NASA Budget, Current Funding, History, and Economic Impact

How $1 Spent on NASA Adds $10 to the Economy

Astronaut in space
•••  Photo by NASA via Getty Images

The National Aeronautic Space Administration budget for fiscal year 2020 is $21 billion. It's a 1.4% increase over FY 2019.

The U.S. government funds NASA using federal revenue from income, corporate, and other taxes. The Trump administration plans to increase funding by encouraging public-private partnerships. The budget provides incentives for businesses to partner with the government on space station operations, deep-space exploration, and small satellite groups. For example, there is a $150 million program to encourage private development of low-Earth orbit missions. 

SpaceX, Orbital ATK, and Sierra Nevada are involved with making supply runs to the shuttle. SpaceX and Boeing are developing crew capsules to fly astronauts to the space station in 2018. Axiom Space in Houston is working on the world's first commercial space station.

NASA will take a more active role in commercializing new space technologies. Many of its new initiatives have military and business applications. NASA will fund a supersonic X-plane and increase hypersonics research funding. It will also improve air traffic management systems and strengthen cybersecurity capabilities.

The budget focuses funding for the Space Launch System rocket to carry astronauts to the moon in the early 2020s. NASA will also send robotic missions to the moon's surface, and establish a lunar space tug in 2022. The space agency will use robots to visit Mars in 2020, and to fly by Jupiter's moon Europa.

NASA manages the satellite imagery of Earth. It will work with a growing U.S. commercial satellite servicing industry. Other areas of the Earth Science budget are being cut by $102 million. These include research grants and the Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite. 

NASA continues its program to replace the aging Hubble Space Telescope with the new James Webb Space Telescope.

To fund new projects, the Budget defunds the WFIRST space telescope, two Earth science missions, and the Office of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Engagement.  In 2019, it ended five missions that study the Earth and the effects of greenhouse gases.

Why Every Dollar Spent on NASA Adds $10 to the Economy

report by the Space Foundation estimated that activities related to space contributed $180 billion to the economy in 2005. More than 60 percent of this came from commercial goods and services created by companies related to space technology. The space economy includes commercial space products and services. It also includes commercial infrastructure and support industries. It also counts aerospace budgets in private companies. 

The space economy also includes U.S. government space budgets outside of NASA. Here are eight of them.

  1. Department of Defense
  2. National Reconnaissance Office
  3. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  4. Department of Energy
  5. Federal Aviation Administration
  6. National Science Foundation
  7. Federal Communications Commission
  8. United States Geological Survey

That means that each dollar of NASA spending is a catalyst for $10 of economic benefit. NASA is in a unique position to provide some of the technological innovation that drives the space economy. NASA research led to many of the goods and services we take for granted every day. These include weather and communication satellites. That allowed ATM machines, which provide an immediate electronic response via satellite. It also allows GPS, which was developed by the Air Force for military applications. Other technologies developed for exploring space are now used to increase crop yields or search for good fishing regions.

A 2002 study by Professor H.R. Hertzfeld of George Washington University showed one way NASA helps the economy. Hertzfeld observed a significant return to companies that work with NASA on its research contracts. These companies can commercialize the products developed and market them. The 15 companies studied received $1.5 billion in benefits from a NASA R&D investment of $64 million.

Small businesses didn't receive as much benefit because they didn't have the ability to market the technology on a larger scale. The study concludes that NASA could create a greater economic advantage by continuing the relationship with the companies they work with. NASA could also help open additional financial and marketing doors for these companies.

These benefits trickle down to everyday life. Since 1976, NASA created 1,400 inventions that later became products or services. These include kidney dialysis machines, CAT scanners and even freeze-dried food.

Compare NASA's Budget to Other Departments

For all it does, NASA receives just 0.4% of the $4.7 trillion FY 2020 federal budget. Compare that to the Department of Defense. Its budget is $750 billion, or 16% of the total. DoD's budget would pay for 35 NASA departments.

NASA also receives less than any of these other six departments.

  • Health and Human Services – $89.6 billion.
  • Veterans Administration – $93.1 billion.
  • Education – $62 billion.
  • Homeland Security – $51.7 billion
  • Housing and Urban Development – $37.6 billion.
  • State Department – $42.8 billion. 

Budget History Since FY 1998

NASA's budget continues to grow because it is so popular. In FY 2017, Congress appropriated more than President Obama asked for. NASA's budget was cut during the 2008 financial crisis and during sequestration. Despite this growth, the federal government has spent less on NASA since its beginning than it spent on the 2008 bank bailout

  • FY 2019 - $20.7 billion. President Trump requested $19.5 billion. Congress allocated more.
  • FY 2018 - $19.5 billion. Trump requested $19.1 billion.
  • FY 2017 - $19.2 billion. President Obama requested $18.3 billion.
  • FY 2016 - $19.3 billion. Obama requested $18.5 billion.
  • FY 2015 - $18.0 billion.
  • FY 2014 - $17.6 billion.
  • FY 2013 - $16.9 billion. Obama requested $17.7 billion. All programs were cut to comply with sequestration.
  • FY 2012 - $17.8 billion appropriated by Congress. President Obama requested $18.7 billion.
  • FY 2011 - $18.4 billion. Obama requested $19 billion.
  • FY 2010 - $18.7 billion.
  • FY 2009 - $18.8 billion. One billion came from ARRA funding. President Bush requested $17.6 billion.
  • FY 2008 - $17.1 billion. Bush requested $17.3 billion. Congress cut programs in response to the financial crisis.
  • FY 2007 - $16.2 billion. Bush requested $16.8 billion.
  • FY 2006 - $16.3 billion
  • FY 2005 - $16.1 billion.
  • FY 2004 - $15.4 billion
  • FY 2003 - $15.3 billion.
  • FY 2002 - $14.8 billion.
  • FY 2001 - $14.3 billion.
  • FY 2000 - $13.6 billion.
  • FY 1999 - $13.7 billion.
  • FY 1998 - $13.6 billion.