In NASA's New Budget: Webb Telescope Stays Alive, But Commercial Spaceflight Takes a Hit

A House and Senate Committee keeps the JWST moving forward, but cuts NASA's commercial space budget by half

Full-scale model of James Webb Space Telescope, on display in Munich

The model weighs 12,000 pounds.EADS Astrium

NASA's new budget, approved by a House and Senate conference committee and going before the full House today, will save the over-budget James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). But the allotment for commercial space taxis to ferry crews to and from the International Space Station has been cut in half.

So goes budgeting in the era of austerity. NASA would receive $17.8 billion overall to cover the fiscal year that is already underway as of October 1. That's $684 million less than NASA received last year and $924 million less than President Obama requested for the space agency. It green-lights $3.8 billion for human space exploration activities--$1.8 billion of which would go toward NASA's new heavy-lift rocket while $1.2 would go toward its new deep space crew capsule--and preserves the JWST, provided costs don't spiral beyond $8 billion.

On the science side of things, NASA would receive roughly $155 million more than it got last year for a total of $5.1 billion. About half a billion of that would go toward getting the JWST into space on schedule in 2018.

But for every give there must be a take. President Obama requested $850 million to hurry along the development of commercial spacecraft capable of replacing the space shuttle's principal task of resupplying and re-staffing the ISS. He's getting less than half that--$406 million to be exact.

That could make things tough for NASA's commercial spacecraft development programs. The agency had hoped to keep at least two--and possibly three--companies currently developing spacecraft (those are Boeing, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corp., and Blue Origin) in enough money to continue developing their spaceships. Building spaceships is expensive, and on a budget now halved some tough decisions may have to be made, though NASA has not yet commented on how the bill might affect its spending on commercial space initiatives.