NASA’s $647 Million Starship Budget Reveals Details For Test Flights Beyond IFT-3

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A crucial day in Washington that saw budget releases all over included a $25 billion President’s Budget Request Summary for NASA for the next fiscal year. The figure marks a flat budget for the space agency for the last three years, coming at a time when interest rates remain high along with inflation having made its impact on public and private sector wallets.

NASA’s fiscal year 2025 budget request not only marks 0% growth over the current fiscal year, but it also includes a hefty $2.5 billion drop over the projections for 2025 made in last year’s plans.

NASA Guts Science, Deep Space Exploration In Bid To Keep Budget At Par Next Year

Since its projects operate on a multi year timeline, NASA includes future projections in its budget documents sent to the White House as part of the President’s Request to Congress for approval. Last year’s documents, which asked for funding for the fiscal year that ends in September 2024, earmarked $27.1 billion for the space agency and projected a budget of $27.7 billion for 2025.

Now, with today’s $25.3 billion request for FY 2025, the figures show that NASA has reduced spending across all items on its balance sheet. Its FY 2025 projections had earmarked a cool $8.4 billion for initiatives, including Earth Science and Applied Science, which had cumulatively made the Science division of the agency the largest line item.

The latest budget request slashes this particular line item to $7.5 billion, placing it below the Deep Space Exploration Systems division. This division covers NASA projects such as the world’s largest operational rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), its launch facilities and the Orion spacecraft. All three had a historic 2022 that saw SLS successfully send Orion into an orbit around the Moon.

Breakdown of the rocket and deep space exploration component of the President’s Budget Request for NASA for FY 2025. Image: NASA

Now, Deep Space Exploration is NASA’s largest division in terms of allocations. However, despite this, the division’s budget of $7.6 billion marks a 6% drop over last year’s projections. A deeper dive shows that the Human Landing System (HLS) – NASA’s lunar lander program accounts for $300 million of the $500 million drop in Deep Space Exploration. Other budget cuts include a cumulative $800 reduction in Mission Services and Space Technology.

HLS is a multi billion dollar NASA initiative that has awarded SpaceX and Blue Origin with contracts to land humans on the Moon. SpaceX’s Starship, currently being tested in Texas, and Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lunar lander are the primary contract winners, with SpaceX’s launch expected to take place first. NASA’s FY 2025 budget projections had earmarked $2.2 billion for the HLS program and refrained from further dividing the sub line item. The FY 2025 budget request, on the other hand, asks for $1.89 billion for HLS, which includes $647 million in funds, which is mentioned as “HLS Initial Capability.”

A breakdown of the HLS Initial Capability budget line item. Image: NASA

SpaceX To Test Starship Propellant Transfer Later This Year Outlines President’s NASA Budget Request

According to the budget request, NASA had expected its contract with Blue Origin to cost more, but as Blue Origin’s HLS award was “less than what NASA had estimated in the FY 2024 Budget,” the space agency was able to “realign funding” for “other risks in the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate portfolio without impact to the HLS program.”

Blue Origin’s HLS award had seen its vice president for lunar transportation, John Couluris, share that his company was “contributing over 50% of the total effort to get to not only this mission but to ensure permanence.”

As expected, the new HLS sub line item is dedicated exclusively to SpaceX’s Starship, which is the backbone of the Artemis program. The budget documents reveal that NASA believes that the biggest risk not only to SpaceX’s but also Blue Origin’s HLS architecture is storing and transferring cryogenic propellants for long durations.

HLS Initial Capability supports missions up to Artemis 3, which is planned to be the first crewed lunar landing since the Apollo program. As per the documents, while the third Starship test is slated for early 2024 (SpaceX’s current date is March 14th), the firm will continue to develop “in-orbit fuel transfer capability.

They add that “SpaceX plans to complete several test flights, including the propellant transfer, no earlier than Nov 2024,” with other test objectives being a long-duration flight and the development of uncrewed landing systems.

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