Parallels in NASA’s 2018 Strategic Plan and FY 2019 Budgets

Published: March 07, 2018

BudgetInformation TechnologyNASA

Enhanced private sector partnerships, human exploration in a return to the Moon and missions to Mars and advanced aeronautics are the resounding themes through NASA’s 2018 Strategic Plan and FY 2019 discretionary and IT budgets.

NASA released its strategic plan for 2018-2021 which, understandably, highlights key themes also seen throughout the agency’s FY 2019 budgets. The goal of the plan is to help achieve NASA’s vision “to discover and expand knowledge for the benefit of humanity.”

The plan begins by outlining three strategic themes for the department:

  • Discover: NASA’s enduring purpose of scientific discovery
  • Explore: NASA’s push to expand the boundaries of human presence in space
  • Develop: NASA’s broad mandate to promote the technologies of tomorrow
  • Enable: Capabilities, workforce and facilities that allow NASA to achieve its mission

The plan then proceeds to list four strategic goals to achieve its mission, each with underlying objectives:

  • Goal 1: Expand Human Knowledge through New Scientific Discoveries
    • Objective 1.1: Understand The Sun, Earth, Solar System, And Universe
    • Objective 1.2: Understand Responses of Physical and Biological Systems to Spaceflight
  • Goal 2: Extend Human Presence Deeper into Space and to the Moon for Sustainable Long-Term Exploration and Utilization
    • Objective 2.1: Lay the Foundation for America to Maintain a Constant Human Presence in Low Earth Orbit Enabled by a Commercial Market
    • Objective 2.2: Conduct Human Exploration in Deep Space, Including to the Surface of the Moon
  • Goal 3: Address National Challenges and Catalyze Economic Growth
    • Objective 3.1: Develop and Transfer Revolutionary Technologies to Enable Exploration Capabilities for NASA and the Nation
    • Objective 3.2: Transform Aviation through Revolutionary Technology Research, Development, and Transfer
    • Strategic Objective 3.3: Inspire and Engage the Public in Aeronautics, Space, and Science
  • Goal 4: Optimize Capabilities and Operations
    • Objective 4.1: Engage in Partnership Strategies
    • Objective 4.2: Enable Space Access and Services
    • Objective 4.3: Assure Safety and Mission Success
    • Objective 4.4: Manage Human Capital
    • Objective 4.5: Ensure Enterprise Protection
    • Objective 4.6: Sustain Infrastructure Capabilities and Operations

Aligned with these goals and objectives is a bit of a shift from previous priorities as the plan describes more focus in space, particularly deep space, exploration, enhanced partnerships with the private sector and research into cutting-edge technologies surrounding aeronautics.

Deep Space Exploration

The strategic plan states that NASA will make use of the International Space Station (ISS) for systems, methods and options to safely send and bring back astronaut crews in both lunar and Martian missions. The research done on the ISS will center on how humans adapt to space environment and the technologies needed for deep space missions.

Likewise, NASA’s FY 2019 discretionary budget dedicates $10.5B, 53% of the agency’s total budget, specifically for human exploration and related activities. The budget states that crewless flights to the moon will take place in 2020 with Americans on the Moon around 2023 and multiple missions to Mars thereafter. Budget accounts were also changed and renamed within the FY 2019 request to coincide with this commitment to deep space exploration. For instance, the Exploration account was renamed the Deep Space Exploration Systems account and the Space Operations account to the LEO (Low-Earth Orbit) and Space Flight Operations account.

Within the FY 2019 IT budget, the most obvious correlation to deep space exploration is a $15M increase from FY 2017 under the Exoplanet Exploration investment, a 24% increase for a total $25M IT project.

Heavy Reliance on the Private Sector

Moreover, the 2018-2021 plan states that the agency will begin to heavily incorporate private sector innovation and commercialization into NASA missions. These partnerships will allow the agency to better focus on new initiatives, strengthen science and engineering capabilities and produce efficiency to its missions.

For example, the FY 2019 budget proposes to end direct funding for the ISS by 2025 through partnerships with industry to continue development in commercial low-orbital platforms. The discretionary budget further states that NASA plans to task commercial industry to submit formal proposals, with market analysis and business plans, for these low-orbit capabilities. Additionally, the budget reveals further reliance on the commercial space industry in areas such as space transport and the NASA’s Space Network.


Finally, the strategic plan states that the agency will focus on leading technologies that will advance improved air transportation safety and efficiencies through research advances in aeronautics.

In particular, the discretionary budget allots $634M to the Aeronautics account. The funding is to complete design review of the Low Boom Flight Demonstrator X-plane for quiet, overhead supersonic flight, a potential new market in the U.S. economy. Furthermore, the budget increases funding for hypersonic research to enhance the design and development of hypersonic vehicles.

Accordingly, the IT budget provides a notable $10M boost from FY 2017 levels under the Integrated Aviation Systems Program for a total budget of $13M in FY 2019. The investment is described as “flight-oriented, system-level research and technology development to effectively mature and transition advanced aeronautic technologies into future air vehicles and operational systems.”

In his opening letter within NASA’s strategic plan, Robert Lightfoot Jr., the agency’s acting administrator, state that the document provides “a lean and focused portfolio of fundamental and applied research [that] allows engineers and scientists across the globe to seek and discover solutions for the safety and betterment of all.” With goals of deep space exploration, industry commercialization of agency programs, and aeronautics research and development, it will be exciting to see how the agency will continue to carry its future goals!