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New White House Budget May Further Delay Launch Of NASA's Space Launch System Rocket

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NASA is scrapping the development of an upgraded version of the Space Launch System with the president's newly released budget request for their fiscal year of 2020. Instead, the space agency will focus on the initial SLS and other rockets.  ( NASA | Marshall Space Flight Center )

The White House's budget request for NASA's fiscal year 2020 has been released on Monday, March 11.

While NASA is optimistic about the budget, it spells significant delays and terminations for a number of the agency's projects, including the development of a new Space Launch System.

The budget request for 2020 provides $21 billion to the space agency, which is more than the budget request in 2019, but is $480 million less than what NASA ultimately received last year, according to Space News.

New Budget Defers Funding of New Space Launch System

One of the casualties of the 2020 budget is the development of an upgraded SLS known as Block 1B version. This version is projected to pave the way for a significantly improved performance of the SLS with the powerful Exploration Upper Stage, which would allow the vehicle to carry more cargo and crew members.

Instead, NASA reveals they will be focusing their resources on the initial version of the SLS and "a reliable annual SLS/Orion flight cadence." The completion Exploration Missions with SLS and Orion are projected through the 2020s.

NASA is now seeking to launch the Europa Clipper mission, which was initially planned to be on the SLS, on a commercial launch vehicle on 2023. This allows the space agency to save over $700 million, Space News reports.

NASA Faces Other Significant Cuts But Remains Positive About Future Accomplishments

While the delayed James Webb Space Telescope is expected to be launched on 2021, the budget proposal reveals that there will be no funding for the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) while the former is still being developed.

The Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission and the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) Pathfinder instrument are also facing termination due to budget cuts, while funding will be restored to the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) and Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 (OCO-3) missions.

Lastly, the budget proposal seeks to end funding for NASA's Office of STEM Engagement, the space agency's education office, and focus its funds on exploration.

Despite the various cuts, the space agency is optimistic about the year ahead.

"President Trump's fiscal year 2020 NASA budget is one of the strongest on record for our storied agency," NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine says in an official statement. "At $21 billion, this budget represents a nearly 6 percent increase over last year's request and comes at a time of constrained resources across the federal government. It also is a huge vote of confidence for all of the agency's hard work and dedication."

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