is willing to fund both sides of the debate would be a positive step. Heading it with a strong lukewarmer like Bjorn Lomborg would be useful. Unfortunately, Judith Curry has declared herself *not* available for public service.

  • LocalFluff

    YipeeIKEA! From Earth to Earth, away with the climate “science”!
    But the rest is a disappointment.

    Privatizing the ISS won’t happen, not as in someone else taking it over.
    Orion for LEO? Orion on other launchers? That doesn’t work. That’s a clean mistake.
    And a V.A. to pay for astronaut health needs.

    “NASA science is to focus on astronomy, planets, exoplanets, asteroids, aviation, and space technology”
    Oh no, only that!? I had hopped they’d focus on beeglebugs too. Better luck next time.

  • diane wilson

    Does NOAA have any expertise in designing, building, launching, and operating satellites?

    Aside from concerns about NOAA’s climate studies, there are Earth observation programs that need continued expertise, as well as reliable replacement of current satellites. Weather, land use, crop surveys, etc. Ah well, maybe those should have been shifted over to USDA.

    From an engineering perspective, what would be involved in launching Orion on a Falcon Heavy?

  • Diane Wilson asked, “Does NOAA have any expertise in designing, building, launching, and operating satellites?”

    Yes, though in recent years they have not done well at it. They have been designing, building, launching, and operating American weather satellites since the late 1960s, and have also launched many Sun observation satellites. It would be entirely appropriate to give NOAA the job of climate research, though the agency requires a shake-up nonetheless. Their weather satellite effort in recent years has routinely gone over budget with frequent delays.

    As for launching Orion on a Falcon Heavy, I discussed this during my Batchelor podcast, already taped and to be posted later tonight. The question is whether the diameter of Orion can fit in a Falcon 9 shroud, since Falcon Heavy is really nothing more than a Falcon 9 with three first stages. I do not yet know the answer to this question.

  • mkent

    Robert Zimmerman says, “They have been designing, building, launching, and operating American weather satellites since the late 1960s…”

    Operating, yes, but the designing, building, and launching has been done by (or done by contractors overseen by) NASA. The satellites are then turned over to NOAA after on-orbit checkout.

    Transferring the effort to NOAA may still work, but it would require also transferring over budget, personnel, and perhaps facilities as well.

  • mpthompson

    Robert, when you say “whether the diameter of Orion can fit in a Falcon 9 shroud” are you asking whether Orion can fit within the payload fairing used for satellites? If so, I don’t think a fairing would be used as it would eliminate use of the Orion launch abort system. Instead, the Orion with a diameter of about 5 meters would need some type of adapter to fit the diameter of the Falcon second stage at 3.7 meters.

  • mpthompson: You are correct. Rather than a shroud, Orion must be made to fit with the diameter of Falcon’s second stage, a question that remains open at this moment.

  • mkent: I do not think you are correct. While in the early days weather satellites were built by NASA and turned over to NOAA, since the 1970s I am pretty sure that NOAA has been building its own.

    Even if I am wrong, shifting personal from NASA to NOAA would allow for a much needed shake-up in both agencies, since NOAA has not been doing this job well in recent years.

  • LocalFluff

    NOAA Earth observing satellite, taking a very close look at Earth (yes, it is flat!):
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:NOAA-N%27_accident.jpg

    As for launching Orion, I don’t understand why anyone would want to do that.

  • Erkforbee

    I hear tales from an ex-NOAA employee that the place is highly politically fraught; a hell-hole if you are not of the in-group.

  • Edward

    Although NOAA hires contractors to build their satellites, NOAA sets the requirements and manages the contracts. Multiple agencies can get involved, however. I worked on a set of solar x-ray telescopes (SXI) for NASA, but they flew on NOAA GOES satellites, mounted to a solar array yoke so as to point at the sun. The Defense Plant Representative Office (DPRO, now known as the Defense Contract Management Agency, or DCMA) were the on-site inspectors for the project.

    My understanding is that NOAA issues space weather notices and solar flare alerts (CME alerts, coronal mass ejections) that are generated by analysis of these telescope images, and NASA manages the science that comes from the analysis of these images.

    Robert wrote: “Diane Wilson asked, ‘Does NOAA have any expertise in designing, building, launching, and operating satellites?’
    Yes, though in recent years they have not done well at it.

    Diane,
    I believe that Robert means that, in the past, the manufacture of next-generation satellites have experienced delays that have left the US with gaps in coverage, resulting in leasing other satellites as well as temporary reductions in forecasting ability. There was a time when the forecast dropped from five days to three days. Today we enjoy a ten day forecast, though it may be adjusted as that tenth day approaches.

    Also, Diane, you may recall that Robert occasionally reports on the progress of the privatization of weather data, reducing the number of satellites that NOAA will design, build, and launch in the future. Whether they eventually buy all of their satellite data from commercial sources is yet to be seen. I suspect that the competition among providers will bring more advanced weather data to NOAA sooner and avoid gaps in data better than if they had their own committee(s) set the requirements for future sets of satellites. I believe that it is for these reasons that Congress has encouraged the use of commercial satellite operators for spaceborne weather data.

    LocalFluff,
    Nice picture. I worked for that company both before and after that accident, but not when it occurred. I was impressed with the reaction of increased training and emphasis on accident prevention, error prevention, and safety of all kinds, not just prevention of a repeat of that one incident.

    They may have gone overboard on the training, including annual fire extinguisher training (online), but a year or two before the accident you showed, I worked in a clean-room where a powder fire extinguisher was used on an electrical fire on ground support electrical cables at the spacecraft connectors. Powder is not such a good idea in a clean-room, and the fire extinguisher had been located in an indoor area just outside the clean-room in case of a grease fire at that outside location.

    The company that I worked at when that picture was taken had had an identical dropped-satellite accident only a few of months before I started working there. I was not as impressed with that company’s reaction, which seemed to be that the same accident couldn’t happen again, because everyone would be watchful for the same conditions — but they weren’t. I believe that with an attitude like that, they will continue to have preventable accidents.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *