Trump said to propose roughly $3 billion NASA budget boost for 2021

Darrell Etherington

President Donald Trump is set to request a budget of $25.6 billion for NASA for its fiscal 2021 operating year, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. It's looking for nearly $3 billion more than the $22.6 billion NASA had for its current fiscal year, and the bulk of the new funding is said to be earmarked for development of new human lunar landers.

This represents one of the single largest proposed budget increases for NASA in a couple of decades, but reflects Trump's renewed commitment to the agency's efforts as expressed during the State of the Union address he presented on February 4, during which he included a request to Congress to "fully fund the Artemis program to ensure that the next man and first woman on the Moon will be American astronauts."

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has frequently repeated the agency's goal of sending the first American woman and the next American man to the surface of the Moon by 2024, a timeline the current mission cadence of the Artemis program is designed against. Bridenstine has previously discussed esimated total costs for getting back to the Moon by 2024 between $20 billion and $30 billion, and the Administrator was pressed by a House Appropriations Subcommittee late last year about a $1.6 billion late-stage add-on request for the agency's fiscal 2020 budget.

The WSJ also reports that NASA will be looking to solicit bids on lunar landers as part of its 2021 budgetary plans, which echoes its previous efforts with the launch vehicles for the Artemis program. NASA is already working with a host of commercial partners on an authorized vendor list for robotic, uncrewed lunar lander mission to deliver experiments and supplies to the lunar surface starting in 2021.

NASA released a broad agency announcement for industry comment regarding a human lander system for Artemis last July, along with a revised version in August. It opened a call for formal proposals in September 2019. A couple of winners for a human-rated lander to carry NASA astronauts are expected, with the agency saying that by the time the first company completes its lander for the 2024 landing, the second company will support another mission in 2025, with potential competitors vying for the prize including legacy companies like Boeing and newer entrants like SpaceX and Blue Origin.

Trump is set to submit his administration's budget on February 10.