The James Webb Space Telescope is intended as the successor to Hubble, which is now more than 25 years old. Hubble was last services during one of the final Space Shuttle missions, and there are no plans to make another visit. When it stops working, that will be the end of the mission. The JWST was already supposed to be in space at this point, but it’s a complicated project costing more than $8 billion to date. NASA wants to get it right, and that has led to the latest delay.
The appropriations bill gives NASA $20.736 billion for the 2018 fiscal year, which started more than five and a half months ago. That is more than $1.6 billion above the administration’s original request of $19.092 billion. A House appropriations bill offered NASA $19.872 billion and its Senate counterpart $19.529 billion. An overarching two-year budget deal reached earlier this year raised spending caps for both defense and non-defense programs, freeing up additional funding.
NASA has selected 128 proposals from American small businesses to advance research and technology in Phase II of its 2017 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. These selections support NASA's future space exploration missions, while also benefiting the U.S. economy.
At the first National Space Council meeting in October, Pence emphasized that the U.S. will "win the 21st century in space," laying out a plan to focus on human spaceflight and get astronauts back to the moon. At today's meeting, hosted at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, he talked about the path toward that goal and brought in several panelists who supported loosening regulations to allow for more innovation from private spaceflight companies.
Sending astronauts back to the moon is one of the top space priorities of President Trump. But his administration wants to accomplish that without giving NASA additional money, and it won’t occur until after he leaves office, even if he wins re-election. Instead, it aims to give the private sector a greater role, according to a budget proposal to be released on Monday.
SpaceX, the private space company founded by billionaire Elon Musk, successfully launched the most powerful commercial rocket in the world on Tuesday. The Falcon Heavy, launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, took off with double the power of the world's next most powerful rocket, United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Delta IV Heavy.
The administration genuinely appears to be motivated to accomplish real human space exploration goals within its term of office. It remains unclear, however, whether a sufficient budget will actually be allotted to enable execution of its ambitious policy, either in whole or in part. Federal budgets are challenging—and will be for the foreseeable future--but there is an extremely compelling reason why the administration should go “all in” on this plan and propose a budget that will enable the United States to aggressively move forward.
The basic outline of this mission was presented in mid-December at American Geophysical Union conference in New Orleans. JPL’s Anthony Freeman called the plan “nebulous,” noting that the mission doesn’t even have a name yet. The goal is to launch the as-yet theoretical probe in 2069, the one-hundred year anniversary of the moon landing. The design of the craft, launch vehicle, and propulsion system all remain unknowns.
President Trump in a White House ceremony on Monday signed a new directive aimed at sending U.S. astronauts back to the moon -- one that, while short on details, the administration insisted will restore the U.S. to its role as a leader in space exploration and help spur job growth.