FY15 Funding for Heliophysics

Credit: SpaceNews graphic by Lance H. Marburger

You probably heard NASA’s name come up several times during the coverage about the so-called “CRomnibus” funding bill that made its way through Congress a couple of weeks ago. While many media outlets highlighted the sizable increase of $530 million that NASA received, it’s important to note that those funds were increases over the FY15 request, not the current (FY14) budget.

In reality, the FY15 request from President Obama (and NASA) actually would have reduced the overall budget for the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) by $179 million. Now, usually any reduction in science funding is bad, but in this case it actually would have favored the Heliophysics Division, which would have received a proposed $14.9 million increase in its budget. In fact, Heliophysics was the only division that would have seen a funding increase (as opposed to a cut) in the proposed FY15 budget. Perhaps this was NASA’s attempt to underscore the importance of heliophysics research. Apparently, however, that point didn’t stick with legislators who approved only about half of the proposed increase ($8.2 million), resulting in a 1.25% increase over FY14. They also disregarded the budget reductions that were suggested for the Planetary Science and Astrophysics divisions, instead allocating an additional $109.6 million that increased funding by 6.9% and 2.51% over FY14, respectively.

The table below shows an overview of funding from FY14 as well as the requested and passed budgets for FY15 for the divisions of NASA SMD. Data is from Spacepolicyonline.com, NASA, and U.S. House of Representatives. The text from the section of the final version of the bill that regards to NASA can be downloaded here (see pages 30-35).

NASA Science Division FY14 Enacted FY15 Requested (+/- FY14) FY15 ENACTED (+/- FY14)
Earth Science $1,826.0 $1,770.3

(-$55.7, -3.05%)

$1,772.5

(-$53.5, -2.93%)

Planetary Science $1,345.0 $1,280.3

(-$64.7, -4.81%)

$1,437.8

(+$92.8, +6.90%)

Astrophysics $668.0 $607.3

(-$60.7, -9.09%)

$684.8

(+$16.8, +2.51%)

James Webb Space Telescope $658.2 $645.4

(-$12.8, -1.94%)

$645.4

(-$12.8, -1.94%)

Heliophysics $654.0 $668.9

(+$14.9, +2.28%)

$662.2

(+$8.2, 1.25%)

Total $5,151.2 $4,972.2

(-$179, -3.47%)

$5,202.7

(+$51.5, +1.00%)

So while it’s nice that Congress overruled the President (and NASA) on their decision to reduce the overall funding to SMD (and ultimately add an additional $51.5 million), it hurts that it came at the expense of what would have been a welcomed sizable increase to Heliophysics. An ideal situation would have been the increases to Planetary and Astrophysics coming in addition to the proposed $14.9 million increase to Heliophysics. In the end, it could have been better for Heliophysics, but it certainly could have been worse as well.

The real unfortunate thing for heliophysics researchers and the many industries that rely on well-funded study and understanding of the Sun-Earth environment is that Heliophysics remains funded at half or less than the other SMD divisions. However, the FY15 request might serve as a beacon of hope that NASA might be ready to shift its priorities and increase support to Heliophysics in the future.

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