6
Conclusions

PI-led missions should continue to play a role in NASA’s ESE observation and science programs because they are the only vehicle available to meet those ESE strategic science goals that are not supported by facility-class missions. So far, however, PI-led missions in NASA’s ESSP have experienced serious difficulties with cost overruns and schedule slips. This report focuses on identification of the reasons for these problems and on recommendations to improve PI-led mission performance.

The committee recognizes that strict constraints on mission cost and schedule tend to drive Earth Explorer PI-led missions to small satellites with limited instrument suites and low-risk technology requirements. Yet these “small” missions remain supremely challenging both for NASA and for the PI, especially academic PIs with little or no mission management experience. From the NASA standpoint, mission costs, schedule, and scope are highly constrained; coupled with the mandated PI-led management mode, the agency finds itself with essentially no degrees of freedom following mission selection to control scientific risks. From the perspective of the academic PIs, who are typically inexperienced in project management, the programmatic constraints allow little time and few resources to accommodate management missteps while preserving the proposed scientific scope of the mission.

Moreover, the attention to management issues required for PI-led mission accomplishment is inconsistent with typical academic career advancement criteria (except, perhaps, for those interested in high-level university administration), and the scientific rewards for success are unclear because of NASA’s limited funding for postlaunch scientific analysis within the selected ESSP mission contract. For example, the PI for a successful ESSP mission must compete for analysis funds through a follow-on Science Data Analysis Program (SDAP) proposal in response to an SDAP NRA issued to the broad scientific community just as the ESSP mission approaches operation. This requirement penalizes the ESSP PI relative to other SDAP competitors because the PI is saddled with time-consuming but essential ESSP management tasks during the SDAP competition.

The committee believes that many PI-led missions would more likely achieve ESE objectives within budget and schedule if the missions were properly structured. As discussed in the previous chapters, the likelihood of mission success increases greatly if:



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Steps to Facilitate Principal-Investigator-Led Earth Science Missions 6 Conclusions PI-led missions should continue to play a role in NASA’s ESE observation and science programs because they are the only vehicle available to meet those ESE strategic science goals that are not supported by facility-class missions. So far, however, PI-led missions in NASA’s ESSP have experienced serious difficulties with cost overruns and schedule slips. This report focuses on identification of the reasons for these problems and on recommendations to improve PI-led mission performance. The committee recognizes that strict constraints on mission cost and schedule tend to drive Earth Explorer PI-led missions to small satellites with limited instrument suites and low-risk technology requirements. Yet these “small” missions remain supremely challenging both for NASA and for the PI, especially academic PIs with little or no mission management experience. From the NASA standpoint, mission costs, schedule, and scope are highly constrained; coupled with the mandated PI-led management mode, the agency finds itself with essentially no degrees of freedom following mission selection to control scientific risks. From the perspective of the academic PIs, who are typically inexperienced in project management, the programmatic constraints allow little time and few resources to accommodate management missteps while preserving the proposed scientific scope of the mission. Moreover, the attention to management issues required for PI-led mission accomplishment is inconsistent with typical academic career advancement criteria (except, perhaps, for those interested in high-level university administration), and the scientific rewards for success are unclear because of NASA’s limited funding for postlaunch scientific analysis within the selected ESSP mission contract. For example, the PI for a successful ESSP mission must compete for analysis funds through a follow-on Science Data Analysis Program (SDAP) proposal in response to an SDAP NRA issued to the broad scientific community just as the ESSP mission approaches operation. This requirement penalizes the ESSP PI relative to other SDAP competitors because the PI is saddled with time-consuming but essential ESSP management tasks during the SDAP competition. The committee believes that many PI-led missions would more likely achieve ESE objectives within budget and schedule if the missions were properly structured. As discussed in the previous chapters, the likelihood of mission success increases greatly if:

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Steps to Facilitate Principal-Investigator-Led Earth Science Missions The mission concept is mature at the proposal stage and is not dependent on risky technology development. The mission includes a highly experienced PI who: Operates within a competent space systems development infrastructure.1 Is supported by a strong technical management team. With a sufficiently strong technical management team and space mission infrastructure, some new PIs will be able to execute successful missions. However, the committee believes that this should not be a general expectation by NASA. The committee also believes that cost, schedule, and NASA oversight constraints on PI-led missions do not leave much room for innovative management approaches or significant creation or enhancement of space systems development infrastructures, even with the most experienced project teams. The committee thus concludes that it is unrealistic to expect the competitive AO process for PI-led missions to substantially enhance mission management capability at universities that do not already have space mission infrastructure in place. 1   Space system development of space mission infrastructure includes facilities, trained personnel, processes, and procedures for development of space systems/missions.