Trump Administration Redirects NASA to Lunar Exploration Focus with $19.9 Billion Budget Proposal for FY 2019, Cancels WFIRST Astronomy Satellite

Artists concept of NASA’s proposed Lunar
Orbital Platform-Gateway
for human crewed missions to deep space, targeting the first element launch in 2022
. Credit: NASA

Ken Kremer 
—  —   13 Feb 2018

FL- The Trump Administration is charting a new course for
NASA that redirects the space agency to focus on Lunar exploration as a near
term goal and thereby extend a human presence into deep space that will
eventually lead to missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond – as part of the key strategic
announcement that President Trump is proposing in the Fiscal Year 2019 Budget request of $19.9 Billion. 
The proposed
FY 2019 budget maintains funding for many high priority NASA programs currently
underway such as the development of the new heavy lift Space Launch System (SLS)
rocket and Orion crew capsule for human missions to deep space, the Boeing
Starliner and SpaceX Dragon commercial crew space taxis for human missions to
low Earth orbit and the International Space Station (ISS) as well as robotic
missions to Mars and Europa.  
The budget
proposal calls for jump starting the Lunar initiative by building a mini space
station in lunar orbit named the “Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway.”  The first element – a power and propulsion
module – would launch in 2022.   NASA
will also begin developing a series of small robotic commercial lunar landers
that eventually will lead to a human lunar lander.
contrast, the future of the ISS and its world class science program is in serious doubt and the flagship class WFIRST (Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope) astronomy
science mission launching in the mid 2020s as a follow on to the JWST would be cancelled

The Fiscal Year 2019 Budget request of $19.9 Billion announced
by NASA’s acting administrator Robert Lightfoot on Feb. 12 represents an increase
of about $400 million over the 2018 budget. That
amounts to barely a 2% increase over FY 2018.

“The President’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2019 released
today provides $19.9 billion for NASA,” said Robert Lightfoot, NASA’s acting administrator, during the
Feb. 12 ‘State of NASA’ speech at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in
Huntsville, Alabama, outlining the agency’s budget, strategy and priorities in
the coming year and beyond.  Marshall is agency’s
lead rocket development center
 “It’s a
$400 million increase in terms what we’ve had, that we’re working to right now
as an agency.
It reflects the Administration’s confidence that America
will lead the way back to the Moon and take the next giant leap from where we made
that first small step for humanity nearly 50 years ago.”
“This budget focuses NASA on its core exploration mission.”
The FY 2019 budget includes $10.5 Billion “to lead an
innovative and sustainable campaign of exploration and lead the return of
humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization followed by human
missions to Mars and other destinations,” according to the accompanying NASA budget
“We are once again on a path to return to the Moon with an
eye toward Mars,” said Lightfoot.
The first combined launch of SLS and Orion on the unpiloted
EM-1 mission will take place in 2020 from the Kennedy Space Center followed by the
first crewed mission on EM-2 which will send American astronauts to the Moon in
 “The first
integrated launch of the [SLS/Orion] system is in fiscal year 2020 around the
Moon and a mission with crew in 2023,” said Lightfoot. 
EM-2 “will be the first human mission to the moon since
Apollo 17 in 1972, and will establish U.S. leadership in cislunar space.”

Orion EM-1 crew module under construction at NASA’s Kennedy
Space Center in Florida is targeted to launch in FY 2020 atop first SLS rocket
from Launch Complex-39A.  
Credit: Ken

Lightfoot also announced that NASA would build a mini space
station orbiting the Moon named ‘Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway’ starting in
“In lunar orbit around the Moon, we also will begin to
build the in-space infrastructure for long-term exploration development of our nearest
neighbor by launching the power and propulsion element in 2022 to orbit the
Moon as the foundation of a Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway,” Lightfoot stated.
The FY 2019 NASA budget proposal includes $504
million for the Lunar Orbital Platform – Gateway.
“This will give us a strategic presence in the lunar
vicinity that will drive our activity with commercial and international
partners and help us further explore the Moon and its resources and translate that
experience toward human missions to Mars.”
The power and propulsion module would be launched on a
commercial rocket rather that the SLS.

Earlier plans to launch it on SLS on EM-2 have changed,
NASA CFO Andrew Hunter told Space UpClose. 

“The power and propulsion element is not on
EM-2 because that’s going to be in 2023,” Hunter
told me during a
briefing with reporters after Lightfoot’s speech.  

actually want an earlier milestone on the power and propulsion element, and
there’s a very good chance it will launch on a commercial launch vehicle,
although we’ll probably look at SLS possibilities as well. It’s a timing issue.
We want to actually get it launched earlier.”

The commercial rocket has not yet been chosen. 

In Nov 2017 NASA chose five U.S.
companies to conduct four-month studies on the power and propulsion element.
They are Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada Corp and Space

However the 2019 also reflects “hard decisions” forced on
NASA because the Trump Administration is offering insufficient funding to continue
other very high priority agency programs such as the ISS and the WFIRST astrophysics mission. 
For example President Trump is proposing to end all US
support for the space station after 2024 and transition it somehow to commercial
partners, read our accompanying story, and to outright cancel WFIRST.  
“We’ll ramp up efforts to transition low-Earth activities
to the commercial sector and end direct federal government support of the
International Space Station in 2025 and begin relying on commercial partners
for our low Earth orbit research and technology demonstration requirements,” Lightfoot
Trump proposes to spend $150 million on unspecified studies
on how to carry out the transition to the undefined privatized commercial
“To that end, this budget proposes a $150 million
investment in 2019 to encourage the U.S. space industry development of capabilities
for Low Earth Orbit either at the ISS or stand-alone that both the private
sector and NASA can use.” 
NASA will also start to “develop a series of progressively
more capable robotic lunar missions to the surface of the moon using innovative
acquisition approaches while meeting national exploration and scientific
“The Science Mission Directorate will lead the initial
lunar exploration efforts in close coordination with the Human Exploration
folks,’ Lightfoot elaborated. 
“The budget proposes $200M in 2019 to jump start scientific
and lunar resource characterization efforts with small landers as our scouts
followed by larger landers that can begin lunar surface mobility and sample
return of lunar resources soon thereafter — potentially through the Lunar
Orbital Platform-Gateway.”  
The ISS enjoys strong bipartisan support and the Administration
decision to halt funding will be fought by members of Congress from both
In essence NASA is being asked to do too much with too
little in the way of FY 2019 funding resources that refocuses NASA on human
lunar exploration while ending federal support of science operations on the ISS
and terminating the top priority WFIRST mission which was to follow up on the
Hubble Space Telescope and James Webb Space Telescope.  

“We had to make some hard decisions as well in Science, and
this budget proposes cancelling the WFIRST mission in astrophysics and
redirects those resources to other Agency priorities,” explained Lightfoot.
WFIRST was the top priority of the last decadel survey in
2010. That means it was NASA’s most important astrophysics space telescope
science project for the coming decade. Killing this mission is another terrible
strike against science by the Trump Administration.

Trump has told NASA to stop all direct federal funding for
the International Space Station (ISS) after 2024 – just over five years from
now – and maybe turn it over to private industry to operate on a commercial
basis or building something entirely new, according to the newly released
Fiscal Year 2019 Budget request for the space agency.  
This extremely shortsighted directive with no real way
forward could have disastrous consequences for US leadership in space and

The International Space Station (ISS) operates in Low Earth
Orbit as a platform for science and a peaceful cooperative effort of five space
agencies comprising 17 countries worldwide. Construction stated in 1998 and it
has been continuously occupied since 2000 – as seen in 2011 after undocking of visiting
Space Shuttle during STS-132 mission. Credit: NASA

Planetary science fared well in the FY 2019 budget with the
newly proposed lunar landers as well as continued support for the Mars 2020 and
Europa Clipper missions being built.

“Robotic exploration of the solar system continues
strongly, with funding in this budget for the next Mars rover launch in 2020, funding
to explore possibilities of returning samples from Mars, and a Europa Clipper
mission to fly repeatedly by Jupiter’s icy ocean moon Europa.”

However there are no
new planetary missions besides the lunar landers. For example the Europa lander
is not funded

Lightfoot concluded his Feb. 12 Marshall speech by saying
he sees a bright future ahead for NASA.
“While we had to make some tough decisions, as we always
have to do, this 2019 budget sets the stage for an exciting decade of the
2020’s where we take our next giant leaps.”  

“Looking back from 2030 – SLS and Orion will be
transporting crews routinely to the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, and they
will be transiting to and from the lunar surface and preparing to move even
further into deep space.”  

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX,
ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK and more
space and mission
reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force
Station, Florida.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing
Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: – –
twitter @ken_kremer –

Ken Kremer

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and more space and mission reports direct from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news. Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics. Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events.

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