D
Excerpts on PI-Led Missions from National Research Council Decadal Survey Reports

Issue

Excerpt

Page

Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium (2001)

Support for and comments on the Explorer Program

“… the extremely successful Explorer program provides targeted small-mission opportunities for advances in many areas of astronomy and astrophysics. The committee endorses the continuation of a vigorous Explorer program.”

7

 

“The Explorer program is very successful and has elicited many highly innovative, cost-effective proposals for small missions from the community. The committee endorses the continuation of a vigorous Explorer program by NASA.”

28

 

“NASA’s Explorer program has been extremely successful because it provides frequent access to space for innovative projects across the entire field of astrophysics.”

135

 

“Small and moderate missions add important dimensions to NASA’s space astronomy program: respectively, rapid response and targeted science. The Explorer program, an effective response to the need for frequent small-mission opportunities, should be continued at its current level. Because they can deploy new technology on relatively short time scales or move rapidly to follow up on recent discoveries, newly conceived missions of moderate cost can at times scientifically outperform the large missions on particular problems. Given the lower costs of small and moderate missions, an occasional failure can be accepted, although no failure in space occurs without some political cost to the program. Compared with one or two larger missions, several moderate and many small missions will more likely provide greater opportunities for developing a diverse set of new technologies and for training experimental space scientists. On several accounts, moderate and small missions can be extremely cost-effective.”

194

This decadal survey did not explicitly analyze Explorer or Discovery missions

“The committee made a careful attempt to define the boundary between projects it would consider and those it would not. First, judging that the Explorer and Discovery programs at NASA are suitably peer-reviewed, the committee did not make any recommendations on individual projects in these programs.”

22

 

“Explorer and Discovery missions are regarded as small initiatives. Since they are peer-reviewed, the committee did not prioritize them.”

35



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Principal-Investigator-Led Missions in the Space Sciences D Excerpts on PI-Led Missions from National Research Council Decadal Survey Reports Issue Excerpt Page Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium (2001) Support for and comments on the Explorer Program “… the extremely successful Explorer program provides targeted small-mission opportunities for advances in many areas of astronomy and astrophysics. The committee endorses the continuation of a vigorous Explorer program.” 7   “The Explorer program is very successful and has elicited many highly innovative, cost-effective proposals for small missions from the community. The committee endorses the continuation of a vigorous Explorer program by NASA.” 28   “NASA’s Explorer program has been extremely successful because it provides frequent access to space for innovative projects across the entire field of astrophysics.” 135   “Small and moderate missions add important dimensions to NASA’s space astronomy program: respectively, rapid response and targeted science. The Explorer program, an effective response to the need for frequent small-mission opportunities, should be continued at its current level. Because they can deploy new technology on relatively short time scales or move rapidly to follow up on recent discoveries, newly conceived missions of moderate cost can at times scientifically outperform the large missions on particular problems. Given the lower costs of small and moderate missions, an occasional failure can be accepted, although no failure in space occurs without some political cost to the program. Compared with one or two larger missions, several moderate and many small missions will more likely provide greater opportunities for developing a diverse set of new technologies and for training experimental space scientists. On several accounts, moderate and small missions can be extremely cost-effective.” 194 This decadal survey did not explicitly analyze Explorer or Discovery missions “The committee made a careful attempt to define the boundary between projects it would consider and those it would not. First, judging that the Explorer and Discovery programs at NASA are suitably peer-reviewed, the committee did not make any recommendations on individual projects in these programs.” 22   “Explorer and Discovery missions are regarded as small initiatives. Since they are peer-reviewed, the committee did not prioritize them.” 35

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Principal-Investigator-Led Missions in the Space Sciences Issue Excerpt Page The Sun to the Earth—and Beyond (2003) Comments and recommendations on PI-led missions relative to solar and space physics “The principal investigator (PI) model that has been used for numerous Explorer missions has been highly successful. Strategic missions such as those under consideration for the STP and LWS programs can benefit from emulating some of the management approach and structure of the Explorer missions. The committee believes that the science objectives of the solar and space physics missions currently under consideration are best achieved through a PI mode of mission management.” 19   “The use of cost caps during much of the 1990s, together with the placement of responsibilities for mission development and success in the hands of a mission principal investigator (PI), played a significant role in many highly successful solar and space physics missions, including the Solar Anomalous and Magnetospheric Particle Explorer (SAMPEX), Fast Auroral Snapshot Explorer (FAST), TRACE, ACE, and IMAGE. Besides being very successful scientifically, all of these solar-terrestrial missions were developed at a cost less than their allocated budgets. The PI model that was used for these Explorer missions was highly successful by any standard. Strategic missions such as those under consideration for the Solar Terrestrial Probes and Living With a Star mission lines could benefit from emulating some of the management approach and structure of the Explorer missions. Many of the major science objectives of solar and space physics research are naturally suited for implementation by a PI. 156   Cost caps can be effective in controlling mission cost growth. However, caps will not work if they are not taken seriously or not enforced, or if costs are beyond the control of the developer or the PI. Experience has shown that a successful cost-capped system requires that the rules for development be thoroughly understood by the developer (usually the PI) before development begins and, further, that the rules should not be changed later on.     Recommendation: NASA should (1) place as much responsibility as possible in the hands of the principal investigator, (2) define the mission rules clearly at the beginning, and (3) establish levels of responsibility and mission rules within NASA that are tailored to the particular mission and to its scope and complexity.     Unfortunately, such tailoring often proved difficult in the past because individual NASA functional organizations (such as Earned Value Management, Quality, Safety, and Verification) tend to impose nonnegotiable rules. As a result, the principal NASA official interacting with a mission PI and/or manager does not have the authority to negotiate all aspects of the project.     Recommendation: The NASA official who is designated as the program manager for a given project should be the sole NASA contact for the principal investigator. One important task of the NASA official would be to ensure that rules applicable to large-scale, complex programs are not being inappropriately applied, thereby producing cost growth for small programs.”   Specific comments on Explorer and Discovery Program missions relative to solar and space physics “The Explorer program has long provided the opportunity for targeted investigations, which can complement the larger initiatives recommended by the committee. However, the committee is concerned that the overall rate at which solar and space physics missions are undertaken is still rather low. A revitalized University-Class Explorer (UNEX) program would address this problem while allowing innovative small investigations to be conducted. However, the very existence of a UNEX program depends critically on low-cost access to space.” 62   “Those days of occasional, large, complex spacecraft have been followed by the budget-constrained missions of the Discovery program. Such missions are so limited in terms of cost, mass, power, and data rate that they are generally not able to address both planetary and space physics objectives. A solution to this dilemma is to open the Discovery competition to missions that exclusively address planetary space physics objectives. 156   Recommendation: The scientific objectives of the NASA Discovery program should be expanded to include those frontier space plasma physics research subjects that cannot be accommodated by other spacecraft opportunities.”  

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Principal-Investigator-Led Missions in the Space Sciences Issue Excerpt Page New Frontiers in the Solar System (2003) Support for Discovery-class missions and endorsement of New Frontiers “It is crucial to maintain a mix of mission sizes and complexities in order to balance available resources against potential schemes for implementation. For example, certain aspects of the key science questions can be met through focused and cost-effective Discovery missions (<$325 million), while other high priority science issues will require larger, more capable projects, to be called New Frontiers. About once per decade, Flagship missions (>$650 million) will be necessary for sample return or comprehensive investigations of particularly worthy targets. Some future endeavors are so vast in scope or so difficult (e.g., sample return from Mars) that no single nation acting alone may be willing to allocate all of the resources necessary to accomplish them, and the SSE Survey recommends that NASA encourage and continue to pursue cooperative programs with other nations. 2   Discovery missions are reserved for innovative and competitively procured projects responsive to new findings beyond the nation’s long-term strategy…. Given Discovery’s highly successful start, the SSE Survey endorses the continuation of this program, which relies on principal-investigator leadership and competition to obtain the greatest science return within a cost cap. A flight rate of no less than one launch every 18 months is recommended.     Particularly critical in this strategy is the initiation of New Frontiers, a line of medium-class, principal investigator-led missions as proposed in the President’s fiscal year (FY) 2003 budget. The SSE Survey strongly endorses the New Frontiers initiative. These spacecraft should be competitively procured and should have flights every 2 or 3 years, with the total cost capped at approximately twice that of a Discovery mission.”     “The Mars Scout Program, patterned on principal-investigator-led Discovery missions, is incorporated to provide flexibility in the exploration of Mars. Similarly, many aspects of the inner planets can be addressed by Discovery-class projects to respond to new findings, instruments, or approaches.” 52   “Not all of the fundamental science issues for the inner planets can be addressed by the priority missions proposed here. However, as discussed earlier, substantial advances must be made in understanding how planets work, and much can be achieved through one or more focused Discovery-class missions.” 64   “The success of the Discovery program, exemplified by the Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) mission, Lunar Prospector, and Mars Pathfinder, has convinced even the most hardened skeptic that small, relatively low cost missions can effectively address significant scientific goals. The discipline of Discovery’s competitive selection process has been particularly effective in eliminating ill-conceived concepts and has resulted in a richness of mission goals that few would have thought possible a decade ago. The planetary science community’s enthusiastic support for Discovery has led to calls for the competitive acquisition of all flight projects. The experience during the past decade in developing mission concepts (i.e., various Pluto flyby and Europa orbiter mission concepts) for which traditional procedures have led to escalating cost estimates has amplified this call. The proposed line of New Frontiers missions is specifically intended to be competitively selected. Competition is seen as a vehicle to increase the scientific richness of flight missions and, perhaps of equal importance, as a device to constrain the large costs associated with flying robotic missions to the planets. 190   Because of the positive experience with Discovery and also because of NASA’s recent success in competing an outer solar system mission in the New Frontiers cost category, the SSE Survey strongly endorses the New Frontiers initiative. These spacecraft should be competitively procured and should have flights every 2 or 3 years, with the total cost capped at approximately twice that of a Discovery mission. Target selection should be guided by the list in this report.  

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Principal-Investigator-Led Missions in the Space Sciences Issue Excerpt Page New Frontiers in the Solar System (2003), continued Support for Discovery-class missions and endorsement of New Frontiers, While competitive selection has its advantages, its negative aspects should also be taken into consideration, and avoided if possible. They are as follows: Competition leads to secrecy in the conceptual phase of a mission. For small missions having an adequate number of scientifically focused flight opportunities, this does not seem to be a demerit. However, with intrinsically expensive missions for which the flight opportunities may be singular and the scientific goals broad, it can be a problem. For New Frontiers missions, it does not seem advisable for conceptual scientific development to become the responsibility of a narrowly focused group in the community, no matter how well motivated they are. The selection of New Frontiers missions needs to be a continuing process involving broad community input, as has been accomplished by this decadal survey report. Competition for New Frontiers missions may lead to a substantial increase in the overall costs associated with conceptual mission development during the preselection stage. As yet, the SSE Survey knows of no estimate or clearly identified source of funds for the development of proposals for New Frontiers missions. The cost of developing a Discovery proposal to the final stage of a competition is not negligible. These costs can be expected to increase with the size and scope of the mission. The cost to develop a New Frontiers mission proposal will be considerably more than for Discovery missions. In Discovery, these funds come partly from the overhead charged on other projects at an implementing institution and partly from NASA (particularly in the final stages of the competition). The SSE Survey recommends an early study to determine the means for providing the funds necessary to underwrite proposal competition in New Frontiers missions. Competition may lead to conflicts of interest at NASA centers. There are areas of unique expertise resident in single NASA centers that must be supported and maintained as necessary and required to carry out the planetary exploration enterprise (e.g., mission analysis, navigation, and deep-space communications). This expertise is often supported from institutional overhead on ongoing center missions. Since these same centers may also wish to compete, particularly for large missions, the centers will face a conflict of interest when deciding whether to make such unique services available to their competitors. The SSE Survey recommends an early study to find ways to avoid the potentially adverse consequences of conflicts of interest relating to, for example, access to unique expertise and infrastructure at NASA centers.”     “The Discovery line of small missions is reserved for competed missions responsive to discoveries and is outside the context of any long-term strategy. Over the course of any 10-year period, there are certain to be new discoveries and high-science-value mission ideas that could not be discerned at the beginning of the strategic planning period. The Discovery program provides for the necessary flight program flexibility to cover these contingencies and to provide continuing new opportunities to the planetary science community for mission ideas not provided in the long-term strategic plan. The Discovery program is fundamental and invaluable for planetary exploration, but it is outside the bounds of this long-term strategic plan. Therefore, the SSE Survey makes no specific flight mission recommendations for the Discovery program, but it is compelled to make a recommendation on the value of these missions to planetary exploration. Given Discovery’s highly successful start, the SSE Survey endorses the continuation of this program, which relies on principal-investigator leadership and competition to obtain the greatest science return within a cost cap. A flight rate of no less than one launch every 18 months is recommended.” 191 Recommendation for structuring Mars Scout program on Discovery program “The Mars Scout program consists of competed, Discovery-class, principal-investigator-led missions with $300 million cost caps. The program was instituted by NASA to meet science goals and opportunities not covered by other missions and to provide a mechanism for the MEP to be responsive to discoveries. As structured, the Scout program provides an excellent opportunity for NASA to accommodate science topics outside the principal objectives of the MEP, and for the broad science community to respond to discoveries and technological advancement. The Mars Panel strongly endorses NASA’s desire to structure the Scout program after the successful Discovery program. In that regard, it is essential that the measurement goals for the Mars Scout program be directed toward the highest-priority science for Mars and be selected by peer review.” 84

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Principal-Investigator-Led Missions in the Space Sciences Issue Excerpt Page New Frontiers in the Solar System (2003), continued Data archiving budget issues addressed relative to Discovery and other missions “The budgets for early Discovery missions (e.g., Lunar Prospector) and technology demonstration activities (e.g., the Department of Defense’s Clementine and NASA’s Deep Space1) made no provision for archival products. As a result, data from these missions have been very little analyzed. The recent success of the NEAR mission and its return of a huge volume of data—an order of magnitude more than when the mission was planned—have highlighted the importance of archiving as a separate activity within solar system exploration. These events have also illustrated many of the pitfalls in establishing an archive from a highly productive mission that was budgeted in the Discovery range. The risk exists that the scientific return from solar system exploration missions will be smaller than ideal as small, principal-investigator-led missions proliferate…. 166   The increasing attention paid to archiving plans in the recent rounds of Discovery selections has been a step forward, as has the recent support by the Mars program, although the overall situation remains unsatisfactory. The SSE Survey notes, for example, that all Discovery proposals are required to budget 1 to 2 percent of their total cost for education and public outreach (E/PO), a valuable activity that is also highly leveraged with external resources. The total amount of money spent on preparing archival products by any mission is small compared to this, with the only leveraging being in the PDS budget, except in the special case of non-NASA missions for which there is large leveraging through the outside agency. This is the funding that is intended to provide the complete archival product, ready for use by the research community. The PDS is funded, at present, just to maintain suitable standards, to advise the missions, and to distribute the archival products, not to prepare them. The SSE Survey notes that in many cases the experience resident in the PDS could lead to more efficient preparation of archives if the PDS scientists were involved at the earliest stages. Furthermore, substantial community demand exists for access to the large databases of Earth-based data produced through NASA’s R&A programs—data that are in general not archived with the PDS for lack of resources. Enhancements to either the PDS or mission budgets would enable data archiving.     The SSE Survey strongly encourages exploration of ways to accomplish the following: Improve the early involvement of the PDS with missions; Increase the PDS budget and streamline its procedures, while not lowering standards or eliminating peer reviews, in order to deal with the data, perhaps considering the function to be funded at a fixed fraction, such as 1 percent of the mission development and operations budget in addition to a small base budget, to ensure that the PDS can cope with varying amounts of archiving; and Ensure that missions as well as R&A projects producing large data sets have adequate funding for proper archiving.”   Education and public outreach efforts in Discovery missions discussed “Planetary missions provide an unparalleled opportunity to capture student and public attention in science, engineering, and exploration. Recognizing this high potential, all NASA flight programs are required to devote 1 to 2 percent of their total budget to E/PO. Typically, each flight project develops its own set of activities. The E/PO components developed through principal-investigator-led flight projects, such as Discovery missions, have been particularly effective. In these projects, E/PO is typically ‘leveraged’ through other organizations (including non-NASA groups), identified and cultivated by the principal-investigator team. All recent planetary missions, including Galileo, Cassini, Deep Impact, Messenger, Contour, Stardust, and various Mars missions, have extensive E/PO activities.” 172   “The requirement of incorporating E/PO for specific projects, such as Discovery missions, is considered meritorious, and most planetary scientists agree that the current funding levels of 1 to 2 percent are about right within the SSE program. In most implementations, planetary scientists and education specialists work hand-in-hand to derive innovative and effective activities for communicating solar system exploration to students, teachers, and the public. In many respects, these programs serve as models for SSE E/PO in general. E/PO activities proposed as part of the overall research program, however, have not worked very well, primarily because of the review process and the lack of sufficient funds. For example, many PIs put substantial effort into preparing ‘add-on’ E/PO activities as part of their research grants only to learn later that very few of the E/PO activities were funded. Moreover, in many cases they received little or no feedback on their E/PO proposals.” 173

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Principal-Investigator-Led Missions in the Space Sciences Issue Excerpt Page Solar and Space Physics and Its Role in Space Exploration (2004) Importance of role of Explorer missions “The Explorer program contributes vital elements that are not covered by the mainline STP and LWS missions. Explorers fill critical science gaps in areas that are not addressed by strategic missions, they support the rapid implementation of attacks on very focused topics, and they provide for innovation and the use of new approaches that are difficult to incorporate into the long planning cycles needed to get a mission into the strategic mission queues. The Explorer program can also provide opportunities to respond rapidly to specific needs of human exploration. The Explorers also provide a particularly substantial means to engage and train science and engineering students in the full life cycle of space research projects. Consequently, a robust SEC science program requires a robust Explorer program.” 20