IT and Mission Priorities in NASA's FY 2021 Budget
Published: February 26, 2020
The US Space Agency proposes $25.2B in discretionary funding, a 12% increase from the FY 2020 enacted level, and the highest request for additional funding in recent years.
Calling it “one of the strongest budgets in NASA history” by Administrator Jim Bridenstine, the US space agency is requesting $25.2B in discretionary funding, nearly $3B more than the FY 2020 enacted level.
In fact, NASA forecasts its discretionary budget continuously increasing and peaking at $28.1B in FY 2024, driven by the goal of landing the first woman and next man in the South Pole of the Moon by 2024.
FY 2021 Mission Priorities
Within the FY 2021 budget, the Deep Exploration Systems (+$2.7B, $8.8B total) and Exploration Technology (+$478M, $1.6B total) accounts benefit the most in the additional funding. Both appropriation areas significantly encompass NASA’s Moon to Mars initiative – the development and testing of systems for “human spaceflight missions to lunar orbit and surface, eventually leading to Mars,” according to budget documents. Key programs contributing to the ambitious initiative include:
- An additional $3.4B (vs. FY 2019) to develop an integrated Human Landing System (HLS) to transport crew to and from the lunar surface
- Five additional Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) providers
- $407M increase (vs. FY 2019) for the Gateway initiative to support human lunar landings
- $233M budget in Planetary Science to begin planning the Mars Ice Mapper
- Supports the launch of the Europa Clipper as early as 2024
- Additional prize competitions and challenges, and increased stakeholder participation in relation to innovative space technologies, particularly for entry into the Martian atmosphere
The below chart provides further insight into the Moon to Mars distribution among NASA accounts, between FY 2019 to FY 2025:
Aside from the Moon to Mars initiative, additional FY 2021 mission priorities include the FY 2021 budget preparation for the launch of the James Web Telescope in 2021, and construction of two new facilities at the Armstrong and Ames Research Centers.
NASA is also in the midst of aligning services under its Safety, Security and Mission Support (SSMS) division, forming a single enterprise business model for the entire agency. Functions such as Financial and Resource Management, Human Capital Management, Communications, Procurement and Information Technology are included in the model, estimated to save the agency almost $1M in FY 2021.
As in previous years, the budget calls for the elimination of several Earth Science and Astrophysics programs, such as Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE), Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) pathfinder and the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, for a total savings of $668M. The budget also terminates the Office of STEM Engagement ($-120M) and operations at the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) airborne observatory ($-80M).
FY 2021 IT Priorities
On the information technology front, NASA’s FY 2021 IT budget requests $2.2B, about $140M less than the FY 2020 enacted level, and is accompanied with a substantial amount investments receiving less funding than the previous year. Nonetheless, NASA IT in FY 2021 is set to bring a continuance of changes across the agency in multiple technology verticals.
In FY 2019, the agency migrated approximately 60,000 email inboxes to Microsoft Office 365. In FY 2020, NASA worked through bringing unauthorized Software as a Service into compliance with FISMA requirements. Building on that, the agency plans to complete the build-out of enhanced computing capabilities with the use of one or more Google Cloud Platforms to integrate with NASA IT infrastructure. The FY 20201 IT budget calls for a 10% increase over FY 2020, for a total of $13M in the Agency Data Center and Cloud investment.
In an effort to streamline and bolster CIO authority across the agency, NASA’s Communications Services Office will be transferred from the Space and Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program to the Office of the Chief Information Officer at SMSS. The Communications Services program focuses on increasingly incorporating commercial communications services into operations. In FY 2020, the program provided voice, video and network services to NASA Centers and missions with a focus on deploying Voice Over IP (VOIP) and Software-Defined Networking (SDN). In FY 2021, NASA will continue agency-wide deployment of SDN, in both data center and cloud, to improve operations. Within the IT budget, nevertheless, the Communications Services and Mission Communication investments face the largest reductions in the agency’s IT budget, $102M combined.
In anticipation for growth in both the data ingest rate and archive volume, various parts of NASA’s Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) is operating in a multiple commercial cloud environment to tackle upcoming high volume needs. The FY 2021 budget calls for a 9% increase under EOSDIS for a total budget of $190M, NASA’s largest IT investment. Furthermore, the agency is piloting a new data governance platform in FY 2020 to, “(1) provide access to financial data across the Agency; (2) create metadata tags for NASA websites to allow easier searching and data mining; (3) use business applications such as Tableau/Power BI for data integration and automation of business processes; and (4) employ IoT (Internet of Things) to help mine data for critical information,” according to agency budget documents. In FY 20201, NASA’s Information Management program will deliver new proficiencies in cataloging NASA datasets, allowing users insight into siloed data and enhancing data re-use capabilities.
For more on the NASA's and other agency FY 2021 Federal Budget Requests, refer to Deltek's FY 2021 Federal Budget Request: Priorities And Opportunities report.