WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. House of Representatives narrowly approved a $1.09 trillion appropriations bill Dec. 8 that freezes overall U.S. federal discretionary spending at 2010 levels but provides a slight increase for NASA and more money for the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) the agency is building on behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The House passed the bill, H.R. 3082, 212 to 206. The measure, a so-called continuing resolution that would keep the U.S. government operating at 2010 spending levels through most of next year, costing taxpayers $45.9 billion less than the 2011 budget U.S. President Barack Obama had proposed.

The bill now goes to the Senate where Democrats plan to offer a more ambitious omnibus spending bill as an amendment to H.R. 3082. If the Senate passes H.R. 3082 as is, or at least adopts the bill's NASA provisions, the space agency would receive $18.91 billion for 2011. [Poll: Weigh in on NASA's New Direction]

While that is $186 million more than NASA received for 2010, it is $90 million less than Obama had requested for the agency.

NASA and the rest of the federal government have been operating since October — the start of the government's 2011 budget year — under a short-term continuing resolution set to expire Dec. 18.

The House measure also directs NASA to begin developing the core elements and upper stage of a heavy-lift launch vehicle capable of lifting at least 130 metric tons to orbit and provides $1.8 billion for the effort in 2011. Development of the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle — which Obama initially proposed canceling before directing NASA to restyle it as a space station lifeboat — would continue with $1.2 billion included in the bill.

H.R. 3082 also finally clears NASA to cancel the moon-bound Constellation program and establish a commercial crew initiative in its place, something NASA has been forbidden to do by restrictions Congress included in last year's spending measure.

Meanwhile, a congressional source said Dec. 9 that JPSS, the civilian successor to the dismantled National Polar-orbiting Operational Satellite System, would get a total of $796 million for 2011 under H.R. 3082. While that is a $414 million increase over 2010 levels, it is more than $200 million short of what the Obama administration had sought for the program.

This article was reprinted with permission from SPACE.com.

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