FT. IRWIN • President Obama's $3.8 trillion federal budget released Monday shifts funds within NASA to focus on different priorities like construction of a new space telescope and subsidizing private space firms at the expense of planetary exploration.
The changes should not result in cuts to the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex at the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, said Veronica McGregor, a spokesperson for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, which manages the facility.
The Goldstone complex is part of the agency's operations category, not the planetary division that would see cuts, McGregor said. She said the complex's financial picture would be more clear after agency budget meetings in March. The complex, built in 1958, is one of three facilities in the world that track spacecraft throughout the solar system.
Obama's proposed space agency budget entails a large shift within NASA for how the same amount of money is essentially spent. The president proposed cutting $309 million for studying planets this year, with more cuts in future years.
Obama's budget would cut back on planetary exploration, including trips to Mars. After an already mostly built Mars mission in 2013, future journeys to the red planet are eliminated, put on hold or restructured. While the study of planets would be sliced 21 percent, spending for the overall budget and long delayed James Webb Space Telescope would increase 21 percent. The telescope, which may cost $8 billion, is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope and would peer further into the universe and back in time than ever.
The president wants to double the amount of money spent to help private firms develop their own spaceships that could eventually carry astronauts and others to the International Space Station as taxis. This would replace the now retired space shuttle program and the dependence on Russia for rides into orbit.
The president wants to spend $829.7 million to help these companies, but Congress has regularly cut his commercial space proposals. The budget includes the last bit of spending on the retired space shuttles: $71 million.
Much of the spending continues a trend shifting from current space missions to developing the next generation of rockets and capsules for flights out of Earth's orbit to an asteroid or even to Mars. The president proposes an extra $345 million in spending on developing new rocketry and space technology.
That overall proposal includes $1.8 billion for a congressionally mandated large rocket that could carry bigger loads further into space and $1 billion for the Orion crew capsule to take astronauts to new places. A first test flight of the spaceships — without astronauts — could be as early as 2017, with astronauts flying in them no earlier than 2021.
Obama's proposed budget also may not reflect the spending levels Congress ultimately enacts. Congressional Republicans panned the document Monday.
With both parties holding entrenched positions, it is very likely that no solution will be found before the November elections, with both sides preferring to use the debate to score political points.
If that occurs, Congress will probably be back in Washington after the November elections for a lame-duck session.
Lawmakers are facing end-of-the-year deadlines when the Bush-era tax cuts on all taxpayers expire and across-the-board spending cuts will go into effect if lawmakers can't agree on $1.2 trillion in further deficit reduction over the next decade.