EDWARDS AFB — The Trump administration’s $21 billion budget re­quest for 2020 for NASA is about the same as the budget enacted for the current fiscal year and is intended to further the space agency’s plans to return to the moon as a stepping stone to Mars.

The budget request “is strong and we have strong bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Monday in a presentation from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

While the overall theme for NASA this year and over the next dec­ade is “Moon to Mars,” Bri­denstine opened his pres­entation with a dif­fer­ent area of NASA ac­tiv­ities, one close to the Naval aviator’s heart: aer­onautics research.

The programs he high­lighted will use the flight test expertise of NASA’s Armstrong Flight Re­search Center at Ed­wards Air Force Base, the agency’s primary at­mos­pheric flight test facility and long-time home to experimental aircraft.

The center is slated for a $308.7 million budget for 2020 under the budget request released Monday.

“It was exciting to hear him talk about us before launching into Moon to Mars,” Deputy Center Director Pat Stoliker said at Armstrong on Monday. “Our budget is good and the work they’re asking us to do is as exciting as we’ve done in my career.”

The X-59 Low-boom Flight Demonstration pro­gram will use an ex­per­i­men­tal airplane de­signed to produce a qui­et­er sonic boom when fly­ing su­per­sonic to test tol­er­an­ces for those on the ground and to hopefully pave the way for commercial passenger supersonic flights over land, what Bridenstine termed as “transformative” for the way we fly.

“We have been plowing through the atmosphere at .6 Mach for 70 years, and I think it’s time we changed that, and the X-59 is our tool to do just that,” he said.

The data generated by the program will be used to help craft regulations to allow supersonic flight over land.

“We’re going to be able to go from one side of the United States to the other side of the United States in a couple of hours,” he said.

The program, which is preparing for the X-59 first flight in 2021, is fully fund­ed in the 2020 pro­posed budget.

A second X-plane pre­par­ing for flight testing at Armstrong is the X-57 Max­well, a demonstrator for future all-electric pro­pul­sion aircraft to carry cargo and passengers.

“That means we can drive down the costs of trans­porting people and cargo from one place to anoth­er, up to and in some cases over 60%,” Bri­den­stine said. This may open up commercial flights to areas not served by making it less expensive.

The X-57 itself is at Scaled Composites in Mo­ja­ve, where the electric pro­pul­sion system is being integrated, and is expected to arrive at Armstrong later this year. It will un­der­go about six months to a year of ground testing be­fore taking to the skies for its first flight, Stoliker said.

Getting from here to there more efficiently is also the mission of sup­port­ing urban air mobility con­cepts, small aircraft fly­ing without pilots on board to move cargo and pas­sen­gers from one side of a city to another, “just like you would drive a car,” he said.

NASA Armstrong is aid­ing in this development, in­clu­­ding how to integrate these safely into the air­space.

These projects are part of the nearly $667 million pro­posed budget for the agen­cy’s aeronautics pro­grams.

While the aeronautics bud­get has seen growth in re­cent years, plans for a pro­gram of X-planes pro­posed three years ago has slowed somewhat from orig­in­ally planned, Sto­liker said.

While atmospheric flight test remains an important part of Armstrong’s mis­sion, comprising about half its portfolio, the center’s ex­per­tise contributes to other NASA missions, in­clu­ding the Moon to Mars quest.

For example, the ex­per­tise in test flight in­stru­men­tation is being used in development of the Orion space capsule, in testing of the launch abort systems, and the center’s fiber optic strain gauges are used on the propellant tanks for the launch system, Stoliker said.

Armstrong also is host to  the Flight Opportunities pro­gram, which matches tech­nology developers with sub­orbital space vehicles to provide realistic testing en­vi­ronments to develop the capabilities that will one day be launched into space.

The center is also home to the Stratospheric Ob­ser­vatory For Infrared As­tron­omy, or SOFIA, a flying telescope that astronomers are using to delve into the origins of the universe, and a number of Earth Science programs using aircraft platforms to study our own world.

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