NASA's 2019 budget request formalizes the agency's handover of human-spaceflight activities in low-Earth orbit to private industry, in favor of a shift toward the moon.
The budget request, which was released today (Feb. 12), allocates about $19.9 billion to NASA, an increase of $370 million over last year's request. The proposal zeroes out funding for the International Space Station (ISS) in 2025 and allocates $150 million "to encourage development of new commercial low-Earth orbital platforms and capabilities for use by the private sector and NASA," according to the agency's budget overview.
The ISS could theoretically survive beyond 2025, if someone else picks up the tab; the budget request does not mention de-orbiting the $100 billion station when the government money runs out. [From Ike to Trump: Presidential Visions for Space Exploration]
The newly unveiled request gives some more details about NASA's plans to return astronauts to the moon, a focus that President Donald Trump made official with the signing of "Space Policy Directive 1" in December.
If all goes according to plan, the agency will launch a "power and propulsion space tug," a component of NASA's planned outpost in near-moon space, in 2022. And astronauts will launch on a mission around the moon, using the agency's Orion capsule and Space Launch System megarocket, in 2023.
The budget request "reflects the administration's confidence that America will lead the way back to the moon and take the next giant leap from where we made that first small step for humanity nearly 50 years ago," NASA acting administrator Robert Lightfoot said today in a "State of NASA" address at the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.