WASHINGTON — NASA’s fiscal year 2019 proposal will likely set up another showdown between NASA and Congress regarding the Europa Clipper mission , debating not only when to launch the spacecraft but also how.The 2019 budget proposal, released Feb. 12, offers $264.7 million for the mission, which would send the spacecraft into orbit around Jupiter and make dozens of flybys of Europa, the potentially habitable icy moon of the giant planet. That’s down from the $425 million the administration requested for the mission in 2018.Congress has yet to pass a final appropriations bill for fiscal year 2018, more than four and a half months into the current year. The mission received $237.4 million in 2017, and a House version of a 2018 appropriations bill provided $495 million to be shared by Europa Clipper and a follow-on lander that is still in an early phase of studies. That bill came out of the commerce, justice and science appropriations subcommittee, whose chairman, Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), is a vigorous advocate for missions to Europa.
The projections for future spending for the mission, included in the 2019 budget proposal, do not foresee significant increases. They call for another decrease, to $200 million, in 2020, then rising to about $360 million per year from 2021 through 2023. [Related: Europa Lander Mission Shut Out Again in 2019 NASA Budget Request]Despite that funding profile, the budget proposal moves up the launch of the mission by a year from previous agency plans. “The budget allows us to pull the Europa Clipper in,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s planetary science division, in a presentation at a meeting of the Planetary Science Advisory Committee here Feb. 21. “Last year’s budget said we would be able to launch it in 2026. Now we have the funding necessary for us to be to launch it in 2025.”