NASA Budget, Current Funding, History, and Economic Impact

A dollar spent on NASA adds more than $8 to the economy

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

NASA's $22.6 billion budget for fiscal year 2020 is about a 5% increase over FY 2019. This, however, is only a small part of NASA's impact on the U.S. economy and technological advancements that contribute to our everyday lives. NASA partners with multiple private industries, and its research has led to many products and services that go well beyond the scope of space exploration.

Public-Private Partnerships

The U.S. government funds NASA using federal revenue from income, corporate, and other taxes, but the budget also provides incentives for private 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 all are private businesses involved with making supply runs for NASA, and SpaceX and Boeing developed 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 initiatives have military and business applications. NASA will fund a supersonic X-plane and increase hypersonics research funding. It also will 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 also plans to send robotic missions to the moon's surface and establish a lunar space tug in 2022. The space agency intends to use robots to visit Mars in 2020 and to fly by Jupiter's moon Europa.

How NASA Impacts the Economy

A report by the Space Foundation estimated that activities related to space contributed $180 billion to the economy in 2005—more than eight times the department's own budget. More than 60% of this came from commercial goods and services created by companies related to space technology. The space economy includes commercial space products and services, commercial infrastructure, and support industries. It also counts aerospace budgets in private companies. 

The space economy also includes eight U.S. government space budgets outside of NASA:

  • Department of Defense
  • National Reconnaissance Office
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Department of Energy
  • Federal Aviation Administration
  • National Science Foundation
  • Federal Communications Commission
  • United States Geological Survey

How NASA Impacts Technology

NASA research leads to many of the goods and services we take for granted every day, such as weather and communication satellites. Such technology has led specifically to things like GPS devices, based on technology 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 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 research and development investment of $64 million.

Such benefits trickle down to everyday life. From 1976 through 2019, NASA has created more than 2,000 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

NASA receives 0.4% of the $4.8 trillion FY 2020 federal budget. The Department of Defense, by comparison, has a $633.3 billion budget, or 13% of the total.

Six other departments also receive more funding than NASA:

  • Health and Human Services: $105.8 billion
  • Veterans Administration: $92.7 billion
  • Education: $72.2 billion
  • Homeland Security: $48.1 billion
  • Housing and Urban Development: $56.5 billion
  • State Department: $47.7 billion

Budget History Since FY 1998

NASA's budget expanded by more than 52% from 1998 through 2019, and Congress appropriated more money for it during some years than the president even requested. NASA's budget was cut slightly during the 2008 financial crisis and during sequestration. A look at the year-by-year appropriations:

  • FY 2019: $21.5 billion, President Donald Trump requested $19.5 billion, Congress allocated more
  • FY 2018: $19.5 billion, Trump requested $19.1 billion
  • FY 2017: $19.2 billion, President Barack 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, Obama requested $18.7 billion
  • FY 2011: $18.4 billion, Obama requested $19 billion
  • FY 2010: $18.7 billion
  • FY 2009: $18.8 billion, President George W. Bush requested $17.6 billion, an additional $1 billion came from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding
  • 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

Article Sources

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  2. NASA. "FY 2019 Agency Financial Report," Page 9. Accessed Jan. 21, 2020.

  3. NASA. "FY 2020 Budget Estimates Briefing Book," Page 19. Accessed Jan. 21, 2020.

  4. NASA. "FY 2020 Budget Estimates Briefing Book," Page 25. Accessed Jan. 21, 2020.

  5. NASA. "FY 2020 Budget Estimates Briefing Book," Page 7. Accessed Jan. 21, 2020.

  6. NASA. "NASA Administrator Griffin Discusses Value of the Space Economy." Accessed Jan. 21, 2020.

  7. NASA. "FY 2020 Budget Estimates," Pages BUD 1-5. Accessed Jan. 20, 2020.

  8. The Journal of Technology Transfers. "Measuring the Economic Returns From Successful NASA Life Sciences Technology Transfers." Accessed Jan. 21, 2020.

  9. The Journal of Technology Transfer. "Measuring the Economic Returns From Successful NASA Life Sciences Technology Transfers," Page 311. Accessed Jan. 21, 2020.

  10. NASA. "Did You Know That's a NASA Technology?" Accessed Jan. 21, 2020.

  11. U.S. Government. "Fiscal Year 2020 Budget of the U.S. Government," Page 135. Accessed Jan. 21, 2020.

  12. NASA. "Budget Documents, Strategic Plans and Performance Reports." Accessed Jan. 21, 2020.