President Joe Biden is asking NASA for $26 billion for 2023, about $2 billion more than the space agency has received for the current fiscal year, according to budget documents recently released by the White House. If passed as is, a third of that budget would go to NASA’s Artemis program – the agency’s ambitious initiative to return humans to the moon.
About $7.5 billion is being set aside for Artemis, which aims to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon as soon as 2025. Part of this funding will go towards the development of a new lunar lander capable of take humans to and from the lunar surface – a recent addition to Artemis’ master plan.
To get humans back to the Moon, NASA worked on three key pieces of hardware. The first two include a mega-rocket called Space Launch System, or SLS, and a crew capsule called Orion. The pair have been in development for a decade and are designed to work together to take humans to the vicinity of the Moon. The third essential item needed to complete the journey is a lunar lander. Last year, NASA awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to develop the company’s new Starship vehicle into a lander for Artemis.
However, just last week, NASA announced plans to partner with another commercial company to develop a second lunar lander. The agency originally wanted to select two companies to build human landing systems for Artemis, but was forced to choose only one after receiving only a fraction of the funding it requested from Congress. Now NASA is asking for funds for the second moon it wanted all along. About $1.486 billion is allocated to human landing systems, according to NASA’s own budget documents, although the documents do not specify funding for individual landers.
Meanwhile, $779 million is earmarked to develop NASA’s Lunar Gateway, a new space station the agency hopes to build in orbit around the Moon. Eventually, the Gateway is intended to serve as a hub for the Artemis program where astronauts can live and train before descending to the lunar surface. The first element of the gateway is supposed to be launched in 2024 at the earliest.
In addition to hardware for human missions, the new budget request calls for an additional $486 million to fund robotic lunar missions to better understand the Moon’s terrain. One such mission includes the VIPER rover to “investigate ice deposits that could provide future astronauts with fuel and oxygen.” Some of that funding will also go to NASA’s established partnerships with private companies like Intuitive Machines and Astrobotic, which are sending robotic landers to the Moon starting this year.
In addition to Artemis, the White House is setting aside $224 million to encourage the development of new commercial space stations in low Earth orbit, where the International Space Station is currently located. Late last year, the Biden administration announced plans to continue ISS operations until 2030. But eventually that program will end, and the agency wants private space stations ready. as alternate destinations for astronauts when the time comes.
To complicate matters, Russia has only agreed to continue operating the ISS until 2024. The lifespan of the ISS beyond that date has also come into question lately, with the Russia’s continued invasion of Ukraine. After the United States sanctioned Russia for the invasion, the head of Russia’s space program made hostile threats about the possibility of ending the country’s partnership on the ISS program. Since the space station is designed to be jointly managed by Russia and the United States, leaving the country after 2024 could potentially end the ISS prematurely. As NASA began the process of partnership with three private companies to develop space stationsthese projects will probably be ready in several years.
Also in this budget, nearly $8 billion is earmarked for science, including $2.4 billion for Earth sciences and the study of climate change with satellites in orbit around the planet. The White House is calling for the creation of a new Earth System Observatory with the new satellite missions to be funded, providing a “three-dimensional, holistic view of Earth needed to better understand natural hazards and climate change.” NASA is also tasked with improving its monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions and sharing that data with other agencies.
Meanwhile, $822 million is set aside for NASA to work to recover samples from Mars. Last year, the agency successfully landed its Perseverance rover on the Red Planet, a robot designed to collect samples of Martian terrain and leave them on the planet’s surface. Now NASA is working with Lockheed Martin and the European Space Agency to develop a suite of vehicles that can bring these samples back to Earth so scientists can study them in more detail and potentially understand if Mars once hosted life.
NASA has included a breakdown of the budget request for its individual programs, which you can read here.