Executive Summary

Observing and accurately predicting Earth’s environment are critical for the health, safety, and prosperity of the nation. The United States invests heavily in making global measurements from satellites and in using these observations to create accurate weather forecasts and warnings, long-term climate records, and a variety of other environmental information products. Major opportunities exist for advances in prediction and in other weather, ocean, and climate information products. Realizing the potential benefits of the investments in satellites requires rapid, efficient transitions of measurement and modeling capabilities developed in the research community to the observing and prediction systems of the operational agencies. In the case of spaceborne environmental measurements, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) conducts research into the development of measurement technologies and analysis techniques. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is responsible for civil operational observing systems and associated products, services, and predictions.

This report examines the NASA-NOAA research-to-operations transition process and provides recommendations for improvements that will lead to more rapid and efficient interagency transitions. The primary finding of the National Research Council’s Committee on NASA-NOAA Transition from Research to Operations is that, while clear examples of successful transitions currently exist, the transition process in general is largely ad hoc. Some transitions are relatively successful, but many are less so, and no mechanism is available to ensure that the transition process in general is efficient and effective. The committee’s primary recommendation is



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Executive Summary Observing and accurately predicting Earth’s environment are critical for the health, safety, and prosperity of the nation. The United States invests heavily in making global measurements from satellites and in using these observations to create accurate weather forecasts and warnings, long-term climate records, and a variety of other environmental information products. Major opportunities exist for advances in prediction and in other weather, ocean, and climate information products. Realizing the potential benefits of the investments in satellites requires rapid, efficient transitions of measurement and modeling capabilities developed in the research community to the observing and prediction systems of the operational agencies. In the case of spaceborne environmental measurements, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) conducts research into the development of measurement technologies and analysis techniques. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is responsible for civil operational observing systems and associated products, services, and predictions. This report examines the NASA-NOAA research-to-operations transition process and provides recommendations for improvements that will lead to more rapid and efficient interagency transitions. The primary finding of the National Research Council’s Committee on NASA-NOAA Transition from Research to Operations is that, while clear examples of successful transitions currently exist, the transition process in general is largely ad hoc. Some transitions are relatively successful, but many are less so, and no mechanism is available to ensure that the transition process in general is efficient and effective. The committee’s primary recommendation is

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that a high-level joint NASA-NOAA planning and coordination office should be established to focus specifically on the transition process. The ability to observe and predict Earth’s environment, including weather, space weather, and climate, and to improve the accuracy of those predictions in a complex society that is ever more dependent on environmental variability and change, has heightened the importance and value of environmental observations and information. These observations, and the predictions on which they are based, are now essential to many components of society—including national defense, industry, policy-making bodies, and the people and institutions that manage natural resources—as well as to the comfort, health, and safety of the public. It is estimated that as much as 40 percent of the $10 trillion U.S. economy is affected by weather and climate annually. Because satellites can observe the entire Earth at relatively low cost, they play an essential role in contributing to the global database that describes the Earth system and that is necessary for prediction. Advances in remote sensing technology and research have put the dream of an Earth Information System (EIS)—which would make available to a myriad of users valuable quantitative digital data about the complete Earth system—within reach in the next few decades. The scientific and technological foundation for the vision of the EIS rests on the opportunity to observe the complete Earth system with unprecedented resolution and accuracy and to assimilate the diverse observations into complex models. Satellites will provide many, though not all, of the future observations required to describe Earth completely. Realizing the vision of the EIS and the predictive capabilities that it supports, however, is neither easy nor guaranteed. It depends on transferring the advances in research and technology—many of which are accomplished by NASA and its university and private sector partners—to useful products, applications, and operations, which are primarily the responsibility of NOAA and the Department of Defense (DOD). How to improve this technology transfer, or “transitioning,” process in the area of weather and climate is the subject of this report. Although the report focuses on weather and climate and on NASA and NOAA, the lessons learned and the recommendations presented here are likely to be relevant to other satellite applications and to other agencies. In the more than 40 years since the launch of the first weather satellite, the Television Infrared Observation Satellite (TIROS-I), on April 1, 1960, there have been many successful transfers of NASA research into NOAA and DOD operations. These successful transfers have led to a steady increase in forecast accuracy and to a variety of beneficial applications for society, including the protection of life and

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property as well as support for commerce, industry, resource management, the military, and personal activities. Along with the successes, however—many of which have occurred in spite of a relatively ad hoc, unplanned, or inefficient process—there have been research missions with opportunities for practical applications that have been slow to be realized or that have gone unrealized altogether. Given the large cost (several billion dollars per year) of research satellites and operational weather and climate services and the increasing importance of and opportunities offered by satellite-based remote sensing, there is an increasing realization that greater attention should be paid to the technology transfer or transitioning process itself, in order to accelerate the rate of return on the research investment. Transition pathways are the end-to-end set of processes assembled for achieving successful transitions. Each pathway requires a strong supporting infrastructure, which consists of a number of building blocks including a solid research foundation, laboratories, equipment, computers, algorithms, models, information technologies, and test beds. Robust and effective transition pathways are needed to bridge the valley of death—that is, the gap that can exist between research and operations for technologies with known applications—and the valley of lost opportunities—that is, unrealized potential in which unforeseen applications of new technologies are missed completely. Bridging the valleys of death and lost opportunities can be done in various ways. It often depends on an appropriate balance between the “push” of new research results and opportunities from the research community and the “pull” from the perceived needs or requirements of the operational community and users. The process is hindered by a variety of obstacles, including these: Cultural differences between the research and operational communities, Organizational issues, Poor communication and coordination between the research and operational communities, Lack of adequate financial or educated human resources, Absence of effective long-range planning, and Inadequate scientific knowledge or technological capability. The committee’s examination of a sample of historical case studies in which the transition from NASA research to NOAA and DOD operations has occurred with varying degrees of success (see Appendix B) suggests ways to improve the transitioning process and so increase the rate at which the return to society on the research investment is achieved. These improvements include making the multiple

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processes that support the transition from research to operations more flexible and efficient. The committee’s overarching recommendation is to establish a strong and effective joint NASA-NOAA office to plan, coordinate, and support the transitioning of NASA research to NOAA operations.1 The planning and coordination should include an early evaluation of each research mission, including new sensor capability and potential operational utility. Every appropriate mission, as defined by the formal evaluation process, should have a flexible strategic plan for transferring the research to operations. The committee recognizes, however, and strongly emphasizes that not all NASA research missions are or should be driven by operational needs or requirements—a major and essential part of the NASA mission is to increase fundamental understanding of Earth and the universe, regardless of foreseeable operational opportunities. However, many NASA missions have both a fundamental research component and the potential for applications of the science and technology for the benefit of society. This report focuses on that type of mission. The improved transitioning process should be based on a balance between research push and operational pull. This balance, which will vary from one mission to another, can be achieved through increased dialogue between the two communities and through overlap within their respective missions (i.e., research missions that have an operational component and vice versa). The data from research missions should be tested in operational settings and the operational impact assessed. Conversely, the collection, processing, and archiving of operational data should take into consideration the needs of the research community as well as the operational impact of the data. Test beds, in which assimilation methods and algorithms using research results and data are developed and evaluated prior to and during research missions, are an important component of the transitioning process. These test beds not only will help determine how best to use the research data and evaluate their impact, but also will enable experimentation with new models and products in parallel with the operations. The user community should be involved early in the planning for research missions, and each mission should have an education and training plan. This plan 1   Following its charge, the Committee on NASA-NOAA Transition from Research to Operations is making recommendations to NASA and NOAA to form and to be the primary participating agencies in this joint transition office. However, the committee recognizes the value of cooperation between NASA, NOAA, and other partners, including the Department of Defense and international organizations. Consequently, this joint office is intended to be and is offered as a flexible institution so that NASA and NOAA could invite the DOD or other U.S. agencies to become full participants when and if appropriate. See Recommendation 1 in the next section in this Executive Summary and the discussion in Chapter 6 for greater detail regarding the structure of this transition office.

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should take into account the operational, research, and academic communities, including students. Adequate resources must be devoted to the transitioning process. The committee has not attempted to determine the amount of the resources required (which would vary from mission to mission) but believes that compared with the support currently provided for research and operations separately, the additional amount would be small—perhaps on the order of 5 to 10 percent of the research and operational budgets. The committee believes that this investment would pay large dividends in increasing the intrinsic value of research missions, improving existing operational products, and creating new ones. RECOMMENDATIONS Recommendation 1: A strong and effective Interagency Transition Office for the planning and coordination of activities of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in support of transitioning research to operations should be established by and should report to the highest levels of NASA and NOAA. The proposed Interagency Transition Office (ITO) should have broad responsibility (not specifically related to sensor capability) for ensuring that appropriate research is efficiently and effectively transitioned to operational uses. However, the ITO itself should not implement the transitioning activities. The implementation should be carried out by appropriate NASA or NOAA entities (such as the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System [NPOESS] Integrated Program Office, with its current charter for the acquisition of polar operational satellite systems) or by their partners in the academic community and private sector. The ITO is intended to support and simplify transitions by augmenting, enabling, and leveraging the existing infrastructure within NASA and NOAA rather than by introducing duplicative capability or bureaucracy. The ITO should have an independent, high-level advisory council consisting of representatives from the operational and research communities as well as from the public and private sectors. The council should also serve as a forum for regular discussions between the leaders of the research and operational organizations. An executive board, envisioned by the committee as including the NASA and NOAA administrators and the President’s Science Advisor at a minimum, should provide high-level oversight and review of the ITO. NASA and NOAA should consider including as executive board members representatives at an equivalent level from DOD (for example, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology) and from other agencies when appropriate to the mission of the ITO.

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Implementation of the following recommendations is needed in order to support the mission of the proposed ITO. However, these recommendations are not specifically tied to the establishment of the ITO. They stand on their own merit and are necessary to strengthen any transitioning mechanism or pathway. Recommendation 2: NOAA and NASA should improve and formalize the process of developing and communicating operational requirements and priorities. 2.1 NOAA should continuously evaluate and define operational user needs and formally communicate them to NASA on a regular basis. 2.2 NASA should formally consider the requirements of NOAA and other operational agencies in establishing its priorities (the “pull” side of the transition process). NASA should establish appropriate programs and budgets as needed to respond to selected NOAA requirements. Recommendation 3: All NASA Earth science satellite missions should be formally evaluated in the early stages of the mission planning process for potential applications to operations in the short, medium, or long term, and resources should be planned for and secured to support appropriate mission transition activities. The evaluation process should include engaging in dialogue with the research and operational communities and obtaining input from possible users of the observations. For appropriate missions, as determined by the assessment, a flexible plan or architecture for a seamless transition pathway, including the necessary financial and human resources, should be developed, regularly reviewed, and updated as necessary. For a mission that is identified as having significant potential for providing data useful to operations, the following activities should be supported: 3.1 NASA and NOAA should work together to strengthen the planning, coordination, and management components of the mission. Teams of people with appropriate research and operational expertise should be assigned to the mission. A culture fostering aggressive and challenging approaches, risk taking, acceptance of outside ideas and technologies, flexibility, and a “can-do” attitude should be encouraged. 3.2 Adequate resources should be provided in order to support all aspects of the transitioning activities, as determined by the assessment and plans. Consideration should be given to establishing guidelines and mechanisms for encouraging transition efforts. For example, a small fraction (e.g., 5 to 10 percent) of each sensor or mission project budget might be allocated to

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  transition activities. Principal investigators might be asked to submit plans or concepts for transitional activities, with significant points being allotted in scoring this aspect of the proposals. 3.3 Research into how to use new types of observations should be supported well in advance of the launch of the research or operational mission that acquires the observations. In parallel with the acquisition program, this research should include developing and testing algorithms to convert sensor data to environmental products (including environmental data records) and data-assimilation methods, as appropriate to the mission. The research may be carried out in a variety of institutions, including universities, national laboratories, cooperative institutes, and test bed facilities. The institutional mechanism(s) to conduct the research should be identified early in the mission. 3.4 Each research mission should have a comprehensive data-management plan. The plan should include the identification of potential users and approaches for processing the data, converting the raw data to information, creating metadata, distributing data and information to users in real time, and archiving and the subsequent accessing of data by users. 3.5 NASA and NOAA, through the ITO as defined in Recommendation 1, should develop a plan to include the use of NPOESS and Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES-R) sensor data by the appropriate government agencies. A collaborative arrangement and at least one demonstration/pilot or benchmark project should be developed with each primary user agency (e.g., the U.S. Geological Survey [USGS], the U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA], and the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA]) using NPOESS and GOES-R products. 3.6 Each research mission should have an associated education and training plan. This plan should be addressed to the operational, research, and academic communities, including students. It could include, for example, scientific visitor exchange programs, support for collaborative research, workshops, and a plan for the timely flow of research data to operational and academic institutions. 3.7 The evaluation process and resulting transition plans should consider potential roles in the research-to-operations transition process for the academic community (including principal-investigator-led projects) and the private sector, both of which have relevant capabilities and knowledge not available within NASA and NOAA. Recommendation 4: NASA and NOAA should jointly work toward and should budget for an adaptive and flexible operational system in order to support the

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rapid infusion of new satellite observational technologies, the validation of new capabilities, and the implementation of new operational applications. 4.1 Operational satellite programs should provide for the capability of validating advanced instruments in space and of cross-calibrating them with existing instruments, in parallel to the operational mission, by the most efficient means possible (e.g., by reserving approximately 25 percent of the payload power, volume, and mass capability; through “bridge” missions; and so on). 4.2 To the extent possible, observations from research missions should be provided in real time or near real time to researchers and potential users. Operational centers or associated test beds should use and evaluate the research observations in developing their products and should provide feedback to researchers. Test beds such as the Joint Center for Satellite Data Assimilation and the Joint Hurricane Testbed should be supported as a way to bridge the final steps in the gap between research and operations. The primary mission of such test beds should not be to conduct basic research or operations, but rather to develop and test new real-time modeling and data-assimilation systems to use the new observations. The test beds should include participation by the academic research community and should be quasi-independent from the operational agencies. 4.3 Senior personnel responsible for transition activities should be located at major operational centers of NOAA and at the major research segments of NASA.