NASA is considering reducing the budget for the Chandra X-Ray Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope as the space agency grapples with its spending for the upcoming year.
During a presentation at the National Academies’ Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics on Friday, Mark Clampin, director of NASA’s astrophysics division, revealed that he was looking into funding cuts for two of the space agency’s oldest missions, SpaceNews reported.
NASA has been anticipating budget cuts since the deficit reduction legislation went into effect in June, which caps government spending for 2024 at the same level it was at for 2023. The space agency had requested $27.2 billion for its 2024 budget, a 7% increase from 2023. With the Fiscal Responsibility Act, however, NASA will likely not get its full request.
“We’re working with the expectation that FY24 budgets stay at the ’23 levels,” Clampin is quoted in SpaceNews as saying. “That means that we have decided to reduce the budget for missions in extended operations, and that is Chandra and Hubble.”
In July, the Senate Appropriations subcommittee responsible for overseeing NASA’s budget revealed its own proposed NASA budget for 2024, allocating $25.367 billion towards the space agency. That’s a major downgrade from what NASA had hoped to secure, and so the space agency is looking towards two of the most expensive missions that are currently operating.
The Hubble space telescope launched on April 24, 1990, and has cost NASA approximately $16 billion since its inception. The Chandra X-ray observatory launched on July 23, 1999, and has racked up around $913 million since then.
The reason NASA is looking into the budget of those two space telescopes is because they have been running for a long time. “Chandra has a number of issues right now. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to operate,” Clampin said, according to SpaceNews. “While Hubble doesn’t have those issues, it has been operating for a long time and it is a large piece of the astrophysics budget.”
Clampin didn’t clarify how much of the telescopes’ budget would be cut, but said that whatever NASA saved from Hubble and Chandra would go into other astrophysics missions such as the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, which is set to launch in 2026.
NASA has been having a hard time managing its budget, with focus on humanity’s return to the Moon as part of the Artemis program, as well as the ambitious Mars Sample Return mission.
Before the spending cap legislation went into effect, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson described the foreseeable effects of the bill as a “disaster.” The space agency has already had to make some cuts for the original budget request for 2024, namely suspending work on the Geospace Dynamics Constellation, a group of satellites designed to study Earth’s upper atmosphere. Other missions have also suffered as a result of budgeting concerns, such as NASA’s VERITAS mission to Venus, which was delayed indefinitely.
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