White House makes low Earth orbit research a research priority

The White House Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy jointly released a memo that outlines research and development budget priorities.

White House makes low Earth orbit research a research priority
White House makes low Earth orbit research a research priority

White House makes low Earth orbit research a research priority

As NASA struggles to win congressional support for its LEO commercialization initiative, a White House document has included low Earth orbit research “on new platforms” as a research and development priority for the administration.

The White House Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy jointly released a memo that outlines research and development budget priorities. One of the biggest changes in the memo, is the addition of a line in the two-paragraph section about space dealing with LEO research.

It states that Microgravity research in biological and physical science on new platforms in Low Earth Orbit is important to enabling longer duration human missions in space and may have practical benefits to life on Earth.

NASA officials have argued that this strategy will help stimulate both development of economic platforms in LEO as well as demand for them. The agency’s long-term goal is to be one among many purchasers of future commercial space stations in LEO, completing research without the overhead of operating the ISS.

Congress, though, has not been convinced. NASA requested $150 million for LEO commercialization in its fiscal year 2020 budget proposal last year, but Congress ultimately appropriated only $15 million for that effort.

Doug Loverro, at the time NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations said in April that Congress is definitely telling them that they have not done a good job yet of outlining their vision. He believes that they have not done a good job yet of convincing them of the things that they believe they need to do.

The overall document identifies the opposite research and development priorities as public health and safety, “industries of the future” like AI and 5G wireless communications, security, and energy and therefore the environment. While the general public health priority specifically discusses work on treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 amid the continued pandemic, the memo states that industries of the longer term “remain the Administration’s top R&D priority.”