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 / Updated  / Source: Space.com

WASHINGTON — NASA's 2015 budget would remain essentially flat at $17.5 billion under a White House spending proposal unveiled Tuesday that would hold the line on the agency's biggest space programs while laying the groundwork for major new astrophysics and planetary science missions.

However, a large airborne infrared telescope known as the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) would be grounded unless NASA's partner on the project, the German Aerospace Center, steps up its contribution, a senior agency official said ahead of the budget rollout.

The 2015 NASA budget request seeks about 1 percent less for NASA than what Congress approved for 2014 in an omnibus spending bill signed in January, but $600 million more than what the agency received in 2013, when automatic budget cuts known as sequestration were in full effect. [Video: How NASA Will Spend Your Money in 2015]

As part of the roughly $5 billion Science budget the administration proposed for 2015 — about $180 million less than the 2014 appropriation — NASA's Astrophysics division would get $607 million, $14 million of which would be for preliminary work on the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope: a dark-energy and exoplanet observatory that would utilize one of the two 2.4-meter telescopes donated to NASA by the National Reconnaissance Office in 2012.

Planetary Science, meanwhile, would get nearly $1.3 billion, about $65 million less than Congress approved for 2014. The money would allow NASA to continue work on a new sample-caching Mars rover, based on the Curiosity design, that would launch in 2020. It would also provide $15 million for early work on a robotic mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa that would launch sometime next decade. In 2014, Congress approved about $80 million for Europa mission studies.

The White House's 2015 budget request was released about a month late and sets the stage for a new round of old disputes between the White House and Capitol Hill.

Dan Leone, Space.com

This is a condensed version of a report from LiveScience. Read the full report.

Follow SpaceNews writer Dan Leone on Twitter @SN_Leone. Follow SpaceNews @Space_News_Intl and on Facebook.

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