Following the completion of TRMM’s mission objectives in 2000, NASA, NOAA and JAXA have extended the life of TRMM for over 3 years to continue receipt of this valuable stream of data. NASA engineers have used a number of unique spacecraft operations techniques to extend TRMM in an orbit that has provided valuable data to NOAA. As TRMM approaches the limits of its operational life, we have welcomed the opportunity to work with NOAA to obtain all possible data from TRMM, while also planning for a safe, controlled deorbit of the spacecraft. Our options for safe reentry become increasingly limited the longer we operate TRMM, as it is already more than 3 years beyond design life.

NASA is glad to continue working with NOAA and JAXA to further extend TRMM operational life, in light of NOAA’s renewed interest in continued receipt of TRMM data through 2004. We have an experienced NASA-NOAA-JAXA operational team that can determine methods necessary to obtain all possible data from TRMM, while also planning for a safe, controlled deorbit of the spacecraft. I have directed our team to proceed expeditiously on this work with NOAA and JAXA. As an immediate step our TRMM team will, consistent with good engineering practices, maintain TRMM in an operational, data collection status as these discussions move forward.

Based upon our shared interest, I have taken the liberty of requesting that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) hold a workshop in September 2004 to advise NASA and NOAA on:

  • Best use of remaining TRMM spacecraft life;

  • Safe, controlled deorbit of TRMM;

  • Advisability of transfer of operational responsibility for TRMM to NOAA for the remainder of mission life;

  • Any requirement for a follow-on operational satellite that can provide data currently provided by TRMM; and,

  • Optimal use of the Global Precipitation Mission, a spacecraft planned for launch in 2011 that is a research follow-on to TRMM.

In the next few months, it would also be useful to open a dialogue with the NAS on the wisest way to use experimental research data in operational models, both nationally and internationally. This would allow a comprehensive consideration of worldwide Earth science research data and its applicability to operational uses such as disaster warning, and predictive capabilities in areas such as weather and agriculture. As part of this dialogue, the NAS could share new ideas on how to approach the phasing of NASA research spacecraft capabilities into varied NOAA operational uses.

In addition, I thoroughly agree with your assessment that NASA and NOAA should work in concert with other Departments and Agencies to develop more formal mechanisms to maximize use of research and operational satellite data and to plan for transition of successful research instruments to operational status.

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