WASHINGTON — NASA is considering cutting the budget of two of its biggest space telescopes as it faces broader spending reductions for its astrophysics programs.
In an Oct. 13 presentation to the National Academies’ Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics, Mark Clampin, director of NASA’s astrophysics division, said he was studying unspecified cuts in the operating budgets of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope to preserve funding for other priorities in the division.
The potential cuts, he said, are driven by the expectation that his division will not receive the full request of nearly $1.56 billion for fiscal year (FY) 2024 because of legislation passed in June that caps non-defense discretionary spending for 2024 at 2023 levels, with only a 1% increase for 2025.
“We’re working with the expectation that FY24 budgets stay at the ’23 levels,” he said. “That means that we have decided to reduce the budget for missions in extended operations, and that is Chandra and Hubble.”
Clampin declined to say how much the budgets of those two observatories would be cut, or specific impacts on them because of the cuts. He indicated the proposed cuts are still being studied, noting that he was able to make a “positive adjustment” for Chandra just in the last week.
Chandra and Hubble are the two most expensive NASA astrophysics missions to operate after the James Webb Space Telescope. NASA requested $93.3 million for Hubble and $68.7 million for Chandra in its fiscal year 2024 budget proposal, in line with past years’ budgets. Combined, they represent a little more than 10% of the fiscal year 2024 budget request for NASA astrophysics.
They are also among the two oldest NASA missions, with Hubble launched in 1990 and Chandra in 1999. Clampin suggested that was a reason for reducing their budgets. “Chandra has a number of issues right now. It’s becoming increasing difficult to operate,” he said…