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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program 2 Assessment Chapter 2 assesses the Heliophysics Division’s program to address the strategies, goals, and priorities of the 2003 solar and space physics decadal survey1 and progress toward realizing them. The sections in this chapter match the chapters of the decadal survey, which offer specific recommendations to NASA. For example, Section 2.1 assesses the contributions that the present program has made to the scientific challenges put forth in Chapter 1 of the decadal survey. The committee has provided an overall grade for the elements assessed in each section, followed by a finding that is related to the grade, and then a restatement of specific recommendations in the corresponding decadal survey chapter and a more detailed assessment of the NASA program response to these recommendations. The committee used the following grading system: A—Achieved or exceeded the goal established in the decadal survey. B—Made significant progress toward the goal. C—Made some progress toward the goal. D—Made little progress toward meeting the decadal goal. F—Made no progress toward meeting the decadal goal or regressed from it. 2.1 MILESTONES AND SCIENCE CHALLENGES Chapter 1 of the decadal survey contains no specific recommendations but provides five science challenges that drive the priorities and recommendations in the rest of the survey. NASA also employs a more detailed list of scientific objectives from its triennial heliophysics roadmapping exercise to further define missions and other research activities. NASA’s last roadmap, released in 2005, is titled The New Science of the Sun-Solar System Connection: Recommended Roadmap for Science and Technology 2005-2035.2 The committee compared the 2005 Roadmap and its objectives and research focus areas with the decadal survey and its science challenges. 1 National Research Council, The Sun to the Earth—and Beyond: A Decadal Research Strategy in Solar and Space Physics, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2003. 2 NASA, The New Science of the Sun-Solar System Connection: Recommended Roadmap for Science and Technology 2005-2035, Washington, D.C., 2005 (hereinafter referred to as the Heliophysics Roadmap, or the Roadmap).
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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program Grade: B Finding: The highest-level objectives and research focus areas in the NASA Heliophysics Roadmap align with the decadal survey science challenges. However, there are several science questions in the decadal survey—most notably, coronal heating, the magnetospheres and ionospheres of other planets, and interaction with the interstellar medium—that receive little or no attention in the Roadmap. Background: At the top level, the Roadmap’s three objectives and 12 research focus areas (RFAs) align with the five science challenges in the decadal survey. Many of the survey’s science challenges are purposely framed as broad, cross-cutting, and multidecadal. The survey implies that significant progress should be made in the time frame of a decade on representative questions that are part of the broader challenges. Thus, the committee looked for correspondence between the Roadmap’s RFAs and the key science questions in the decadal survey. It is not expected that the Heliophysics Roadmap would cover all of the questions in the survey. Rather, the committee looked for trends in the Roadmap RFAs that might indicate exclusion or poor coverage of subsets of questions dealing with similar topics. Challenge 1: The Sun’s Dynamic Interior and Corona This challenge focuses on understanding the Sun from its interior out through its atmosphere and solar wind. The science questions focus on the solar cycle and solar dynamo, the solar corona, the fast and slow solar wind, and explosive energy releases like coronal mass ejections (CMEs). For the solar cycle and solar dynamo, there is a Heliophysics Roadmap RFA that is directed at the solar dynamo question (RFA F4.1). This focus area and related questions in the decadal survey should be addressed with the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) mission as well as ongoing research using existing space assets like the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). For the solar corona, there is only indirect overlap between the decadal science questions and RFAs concerning fundamental processes (e.g., RFA F1.1 and F1.2). Although coronal heating is included in the science objectives of NASA missions like Hinode, SDO, SOHO, and Transition Region and Coronal Explorer (TRACE), the Heliophysics Roadmap does not adequately emphasize important topics related to coronal heating and coronal characteristics. For the fast and slow solar wind, RFA F2.3 is directed at related decadal science questions. The origin of the fast and slow solar wind has been the focus of recent study of the solar atmosphere by the Hinode spacecraft. It will also be a focus of the SDO mission and is a prime objective of Solar Probe. For explosive energy releases, there are several RFAs (for example, fundamental processes such as particle acceleration, precursors to solar disturbances and CMEs, and consequences for the near-Earth environment) that correspond directly to decadal survey questions. The evolution of CMEs and other disturbances is a prime focus of the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) mission and existing space assets like the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) and Wind missions. Precursor studies and evolution of disturbances are included also in the Hinode mission as well as the future SDO mission. Challenge 2: The Heliosphere and Its Components This challenge focuses on understanding the heliosphere as a single, dynamic structure immersed in and interacting with the local interstellar medium. Science questions focus on the propagation of solar events throughout the heliosphere, the nature of the interaction between the interstellar medium and the heliosphere, the location and characteristics of heliospheric boundaries, and the nature of the local interstellar medium. For propagation of solar events through the heliosphere, there are several Roadmap RFAs that are directly related to these decadal survey questions. The RFAs span all three Roadmap objectives. The propagation of solar events in the heliosphere continues to be researched with an unprecedented fleet of spacecraft, including those located at several longitudes at L1, at Mars, Saturn, and out to the edge of the heliosphere.
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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program For the nature of the interaction between the interstellar medium and the heliosphere, the Roadmap RFAs are only indirectly related to decadal science questions. In particular, there is significant emphasis on propagation of CMEs in the inner heliosphere but much less emphasis on interaction of solar disturbances with the heliospheric boundaries. For the location of the heliospheric boundaries and the nature of the interstellar medium, Roadmap RFAs are only indirectly related to the decadal science questions. The only discussion of the properties of the interstellar medium is in relation to the sustainability of life in the solar system in RFA H4, and the only discussion of the heliospheric boundaries is a brief mention of the heliospheric termination shock in conjunction with particle acceleration. There is no discussion of the various boundaries of the heliosphere, their location, or their variability, despite one of the most significant accomplishments of the past few years—namely, the encounter of the termination shock by Voyager 1 and 2. Their surprising observations of the termination shock location and structure have magnified the need for a better understanding of the boundary of the solar system. NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) spacecraft, a competitively selected, principal-investigator-led Explorer Program mission launched in 2008, will be the first mission to follow up on the Voyagers’ findings and address decadal survey questions about the heliosphere’s boundaries. Challenge 3: Space Environments of Earth and Other Solar System Bodies This challenge focuses on the space environments of solar system bodies, particularly that of Earth, and their dynamical interaction with the Sun and the solar wind. The wide-ranging science questions include these: The response of Earth to solar variations and extreme conditions. Magnetic reconnection and particle acceleration in magnetospheres. Magnetosphere-ionosphere interactions, including auroral displays. How planetary mesospheres, ionospheres, and internal magnetospheric plasma sources transfer energy among the various regions of space. Many questions related to interactions between regions in the Jovian magnetosphere. Solar wind interactions with Mars. Ionosphere-magnetosphere-solar wind interactions at Mercury. The science questions for this challenge are broader than those for the four other challenges because all types of solar system bodies are included in one challenge. The Roadmap should not be expected to cover all of the science questions, but there are some overall trends that need to be addressed. The Roadmap reflects well the science questions that deal with interaction between Earth’s magnetosphere, ionosphere, and atmosphere and the Sun and solar wind. Similarly, there is reasonable overlap for Mars space environment interactions. However, the Roadmap science at Jupiter clearly underrepresents the broad science objectives for the planet that are in the decadal survey. The science related to the magnetospheres and ionospheres of Saturn, Venus, and Mercury are even more underrepresented. The Roadmap emphasizes Mars to the near exclusion of the science available at other planets, notwithstanding the recent science accomplishments at Jupiter by the Pluto-Kuiper spacecraft, new discoveries at Saturn by the Cassini spacecraft, exciting new results at Mercury by the Messenger spacecraft, and the Planetary Science Division’s upcoming Juno mission, which will conduct Heliophysics Division science at Jupiter. Challenge 4: Fundamental Space Plasma Physics This challenge focuses on the basic physical principles manifest in processes observed in solar and space plasmas. Science questions address magnetic reconnection, turbulence, particle acceleration and transport, and wave-particle interactions. The Roadmap devotes one its three objectives (and four of its RFAs) to this decadal challenge. Both documents have appropriate focus on magnetic reconnection, turbulence, and particle acceleration. The Roadmap goes
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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program further to include coupling to neutral species and planetary atmospheric chemistry. These RFAs correspond better to decadal challenge 3; however, their inclusion here as fundamental processes underscores their importance in the coupled Sun-Earth system. Reconnection processes are the major scientific objective of the Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission, and aspects of these phenomena are studied by the Cluster, Hinode, Polar, THEMIS (Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms), and Wind missions. Particle acceleration is the focus of the Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) mission, and aspects of this phenomenon are studied by the Hinode, RHESSI (Ramaty High-Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager), STEREO, and Wind missions. Other decadal science questions and their associated Roadmap RFAs that focus on ionosphere-thermosphere-mesosphere (ITM) processes await the development of dedicated ITM missions. The uneven emphasis on radiation belt particle acceleration compared to fundamental ionospheric processes is the direct result of the change from the decadal survey Geospace Network mission to the radiation belt and ionospheric missions identified in the Roadmap. Challenge 5: Space Weather This challenge focuses on the development of a near-real-time capability for understanding and predicting the impact on human activities of processes described in the first four challenges. Representative science questions include determining the probability of specific types and levels of space weather occurring on various time scales, determining the measurements and models needed to predict and quantify space weather, and understanding in parallel the risks posed by space weather for human spaceflight outside the magnetosphere. The Roadmap dedicates an entire objective (J) to this challenge. It focuses on predicting solar activity that has significant influence on the near-Earth space environment, particle acceleration at the Sun and within Earth’s magnetosphere, aeronomic processes, and solar wind interactions at Mars. This RFA also includes dust and dust-plasma interactions, especially at the Moon. These RFAs and their corresponding decadal science question are the focus of space missions like SDO and RBSP, which have specific objectives to improve modeling and prediction of solar activity and particle acceleration in the magnetosphere. The decadal survey science challenges are connected through the coupling of the entire Sun-heliosphere-Earth system. This system is rich in complexity arising from nonlinear coupling in plasmas, causing different subsystems to interact over a wide range of scales. This characteristic of plasmas is well described in the Roadmap. Small constellations of spacecraft and multiple spacecraft will have to be used in different regions to understand this coupled system. The Heliophysics Great Observatory, consisting of widely separated but related missions, is the key to achieving many of the science objectives. However, there are elements in the Heliophysics Great Observatory that have been modified by the Roadmap and no longer correspond to the program recommended by the decadal survey. The most notable of these modifications is the change from the Geospace Network in the decadal survey to individual RBSP and Ionosphere Thermosphere Storm Probes (ITSP) missions in the Roadmap, a change that has severely compromised observations of the synergy and coupling aspects of the magnetosphere with the ionosphere. The future development of Heliophysics Great Observatory elements does not appear to have a high priority in the Roadmap. 2.2 INTEGRATED RESEARCH STRATEGY This section addresses the committee’s second charge, which is to assess NASA’s progress toward realizing the strategies, goals, and priorities put forward in the decadal survey. In its Chapter 2, the decadal survey recommended an integrated research strategy consisting of a sequence of overlapping flight programs, coupled with small and vitality research activities, as the most effective way to address key scientific challenges. Grade: C Finding: Progress in almost all the programs is seriously compromised by mission cost growth and rescoping and by reductions in funding for programs that provide regular mission opportunities. In addition, decisions to reorder the mission sequence recommended in the decadal survey undermined the Integrated Research Strategy, which
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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program was built around a set of spacecraft missions coordinated to afford opportunities to examine complex, interacting Sun-Earth subsystems from different regions simultaneously. The originally conceived program cannot be recovered before the next decadal survey. Thus, the status of the Integrated Research Strategy is in jeopardy and could result in the loss of synergistic space research capabilities. Background: The balanced and integrated program recommended by the decadal survey includes initiatives in the satellite flight program and in associated theory, modeling, and data analysis. This Integrated Research Strategy prioritized programs in four cost categories (large, moderate, small, and vitality) so that one science initiative would not be undermined by another of different scope. With this organization the decadal survey provided a single overarching recommendation to fund and execute the programs as prioritized in Table 1.1. The survey recognized not only that understanding the nonlinear behavior of the connected subsystems describing the Sun, the heliosphere, the magnetosphere, and the upper atmosphere would require missions to these specific regions but also that complete understanding would be obtained only when knowledge was advanced across all of these subsystems. The decadal survey integrated the findings of panels that included experts from these disciplines to determine what would be required to address specific problems. The priorities assigned to specific missions were tightly coupled to the anticipated schedules and costs of those missions. The recommended mission execution plan was intended to afford opportunities to examine the complex, interacting components of geospace through simultaneous observations in different regions. Around 2011 opportunities for simultaneous observations of the variable Sun, the outer and inner magnetosphere, and the ionosphere and atmosphere would be afforded by the operations of SDO, MMS, and the Geospace Network. In 2012 the final fate of the electromagnetic energy delivered to Earth would be investigated through coordinated measurements from Geospace Electrodynamic Connections (GEC) and the Geospace Network. By the end of the decadal period, investigation of the coupled system would begin anew with observations from the Multispacecraft Heliospheric Mission (MHM) and Magnetospheric Constellation (MagCon). The desirability of this coordinated approach to observation was demonstrated most recently during the great Halloween storms of 2003, when the state of all the interacting subsystems was described. Unfortunately, increases in the cost and complexity of all the moderate missions under development have stretched the schedule such that none of them will be conducted within the decadal survey period and all of them are likely to be conducted in isolation from the others. Within that period, only two of the nine moderate missions described in the decadal survey (MMS and JPM) will be under development, and only one (JPM) will be launched. The growing costs of the SDO, MMS, and RBSP missions have pushed all of the missions that follow them within the Solar-Terrestrial Probe (STP) and Living With a Star (LWS) lines beyond the decade in which they were anticipated to occur, making a coordinated study of the interacting parts of the system unlikely. After MMS, the Geospace Network mission called for two spacecraft to map the radiation belt and two to map the ionosphere to determine the global response of geospace to solar storms. SDO, MMS, and Geospace Network would enable key subsystem responses in the overall Sun-Earth system to be studied—from solar activity itself, to solar wind energy coupling to the magnetosphere, to ultimate energy deposition and dissipation in the upper atmosphere. The priority order stressed the importance of a consensus approach to unresolved science issues of recognized importance as well as their application to the needs and concerns of a highly technological society on Earth. Instead, the present course replaces the Geospace Network with the RBSP mission, which by itself does not constitute a Geospace Network. Subsequent priority was given to the MHM within LWS and to the GEC mission within the STP line. The decadal survey stressed that “the committee’s ranking of the Geospace Electrodynamic Connections (GEC; STP) and Geospace Network (LWS) missions acknowledges the importance of studying Earth’s ionosphere and the inner magnetosphere as a coupled system.”3 This intent has been undermined, however, by the development of the Solar Probe Plus and the Solar Wind Sentinels (SWS) missions in the absence of any initiative to examine the geospace response to solar activity, thus setting a course that diverges even more from the survey’s recommendations. 3 National Research Council, The Sun to the Earth—and Beyond: A Decadal Research Strategy in Solar and Space Physics, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2003, p. 5.
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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program Solar Probe Program Grade: A Finding: NASA is to be commended for reconstituting the Solar Probe science definition team and producing a Solar Probe Plus mission implementation plan that could be conducted with a restricted cost profile. Although its mission design is promising, Solar Probe Plus sequencing is in conflict with the decadal survey, which conditioned Solar Probe implementation on the implementation of all the moderate missions recommended in the survey or on a budget augmentation to accelerate Solar Probe implementation. Neither condition has been met. Solar Probe received the highest possible grade due to efforts to control cost via intelligent mission redefinition. However, NASA has compromised the decadal survey’s mission sequence by advancing Solar Probe ahead of the fourth (Multi-Heliospheric Probes), fifth (GEC), and seventh (MagCon) moderate-mission priorities identified in the survey, an approach that has reduced the overall grade given to implementation of the Integrated Research Strategy. Background: The Solar Probe mission was defined by a science definition team report (1999), an engineering study (2002), and a more extensive science and technology definition team (STDT) study (2005). As described in the last-mentioned report, the mission would pass twice over the solar poles within 3 solar radii of the solar surface, where both in situ and remote sensing instrumentation would probe the origin of the fast and slow solar wind very close to where it is accelerated. Because it was expected to be so expensive, Solar Probe was the only large mission to be recommended, and the decadal survey recommended that Solar Probe be undertaken only with a designated funding augmentation that would not disrupt the survey’s recommended moderate and small missions. In 2008, a new STDT study yielded a revised mission concept called Solar Probe Plus, which would deliver Solar Probe science at a lower cost. The close-in, two-pass polar orbit was replaced by a longer series of equatorial orbits reaching 8.5 solar radii from the surface. Solar Probe Plus would carry the same in situ instrumentation as the original Solar Probe mission. Both versions also require remote-sensing observations of the corona and photosphere to provide context for the in situ measurements. Solar Probe Plus’s ecliptic-plane measurements will permit context observations from the ground or from Earth orbit rather than from the more costly sunward remote sensing instruments on Solar Probe. This responds directly to the decadal survey’s recommendation for remote-sensing instrumentation only over the poles and may deliver even more science content than the earlier Solar Probe mission designs. The Solar Probe Plus orbit would be achieved in steps through successive flybys of Venus rather than the Jupiter-assist needed for the close polar orbit. This revised profile provides more than a hundredfold increase in sampling of the solar wind inside 20 solar radii. This significantly larger data set will enable most of the same objectives as the original mission, at a more reasonable cost. The cost of Solar Probe Plus is estimated at $750 million provided it launches by 2015, compared to $1.1 billion for Solar Probe. This estimate follows from four closely coupled mission studies within the past 10 years, an unprecedented investment in planning and cost estimation. The report also recommends that costs be kept down by having only a single principal investigator to manage the mission. Magnetospheric Multiscale Program Grade: B Finding: Magnetospheric Multiscale is the number-one-priority moderate mission, with a science focus on reconnection as a fundamental plasma physical process. MMS is scheduled for launch in 2014 and has an estimated cost of $990 million. The launch date places it outside the time frame addressed by the decadal survey (2004-2013), and the cost places it well outside the moderate-mission category of the decadal survey. Changes in payload capability, launch vehicles, and project requirements have all contributed to the increases in time and cost. Although it is encouraging to see MMS moving forward, its problems have necessitated the re-programming of subsequent moderate missions.
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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program Background: In 1999, an STDT report baselined MMS as a five-spacecraft, multiphase mission to investigate magnetic reconnection, particle acceleration, and turbulence in several regions of Earth’s magnetosphere. The mission’s first phase begins with an investigation of magnetic reconnection at Earth’s dayside magnetopause. An apogee change is then used to investigate reconnection and particle acceleration in the near magnetotail (~25 Earth radii from Earth). Later phases utilized a lunar swing-by to investigate reconnection, acceleration, and turbulence in the distant tail and finally a high-latitude, dayside magnetopause skimming orbit for high- and low-latitude reconnection. Several factors have caused the mission costs to grow dramatically. First, new theoretical and observational evidence indicated that the STDT instrument suite would not accomplish the reconnection science that was central to the MMS mission. As a result, the number of in situ instruments grew. Second, the increased payload increased the size, complexity, and cost. The number of spacecraft was reduced to four and the mission phases were reduced to lower total mission mass, but costs grew nonetheless when the MMS independent review panel recommended further redundancy in the instrumentation and the spacecraft. Third, the launch vehicle changed from the Delta II to the more expensive Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV). Fourth, reductions in the STP mission line (see Figure 1.5) forced the MMS program to stretch out its development schedule, increasing total costs. Finally, although difficult to fully account for, the switch from a competitive, principal-investigator-managed mission to an in-house spacecraft at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and associated increases in civil service staffing and changes in full-cost accounting, may also have resulted in significant cost increases. In summary, all of these factors contribute to MMS’s cost growth. The total mission cost is currently $990 million ($878 million for phases B through D in real-year dollars) versus the decadal survey’s estimate (phases B through D in 2002 dollars) of $350 million. This cost increase, coupled with the decrease in the STP budget (see Figure 1.5), virtually guarantees that no additional STP mission will be started in the remainder of the time covered by the decadal survey. If the decadal survey had judged MMS to be a mission in the billion-dollar category, with the consequences for the Integrated Research Strategy noted above, it is unclear whether the community would have continued to give it the highest priority for moderate missions. Geospace Network Program Grade: D Finding: As originally conceived, the Geospace Network mission aimed at exploring the synergy and coupling between the radiation environment in the inner magnetosphere and the underlying ionosphere and thermosphere, key regions for space weather effects. It has not been implemented, and the present plan essentially eliminates it from consideration. Background: In 2002, the LWS Geospace mission definition team published a report highlighting the RBSP and ITSP missions, and a year later the decadal survey recommended that the synergistically linked objectives of these missions be combined in a Geospace Network mission. The Heliophysics Division has not adopted this recommendation, instead deferring ITSP indefinitely and moving forward with RBSP, a mission that appears in the decadal survey only as part of a broader network. The RBSP mission will be a valuable step toward understanding the energetic particle properties in the inner magnetosphere. However, the Geospace Network would more broadly elucidate the connections between the magnetosphere and the atmosphere in an attempt to understand the temporal and spatial evolution of the coupled system. Joint operation of the RBSP and ITSP missions would allow measurement of the interaction between the magnetosphere, ionosphere, and thermosphere, including how magnetospheric particle populations and ring current changes affect the lower-altitude plasmasphere and how particles from the ionosphere couple to the magnetospheric population. This important goal is a requirement for the future specification and prediction of the space environment; no plan to recover or synthesize this capability from an adjusted mission sequence is evident. The RBSP payload grew significantly in cost, mass, and complexity from 2005, when the Announcement of Opportunity (AO) was released, until the phase A selections. The plasma instrumentation was significantly
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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program more complex and massive, the electric field instrument added a third axis, and an additional instrument from the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) for inner radiation belt studies was included (at no cost to NASA), leading to a 50 percent increase in the payload budget. The spacecraft mass and complexity grew as well, and NASA ultimately chose a more expensive EELV. The RBSP total mission cost is now over $600 million for two radiation belt spacecraft. The decadal survey estimated the cost of the Geospace Network (two radiation belt spacecraft and two ionosphere-thermosphere spacecraft) at $400 million (phases B through D in 2002 dollars). Thus, the RBSP mission, while accomplishing much of the radiation belt science objectives in the decadal survey, now costs approximately two times more than estimated by the decadal survey. The cost increases in RBSP and SDO have delayed future LWS missions and made joint operation of RBSP and any future ITSP mission highly unlikely. The decadal survey did not put forward a stand-alone radiation belt mission, and as with MMS, it is not obvious that RBSP would still enjoy community consensus ranking as the second priority for moderate missions, especially given the mission’s cost growth and the resulting consequences for the Integrated Research Strategy. Jupiter Polar Mission Program Grade: B Finding: Although there are some limitations due to mission design, instrumentation on the recently selected New Frontiers Juno mission will allow the main objectives of the decadal survey’s Jupiter Polar Mission to be accomplished. Background: The decadal survey’s third priority moderate mission is the Jupiter Polar Mission (JPM), which will investigate the electrodynamic coupling of the Jovian magnetosphere with the high-latitude atmosphere and the formation of auroras at high latitudes in the Jovian atmosphere. In 2005, the Juno mission was selected as the next New Horizons mission by the Planetary Science Division. Its suite of seven scientific instruments will determine the ratio of oxygen to hydrogen in the Jupiter atmosphere; precisely map Jupiter’s gravitational and magnetic fields; map the variation in atmospheric composition, temperature structure, and cloud opacity; and characterize and explore the three-dimensional structure of Jupiter’s polar magnetosphere and its auroras. Development of this joint planetary exploration-heliophysics mission is ongoing, and all funding of the mission’s heliophysics objectives is provided through the New Horizons program. Instruments that are directly applicable to heliophysics science objectives include the polar magnetosphere suite of particle instruments, the magnetometer, and the infrared auroral mapper. While some limitations on the heliophysics science objectives are produced by the fixed local time and inclination of the orbit, the opportunity to leverage the large launch costs associated with a planetary mission make this collaboration a notable success. Suborbital Program Program Grade: B Finding: NASA significantly increased its funding request for the Suborbital Program in FY 2009 in response to multiple findings over the years from the community. If passed, this increase appears to be sufficient to bring the support level back above the critical threshold for a viable program. This increased support for operational engineering, infrastructure, and inventory is in line with the relevant recommendation from the decadal survey. Meeting the decadal survey recommendation for a revitalized Suborbital Program will also require an increase in science investigations to take advantage of the increased flight rate. Background: Sounding rockets are the most important part of the heliophysics Suborbital Program. This program has been a mainstay for the investigation of fundamental physical processes in the ionosphere-thermosphere, for a wide range of magnetospheric studies, and for the development of new instruments for space physics. While the
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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program flight time of these rockets is small, their velocity through specific regions of space and their ability to sustain very high telemetry rates from multiple payloads launched from a single vehicle make them extremely useful for studying the fine structure of dynamic phenomena such as the aurora. Moreover, sounding rockets provide direct in situ measurements in some important regions of space that are too low in altitude to be sampled by satellites (i.e., the mesosphere below 120 km). Rockets are used to fly stand-alone individual payloads for targeted space plasma research, often in close collaboration with orbital and ground-based measurements. Besides addressing frontier space plasma problems, such as the mechanisms that govern small-scale particle acceleration regions, sounding rocket investigations have served as exemplary tools for the development of scientific ideas and measurement technologies, and they have had a significant level of student participation, often far out of proportion to the program costs. The often fast turnaround from scientific concept through engineering of the instrumentation, flight, and data return and analysis is entirely consistent with the educational objectives of universities. The decadal survey recommendation (numbered 2.7.3 in Section 2.7) to revitalize funding for the Suborbital Program was made at a time when the launch rate for sounding rockets was declining rapidly. As recommended by the survey, an independent senior review team was convened in 2004 to examine the programmatic elements and cost structures of the Wallops Flight Facility Sounding Rocket Program Office. That review team found that the program was well run and as productive as possible within available resources. It found no way to increase the number of high-performance missions without also increasing the budget, reducing requirements, or moving funds from workforce to other costs. A recovery effort for the program was initiated, but in 2006 the redistribution of priorities associated with the exploration initiative resulted in dramatic funding cuts, putting the viability of the program in question. A rescue effort stabilized the program at an annual budget of $45 million to $50 million, with a projected increase to between $60 million and $70 million per year in the outyears. While sounding rockets are its dominant element, the heliophysics Suborbital Program also involves balloons and aircraft; ballooning has recently focused on astrophysics but can provide platforms for space physics as well. A balloon roadmap currently under development outlines priorities, particularly the development of ultra-long-duration balloon (ULDB) capabilities, and support for long-duration balloon (LDB) campaigns in Antarctica, Sweden, and Australia, all of which will require sufficient funding for the science payloads. The balloon program was to be included in the “suborbital revitalization,” but so far the increased funding has gone to the rocket program. Given the recent success of the Antarctic ULDB campaign, balloon-based research should also be a beneficiary of any suborbital program funding increases. Explorer Program Program Grade: C Finding: The Explorer Program is characterized by high science return and a minimum of cost overruns and mission expansion. However, reductions in Explorer Program funding have reduced the mission flight rate from one or more missions per year at the time of the decadal survey to one mission every 4 years, with serious implications for the vitality and balance of programs within the Heliophysics Division. The reinstatement of the Small Explorer and Mission of Opportunity competition in 2007 reversed a downward trend but has not restored funding to levels assumed by the decadal survey. Background: The ability to conduct both small and medium-class missions within the Heliophysics Explorer Program (see Box 2.1) has produced cutting-edge investigations that are complementary to the larger STP and LWS missions. The IMAGE MIDEX mission enjoyed enormous success as the first mission dedicated to determining the global magnetosphere’s response to variable solar wind input. The five-spacecraft THEMIS mission is a MIDEX currently answering long-standing fundamental questions concerning the nature of substorm instabilities that abruptly and explosively release energy stored within Earth’s magnetotail. Neither mission could accomplish its science objectives in the constrained Small Explorer (SMEX) budget, but both were ideally suited for the strategic, short response time enabled by the MIDEX Program. Both have profoundly transformed the Heliophysics Division’s science program. The recently launched AIM mission is already revealing new properties of ice clouds,
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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program BOX 2.1 The Heliophysics Explorer Program, the Decadal Survey, and Other NRC Advice The 2003 decadal survey recognizes that “the Explorer Program has long provided the opportunity for targeted investigations, which can complement the larger initiatives recommended by the committee.”1 Because the program consists of competitively selected investigations, there are no recommendations for Explorer missions in the decadal survey. However, the decadal survey’s recommended budget clearly assumes a heliophysics Explorer Program capable of producing a steady stream of Medium Explorer (MIDEX) and Small Explorer (SMEX) missions over the decade. The importance of the Explorer Program was further emphasized in the report Solar and Space Physics and Its Role in Space Exploration, which says that “the Explorer Program’s strength lies in its ability to respond rapidly to new concepts and developments in science as well as in the program’s synergistic relationship with ongoing strategic missions…. Explorer missions … have the ability to adapt to the ever-changing, immediate needs of the space science community.”2 1National Research Council, The Sun to the Earth—and Beyond: A Decadal Research Strategy in Solar and Space Physics, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2003, p. 62. 2National Research Council, Solar and Space Physics and Its Role in Space Exploration, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2003, p. 36. while the IBEX mission (launched October 2008) will use state-of-the-art particle imaging techniques to examine the boundary between the interstellar medium and the heliosphere. The long and successful history of the Explorer Program has evidenced attributes of missions typically led by principal investigators. These missions are conducted very close to the initial schedule and are completed with little deviation from the initially specified (capped) costs. They return excellent science value and excitement and usually operate successfully well beyond minimum performance periods, managing to achieve strategic objectives for the field as they fill emerging science gaps. Despite this compelling history, in 2005 NASA cut the Explorer budget by more than 50 percent (see Figure 1.8), delaying Explorer AOs for 2005-2006 and leaving a gap in heliophysics Explorer launches between 2010 and 2012. These cuts, coupled with the loss of the Delta-II medium-lift launch vehicle, will reduce the launch rate to one heliophysics SMEX every 4 years and eliminate the MIDEX line. It is clear from the recent SMEX competition, which netted 14 heliophysics proposals (of which 3 are currently in Phase A), that there is no shortage of viable Explorer mission concepts in the heliophysics community. However, only one selection will be made for a launch between 2011 and 2015. This selection will result in a gap of at least 3 years between the IBEX launch and the next SMEX launch. Missions Under Development Before the Survey The decadal survey endorsed completion of three moderate-sized NASA missions that were under development at the time of the decadal survey in 2003: Solar-B, STEREO, and SDO. The budget totals for completing Solar-B and STEREO are close to the original budgets in the decadal survey. SDO, however, has experienced significant cost growth and schedule delays. The decadal survey assumed that SDO could be completed in 2008 for an additional $315 million, but SDO will require at least an additional $700 million before its launch in late 2009 or in 2010. SDO’s cost growth appears to have been driven by changes in international partner contributions, availability of launch vehicles, and technical challenges in instrument development. Although Solar-B, STEREO, and SDO were not explicitly prioritized in the decadal survey, SDO cost growth—like MMS and RBSP cost growth—is a major
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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program contributor to the deferment of priority programs recommended in the decadal survey and is placing the future Heliophysics Great Observatory in jeopardy. Missions Deferred Beyond the Decade The 2003 decadal survey recommended nine prioritized moderate-size initiatives to be started between 2002 and 2012. Initiatives that ranked fourth, fifth, seventh, eighth, and ninth—including the MHM, GEC, MagCon, SWS, and Stereo Magnetospheric Imager missions—will not begin development before 2012. Priority six was the Suborbital Program discussed earlier in this chapter. Small Programs Program Grade: A Finding: Significant enhancements to scientific productivity in heliophysics are being achieved with relatively small resource commitments, including NASA cooperation on the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter mission. Background: The decadal survey identified two initiatives where a limited investment of resources could pay high dividends in science return for NASA. Among NASA small programs in the decadal survey, collaborating with the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Solar Orbiter mission to study the magnetic structure of the Sun was given the highest priority. The ESA-led Solar Orbiter will carry imaging and in situ instrumentation to the inner heliosphere at a moderately high latitude, and its periodic co-rotation with the solar surface will permit unique observational opportunities. The mission is aimed at revealing the properties and dynamics of the inner heliosphere, the fine-scale structure of the corona, and the link between these two. NASA is successfully implementing the recommendation of the decadal survey by soliciting and reviewing proposals for the participation of U.S. hardware teams. However, due to cost growth in other missions, the European Space Agency is seeking to reduce Solar Orbiter costs and may cancel the mission. But if successful, the launch of Solar Orbiter, coincident with the launch proposed for Solar Probe Plus, offers an opportunity for complementary observations of the entire inner heliosphere for the first time. University-class Explorer missions are a highly leveraged opportunity to engage the next generation of space scientists at universities and to push forward key frontiers in the subdisciplines that constitute heliophysics. However, the limited launch capabilities discussed in Chapter 1 restrict the ability of NASA to procure affordable launch opportunities for small payloads. The Explorer Program will continue to solicit Missions of Opportunity, allowing investigators to pursue launch opportunities beyond those offered by NASA. In addition NASA has recently considered stand-alone Missions of Opportunity that will take advantage of future NASA launches and other launches whose timing may not fit with the Explorer opportunity. A smaller CubeSat program is being developed by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to secure secondary payload launch capabilities using a standardized payload envelope. Such a program could allow a university group to enter a space hardware project with a limited budget and to serve as a pipeline through which both instruments and experienced personnel for the larger NASA programs could be delivered. Vitality Programs Program Grade: B Finding: Although some of the specific initiatives recommended by the decadal survey were not undertaken, NASA’s Research and Analysis budget has effectively addressed the needs of present and future flight programs while continuing to foster new ideas and innovation. Background: Vitality programs should ensure that theoretical understanding and the development of numerical models stay in step with the mission data that can be used to verify and constrain them. The needs of physics-based
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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program Background: The Heliophysics Roadmap fully recognizes the central role that theory and modeling play in exploring and interpreting observations, in defining future missions, and in supporting the Heliophysics Great Observatory. Theory and modeling research has traditionally been supported through small to medium-size competitive grants, which provide for flexibility and quick responses to new ideas from community members. The Heliophysics Theory Program (HTP; formerly the SEC-TP) supports large groups working on theory in all areas of heliophysics. About 10 groups are funded based on triennial solicitations. Since entire research groups respond to these solicitations, the proposals are typically rather broad, although generally confined to a single heliophysics subdiscipline. The SR&T program provides a means for smaller grants to support more focused investigations. Virtual Sun Program Grade: B Finding: While no new program element has been created in response to the Virtual Sun recommendation, which proposes an interagency program to develop the theoretical and modeling framework to represent the major elements of the Sun-Earth system, some of the recommendation’s objectives have been achieved through existing programs. Living With a Star TR&T, for example, supports elements of Virtual Sun that will eventually lead to improvements in space weather applications. Background: The decadal survey recommended the creation of two new strategic funding initiatives for theory and modeling, focused on spanning boundaries of funding agencies and traditional disciplines. The first of these, Coupling Complexity, was discussed earlier. The second, the Virtual Sun, would couple understanding of the Sun, the heliosphere, and Earth as a single system. The effort would be built up in a modular fashion, supporting focused investigations of specific components of the system. The TR&T program of LWS is the program best suited to achieving the objectives of the Virtual Sun. Since the 2003 decadal survey, LWS has solicited proposals and awarded one large grant to deliver an operational three-dimensional model of coronal active regions as a strategic capability. It has also contributed, with NSF and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, to interagency collaborative space weather modeling efforts aimed at delivering models coupling the ionosphere and magnetosphere and the corona and heliosphere. Finally, the TR&T program has awarded numerous grants to designated focus research teams aimed at modeling topics fitting those of the Virtual Sun. 2.3 TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT Chapter 3 of the decadal survey emphasized that new technology developments are vital to maintaining future leadership in solar and space physics. The decadal survey contained four recommendations to identify and develop key technologies—including advanced power and propulsion, spacecraft systems, science instrumentation, and command-and-control and data acquisition—that are important to undertaking scientifically compelling missions on a timely basis. Grade: C Finding: NASA is planning to add new small and medium launch capabilities and has made some progress in developing advanced spacecraft systems and command-and-control and data acquisition technologies for spacecraft constellations. But NASA’s progress in developing solar sails is limited, and NASA has only recently begun studying the feasibility of advanced space nuclear power systems and the availability of the necessary radioactive isotopes. These technologies have been identified as strategic needs for upcoming missions. It is also unclear if the rate of technological progress in spacecraft systems can be sustained in the absence of a replacement for NASA’s canceled New Millennium Program, which provided a testbed for new technologies. NASA has also not followed up on decadal survey recommendations regarding advanced scientific instrumentation.
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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program Background: The decadal survey made four specific technology recommendations (numbered below as 2.3.1 through 2.3.4) to enable future solar and space physics missions. [2.3.1] “NASA should assign high priority to the development of advanced propulsion and power technologies required for the exploration of the outer planets, the inner and outer heliosphere, and the local interstellar medium. Such technologies include solar sails, space nuclear power systems, and high-efficiency solar arrays. Equally high priority should be given to the development of lower-cost launch vehicles for Explorer-class missions and to the reopening of the radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) production line.” (p. 85) The present fleet of launch vehicles provides limited and shrinking options for the small and medium spacecraft that support most space-based solar and space physics missions and imposes a high penalty on these missions as well. NASA has recently invested almost $500 million in three contracts for its Commercial Orbital Transportation Systems program. While that program is an effort to support crewed ground-to-space station activities, launch vehicles like the Falcon 1 and Minotaur II developed under the program could lower costs and diversify options for future small and moderate-sized space and Earth science missions. Solar sails have long been regarded as an inexpensive way to provide access to unstable orbits and maintain them. NASA recently attempted to launch a Nano Sail D mission, but the launch vehicle failed. The Planetary Society has also developed a solar sail package, but it suffered launch failures in 2001 and 2005. The Society is currently seeking funds for another attempt, possibly on a Russian rocket. NASA studied the possibility of using nuclear power for the Solar Probe mission, an interstellar probe mission, and other missions but has stopped all work in this area. It has, however, contracted with the National Research Council to study radioisotope power supplies in light of future space science mission needs. [2.3.2] “NASA should continue to give high priority to the development and testing of advanced spacecraft technologies through such … [initiatives] as the New Millennium Program and its advanced technology program.” (p. 86) NASA’s New Millennium Program (NMP) Deep Space 1 (DS-1) mission tested the ion propulsion units now used on the Dawn mission. The 2006 NMP Space Technology 5 (ST-5) mission deployed three 20 kg spacecraft for studying the use of future satellite swarms in the magnetosphere. ST-5 also showed the usefulness of off-the-shelf computers in space; deployed lightweight masts that could be used to support solar sails; demonstrated the utility of very lightweight, unfolding solar power arrays; and tested a lightweight heating and cooling unit for small spacecraft. There are no plans for future NMP missions. In addition to NMP technology demonstration missions, much development work on new spacecraft technologies is done during the early planning phases of individual missions. An example is the Solar Probe Plus mission, which has identified two main technology challenges—its thermal protection system and its power system inside 0.25 AU. The thermal protection system will use a 2.7-m-diameter carbon-carbon, low-conductivity, low-density shield that protects the spacecraft bus and instruments within its umbra during the solar encounter. The two primary solar power arrays will be retracted inside 0.25 AU, and two smaller, high-temperature-tolerant photovoltaic arrays will provide power. These liquid-cooled arrays will be gradually retracted behind the heat shield as the spacecraft approaches the Sun, keeping the incident solar power approximately constant. [2.3.3] “NASA should continue to assign high priority, through its recently established new instrument development programs, to supporting the development of advanced instrumentation for solar and space physics missions and programs.” (p. 88) The decadal survey panel reports on the Sun and heliospheric physics, on solar wind and magnetospheric interactions, and on atmosphere-ionosphere-magnetosphere interactions contained a number of specific recom-
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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program mendations for the development of new instrumentation. NASA has not taken any specific actions on these recommendations, although it is possible to submit instrument development proposals through the regular supporting research and technology channels. [2.3.4] “NASA should accelerate the development of command-and-control and data acquisition technologies for constellation missions.” (p. 89) The MMS project is developing the Interspacecraft Ranging and Alarm System (IRAS). It will provide the absolute and relative position of four satellites and will use data from any of the spacecraft to alert the others to periods of scientific interest when data should be recorded at a high bit rate for transmission back to Earth. 2.4 CONNECTIONS BETWEEN SOLAR AND SPACE PHYSICS AND OTHER DISCIPLINES Chapter 4 of the decadal survey emphasized that solar and space physics is a remarkably broad and interdisciplinary field of investigation, encompassing virtually all physical and chemical processes acting in the solar system and beyond. Thus, research in this area could be leveraged by collaborations, with scientists studying the same physical processes in different environments. The decadal survey made two recommendations to NASA and NSF to foster such collaborations by establishing new initiatives in laboratory plasma science and interdisciplinary research programs.4 Grade: F Finding: NASA has taken no specific action on the connections recommendations, which remain valid. However, community interest in interdisciplinary interactions remains strong, and supporting research and technology programs continue to elicit interdisciplinary interest. Background: The decadal survey committee divided this topic into four major elements: Laboratory Plasma Physics, Astrophysical Plasmas, Atmospheric Science and Climatology, and Atomic and Molecular Physics and Chemistry. It made two recommendations: [2.4.1] “In collaboration with other interested agencies, the NSF and NASA should take the lead in initiating a program in laboratory plasma science that can provide new understanding of fundamental processes important to solar and space physics.” (p. 98) [2.4.2] “The NSF and NASA should take the lead and other interested agencies should collaborate in supporting, via the proposal and funding processes, increased interactions between researchers in solar and space physics and those in allied fields such as atomic and molecular physics, laboratory fusion physics, atmospheric science, and astrophysics.” (p. 109) NASA has traditionally supported many of these areas through its supporting research and technology program. The solar and heliophysics program, for example, includes one matrix element (of five) expressly devoted to supporting ancillary laboratory research—for example, derivation of atomic constants, photometric calibrations, or simulation of solar and heliospheric phenomena. Still, NSF has devoted more explicit resources to fostering such interdisciplinary collaborations—for example, through its NSF/Department of Energy partnership in basic plasma science and engineering. 4 Similar recommendations were also made in the recent Physics 2010 survey series. See National Research Council, Plasma Science: Advancing Knowledge in the National Interest, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2007.
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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program The four elements listed in the survey all have clear links to the space plasma physics of the Heliophysics Division. Laboratory plasma experiments can help isolate and study the underlying plasma physics phenomena observed in both solar system plasmas and remote astrophysical systems, including magnetic reconnection, magnetic dynamos, plasma-neutral interactions, and waves unique to magnetized plasmas (e.g., whistler and shear Alfvén waves). Sounding rockets are used to probe the nearby plasma physics laboratory of the ionosphere and mesosphere by isolating particular wave-particle interactions or other partially ionized plasma processes for study. Astrophysics and planetary plasma physics processes are well represented in the heliosphere. Virtually all astrophysical plasmas comprise ionized hydrogen, with varying levels of collisional neutral particles, embedded in magnetic fields. Earth’s geocorona, which extends between 500 and 1,000 km, offers processes both common to and contrasting with plasmas in a host of cosmic settings, for instance, interstellar clouds. Hydrogen ions (atomic and molecular) and electrons are also the components of the ionospheres of all of the giant planets, including all of the “hot Jupiters” found around other stars. In areas of climate-scale processes, the decadal survey pointed out that “the influence of global climate change on the geospace environment—at least on its lower reaches—must also be considered” (p. 109). Advances in this area have been slow in coming. More observational and modeling work is needed to understand both the signatures and the consequences of anthropogenic gases for the upper atmosphere, and the transmission of any such effects to the exosphere and magnetosphere. Space plasma physicists and their instruments typically participate in NASA’s Planetary Science Division missions, including the upcoming Juno mission to Jupiter and the MAVEN mission to Mars. Finally, atomic and molecular physics and chemistry provide the fundamental linkage between the Sun and atmospheres throughout the solar system. Modern physics originated in the need to understand the interaction between radiation and matter, and quantum chemistry became a partner in probing how photons, neutral gases, ions, and electrons interact. NASA has supported approximately one new research award per year in this area, although recent awards have tended to be given to theoretical rather than laboratory investigations. The 2003 decadal survey’s recommendations reprinted above were amplified in the 2007 NRC report on plasma physics in the Physics 2010 survey series.5 Clearly, the plasma physics community thinks it would benefit from increased collaboration with the NASA community. 2.5 EFFECTS OF THE SOLAR AND SPACE ENVIRONMENT ON TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY Chapter 5 of the 2003 decadal survey focuses on the mechanics of combining the efforts of several government agencies to meet the challenges posed to numerous technologies by solar activity and Earth’s space environment. It makes recommendations to NASA to improve its role in theory and modeling to understand space weather, to transition from science-based studies to environmental monitoring, and to formulate policy decisions that affect public and private efforts to acquire and use space-weather-related resources. Grade: C Finding: NASA/NOAA/NSF joint efforts on modeling and simulations are excellent examples of successful and close interagency coordination. However, use of scientific spacecraft such as NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer for operational purposes by other agencies at L1 is ill-advised and is a potential obstacle to an independent space weather monitoring program. Background: While the Sun’s energy output in the visible part of the spectrum is nearly constant, its output at other wavelengths that affect the upper atmosphere and its output in the form of the solar wind are quite variable. This variability and the complex coupling to the upper atmosphere and magnetosphere create space weather, which is 5 National Research Council, Plasma Science: Advancing Knowledge in the National Interest, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2007.
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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program driven by the physics of a coupled system that starts in the Sun’s interior and extends throughout the heliosphere, including Earth’s atmosphere all the way down to and beneath Earth’s surface. Space weather has deleterious effects on numerous technologies, as demonstrated during the 2003 Halloween storms, when a series of CMEs produced effects in Earth’s environment that lasted for weeks—a blackout in southern Sweden, surge currents in Swedish pipelines, degraded or occluded GPS signals, numerous interferences in high-frequency radio communications, rerouted aircraft, electronic upsets, data noise, significant proton degradation of solar arrays, orbit degradation, and high levels of accumulated radiation on spacecraft. Although no spacecraft were lost, one instrument on the Mars Odyssey spacecraft was disabled by radiation at Mars’s orbit. While these events occurred during extreme space weather, the list is by no means uncommon or exhaustive. Many of the recommendations in Chapter 5 of the 2003 decadal survey are directed at agencies other than NASA, but NASA’s Heliophysics Division plays two critical roles in meeting the challenges of space weather. First, NASA is the lead agency for producing the scientific understanding that underlies space weather. This mission is clearly distinct from monitoring the space environment. The distinction is best illustrated by the difference between meteorology (the science of weather) and obtaining and using weather information for forecasting. NASA does the meteorology of space weather, whereas other agencies obtain and use space weather information ultimately for long-term and short-term forecasting. Second, NASA is important to transitioning data acquisition programs and platforms into operational use. Often the data collected for science and for monitoring the environment are the same but are put to different uses. For example, at the Earth-Sun L1 Lagrange point (the Lagrange point upstream of Earth) solar wind data must be real time for “nowcasting” and forecasting but not necessarily for scientific studies. This contrast in scientific and operational use of data led to the following decadal survey recommendation: [2.5.1] “NASA and NOAA should initiate the necessary planning to transition solar and geospace imaging instrumentation into operational programs for the public and private sectors.” (p. 120) The decadal survey recognized several measurements (e.g., monitoring of L1 solar wind and solar and geospace imaging) that should be transitioned from science to operations. Monitoring the solar wind is most straightforward because the requirements are well known. The importance of L1 measurements for space weather resulted in the survey recommendation that NOAA assume responsibility for obtaining L1 solar wind measurements. In contrast, the 2005 Roadmap recommends three partnership missions (Heliostorm, L1-Heliostorm, and L1 Earth-Sun) to satisfy future L1 monitoring requirements—recommendations that clearly mix science goals (NASA’s mandate) with monitoring requirements (NOAA’s mandate) and do not adhere to the decadal survey recommendation. The continued success in acquiring real-time solar wind data at L1 from the ACE spacecraft has led to a dangerous complacency at both NASA and NOAA, causing NOAA to rely on ACE for operational purposes. ACE is a scientific mission, not an operational mission. The spacecraft is well beyond its 2-year mission design, and while it may continue to operate for many years, there are several spacecraft systems and solar wind instruments on ACE that could fail at any time. ACE has neither the on-orbit redundancy nor the backup spacecraft that are standard for operational missions like NOAA’s weather satellites. By not recognizing these deficiencies, NASA and NOAA have created a barrier to transitioning L1 and other measurements to real-time operations. Interagency coordination is much better for theory and modeling than for the transition of measurements from science to operations. The decadal survey recommended as follows: [2.5.2] “The relevant federal agencies should establish an overall verification and validation program for all publicly funded models and system-impact products before they become operational.” (p. 121) NASA’s CCMC, a multiagency R&D partnership for the next generation of space science and space weather models, is evidence of this coordination. CCMC functions are (1) to serve the research community by providing model runs on request and (2) to support the transition of research models to operations through systematic metrics-based evaluations as well as science-based validations. CCMC also has a strong educational component; it routinely
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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program hosts summer students and provides model outputs for K-12 and college space science education. While CCMC is a NASA-funded research program, its steering committee is interagency. It is also highly cross-disciplinary, combining numerical analysis, high-performance computational science, and integrated solar, interplanetary, magnetospheric, ionospheric, and atmospheric physics. NASA clearly recognizes CCMC as both a research asset and as a LWS tool for enabling transition to operations. The NASA/NOAA agreement to share modeling and verification for potential operational space weather models is another important step in improving interagency coordination. This effort is relevant to the recommendation that NOAA and the Department of Defense (DOD) should prioritize operational needs and determine which of the competing models is best suited for particular operational environments. 2.6 EDUCATION AND PUBLIC OUTREACH Chapter 6 of the decadal survey addresses NASA’s important role in education and public outreach (E/PO). It contains recommendations to expand and improve the program beyond the capabilities currently in place. Grade: C Finding: NASA’s E/PO programs are regarded as generally successful, with several notable successes among the mission-associated programs. However, NASA programs have emphasized elementary-school and public education despite the decadal survey recommendation that educational efforts should focus on college and university-level training, a goal that remains poorly addressed. Background: Mission-associated E/PO programs continue to draw praise from many segments of the community. The number of Web sites is growing, informing the public about the accomplishments of various missions and the relevance of their science to society as a whole. Scientific movies of auroral displays or solar eruptions remain among the most compelling examples of how space can directly affect Earth and translate directly into public appreciation of the overall NASA mission of space exploration. However, the decadal survey was clear in defining two main concerns for education and public outreach: College and university-level undergraduate and graduate training aimed at providing “a sufficient number of scientists trained in solar and space physics” and Lower-level education and public outreach aimed at contributing to the “national effort to enhance education in science and technology” (p. 126). NASA’s E/PO efforts have been focused solely on the second concern—elementary- and high-school-level general-interest educational materials. This disconnect is serious and requires an examination of whether NASA is capable of meeting higher-level educational needs. It becomes apparent when specific recommendations from the survey (numbered below as 2.6.1 through 2.6.4) are recalled: [2.6.1] “The NSF and NASA should jointly establish a program of “bridged positions” that provides (through a competitive process) partial salary, start-up funding, and research support for four new faculty members every year for 5 years.” (p. 129) The survey concluded that educational activity in solar and space physics is most influential at the undergraduate level and above. The challenges in this area arise from too few faculty positions at universities and too few institutions having comprehensive programs. The NSF has established and funded a program of faculty positions that addresses very well the spirit of this recommendation, but NASA has taken no action and made no progress in establishing bridged faculty positions.
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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program [2.6.2] “The NSF and NASA should jointly support an initiative that provides increased opportunities for distance education in solar and space physics.” (p. 131) NASA has expressed interest in coordinating E/PO activities that are currently distributed across many different programs, a prerequisite for engaging in serious distance education. There have been notable mission-specific successes in distance education, including the solar irradiance monitoring program in Africa established under the SDO program at Stanford University. However, there has been no effort to develop a coordinated distribution of materials to schools or remote sites. [2.6.3] “NASA should institute a specific program for the support of undergraduate research in solar and space physics at colleges and universities. The program should have the flexibility to support such research with either a supplement to existing grants or with a stand-alone grant.” (p. 133) Undergraduate students involved in research activity go on to pursue careers in science in far greater numbers than those not involved in research. Despite the well-documented success of NSF’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program, no specific avenue for support of undergraduate education can be identified in the Heliophysics Division. The recent elevation of support for education-related activities to fully fledged proposals for evaluation within the SR&T program is a significant step. But successful SR&T E/PO proposals will require closer coordination and monitoring, either from NASA or from experts at external institutions, to develop meaningful college-level participation in research. The restoration of a regional broker/facilitator network could also contribute substantially to more competitive college and university participation in NASA’s heliophysics programs. [2.6.4] “Over the next decade NASA and the NSF should fund groups to develop and disseminate solar and space physics educational resources (especially at the undergraduate level) and to train educators and scientists in the effective use of such resources.” (p. 140) NASA has been successful in primary and secondary education primarily owing to the mission-specific E/PO efforts of external groups. Some recent notable examples include the development of teacher training seminars and materials on solar physics through Solar-B funding to the Chabot Space and Science Museum in Oakland, California. The Chabot team has also created a prominent Hinode (Solar-B) display of Sun-Earth connection science that is seen by thousands of museum visitors every year. Education apart from mission-based programs has until recently been accomplished through supplemental funding attached to NASA SR&T grants. This methodology has met with only limited success, largely because there has not been enough funding to support the teachers and develop the materials themselves. Recently, the Heliophysics Division changed this approach and expects to evaluate a limited number of proposals for E/PO activities as part of the annual competition supported through the research and analysis (R&A) funding line. This will improve the effectiveness of the heliophysics education program, but only if the emphasis is on funding the best ideas from established experts in the field of E/PO and experts in student learning and curriculum development. 2.7 STRENGTHENING THE SOLAR AND SPACE PHYSICS RESEARCH ENTERPRISE Chapter 7 of the decadal survey described the variety of ways in which solar and space physics research is conducted in the nation and cited four ways to strengthen the enterprise by improving the vitality of the research community, using resources efficiently, applying appropriate policy and management to the programs, and fostering interagency and international coordination and partnership.
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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program Grade: C Finding: Some initiatives to strengthen the solar and space physics enterprise have made progress. NASA has processes in place to capitalize on existing research assets, has allocated funding to revitalize the Suborbital Program, includes space physics instruments in Planetary Science Division missions, and continues to have an open-door data policy. However, there has been limited or no progress on other initiatives. Launch capabilities continue to be inadequate, NASA has not undertaken an independent review of its relationship with academia, and some Announcements of Opportunity could better tailor mission rules to mission scope. Moreover, International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) continue to hamper international cooperation on missions. Background: Having identified the four main areas in which the solar and space physics enterprise could be improved, the decadal survey made several recommendations concerning each. [2.7.1] “NASA should undertake an independent outside review of its existing policies and approaches regarding the support of solar and space physics research in academic institutions, with the objective of enabling the nation’s colleges and universities to be stronger contributors to this research field.” (p. 149) Unfortunately, there is no mention of this recommendation in the NASA Heliophysics Roadmap, and no steps appear to be in place to set up the recommended review. The lack of continuity in spaceflight programs is a serious impediment to university participation in the development of new space instrumentation and associated analysis of space data. Only very large institutions and NASA field centers have the diversity to sustain the engineering and management expertise required for spaceflight missions. It is nevertheless important that the university community maintain the nation’s ability to produce the scientists and technicians who are needed and that NASA field centers and universities collaborate in this effort. [2.7.2] “The NSF and NASA should give all possible consideration to capitalizing on existing ground-and space-based assets as the goals of new research programs are defined.” (p. 151) The power of linking space and ground assets was demonstrated during the 2003 Halloween solar super-storm, when the effects of the storms were observed at the Sun, at Earth, in the solar system, and out to the edge of the heliosphere. Existing assets are effectively used in the Heliophysics Great Observatory, which will continue to evolve as new assets become available. At NASA there is a framework within the senior review process to support prioritized space assets that contribute to the Heliophysics Great Observatory. [2.7.3] “NASA should revitalize the Suborbital Program to bring flight opportunities back to previous levels.” (p. 154) The Suborbital Program earned a grade of B as discussed in Section 2.2, which provides additional information on the status of the program and support for it. [2.7.4] “NASA should aggressively support the engineering research and development of a range of low-cost vehicles capable of launching payloads for scientific research. “NASA should develop a memorandum of understanding with DOD that would delineate a formal procedure for identifying in advance flights of opportunity for civilian spacecraft as secondary payloads on certain Air Force missions. “NASA should explore the feasibility of similar piggybacking on appropriate foreign scientific launches.” (p. 155)
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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program The strength of the Heliophysics Division’s research program stems from its balanced distribution of missions, which have historically utilized the Suborbital Program, the SMEX Pegasus launcher, and the MIDEX Taurus and Delta II launch vehicles. Nevertheless, the 2003 decadal survey listed specific issues that needed attention: Launch vehicle costs were growing, by as much as 25 percent for a SMEX and 33 percent for larger missions. Pegasus was the only qualified launch vehicle for SMEX missions. There were no launch vehicles for spacecraft that fit between the suborbital and SMEX missions. The survey recommendations reprinted above were crafted to address these issues. Unfortunately, since the decadal survey, the launch vehicle market has worsened dramatically. Pegasus costs have increased to 30 percent of the total SMEX mission cost. There are still no low-cost launch vehicles between the suborbital and Pegasus-launched SMEX missions. There have been no secondary payload opportunities. There have been no heliophysics missions manifested on foreign launch vehicles. There are no viable and reasonably priced medium-size launch vehicles. There is a limited selection of relatively expensive heavy-lift launchers. Currently, there are no MIDEX missions and no plans for them in the future because there are no viable launch options between the Pegasus and the Atlas V and Delta IV class launchers. Attempts to obtain a new, qualified medium-size launch vehicle to replace the Delta II, such as the Minotaur II, have yet to bear fruit. Similarly, a lack of low-cost launch options for the smallest payloads has resulted in the effective termination of the University Explorer Program. This situation contributes significantly to increased mission costs and threatens the future of a balanced program of missions of different sizes. [2.7.5] “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.” (p. 156) NASA’s Planetary Science Division has incorporated space plasma physics instruments in its missions, including the New Frontiers Program’s Juno mission to Jupiter and the Mars Exploration Program’s MAVEN mission to Mars. The Juno mission will satisfy the main objectives of the JPM, the third-ranked moderate mission recommendation from the decadal survey, without using Heliophysics Division funds. [2.7.6] “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.” (p. 157) [2.7.7] “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.” (p. 158) The decadal survey recognized the power of principal-investigator-led, cost-capped missions in establishing and maintaining cost discipline during mission development and cited several successful Explorer-class missions that were completed within their budgets. Based on these successes, the decadal survey made a three-part recommendation to NASA.
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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program Mission rules and responsibilities of the various contracting parties are defined in mission AOs, and recently released AOs clearly intend to meet the spirit of the survey recommendation. However, more attention to tailoring mission rules to mission scope will improve the present path. Since the decadal survey, there have been one SMEX AO and one mission AO (the 2007 SMEX AO and the RBSP AO). In the SMEX AO, there is specific intent to define mission rules clearly in the proposal stage and to tailor mission rules to mission scope and complexity.6 The AO also clearly states the responsibilities of the principal investigator in mission implementation and execution. The RBSP AO is considerably vaguer in defining mission rules.7 No mission classification is given for the instruments, and there are only vague references to the rules themselves. The RBSP mission science, though more complex than that of a SMEX mission, was divided into several instrument and instrument suite proposals that are of the same level and complexity as for a SMEX mission. The RBSP AO does not recognize the complexity or the tailoring of the mission rules to the mission scope. [2.7.8] “The principal agencies involved in solar and space physics research—NASA, NSF, NOAA, and DOD—should devise and implement a management process that will ensure a high level of coordination in the field and that will disseminate the results of such a coordinated effort—including data, research opportunities, and related matters—widely and frequently to the research community.” (p. 159) NASA’s open data policy ensures the timely distribution of science products to the community. The introduction of virtual observatories to unify the interfaces required to make use of the available data sets is also commendable, as is NASA’s collaboration with other agencies to provide research opportunities of common interest. No unified data distribution system is available for spaceflight missions conducted under the auspices of other agencies, which means the full potential of the nation’s resources in this area cannot be achieved. [2.7.9] “For space-weather-related applications, increased attention should be devoted to coordinating NASA, NOAA, NSF, and DOD research findings, models, and instrumentation so that new developments can quickly be incorporated into the operational and applications programs of NOAA and DOD.” (p. 159) For interagency modeling efforts, the CCMC program earned a grade of A as discussed in Section 2.5, which provides additional information on the status of the program and support for it. For instruments, the present pace of development does not present any barriers to incorporating state-of-the-art sensors into operational programs. [2.7.10] “Because of the importance of international collaboration in solar and space physics research, the federal government, especially the State Department and NASA, should implement clearly defined procedures regarding exchanges of scientific data or information on instrument characteristics that will facilitate the participation of researchers from universities, private companies, and nonprofit organizations in space research projects having an international component.” (p. 161) The 1999 DOD Authorization Act placed all space satellites, as well as related ground equipment, technical data, and services, on the U.S. Munitions List. Although the State Department loosened the ITAR restrictions on some interactions involving accredited U.S. institutions of higher learning in 2002, a year later the decadal survey observed as follows: “Much of the ease with which international cooperation in space-based research was achieved 6 The 2007 SMEX AO states as follows: “In this AO the reason for changing the risk classification of SMEX missions from Class C to tailored Class D is to return to the original intent of the Explorer Program’s SMEX missions.” 7 “NASA intends to give the Principal Investigator and his/her team the ability to use their own management processes, procedures, and methods to the fullest extent possible,” from Section 3.5.1 of Small Explorers (SMEX) and Missions of Opportunity 2003, Solicitation AO_03_OSS_02, released February 3, 2003, p. 14, available at http://nspires.nasaprs.com.
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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program in the past has been lost in the last several years as regulatory changes intended to apply to arms and related matters have been applied to scientific activities” (p. 160). Little has changed in the implementation of ITAR since the decadal survey. The ITAR regulations continue to have major deleterious effects on international scientific activities that depend on satellites and have caused serious problems in the teaching of university space science and engineering classes. An NRC workshop8 highlighted a number of ongoing issues that are making international collaborations much more problematical: (1) uncertainty about the definition of fundamental research, (2) confusion about rules that apply to publication of results, (3) confusion over how ITAR regulations apply differently to universities, national laboratories, government, and industry, (4) confusion over license requirements related to the transmittal of information to non-U.S. project participants, and (5) added costs and time delays involved in obtaining licenses and technical-assistance agreements from the Department of State. One result of the 2007 workshop was a renewed commitment by both the State Department and members of the university community to communicate more effectively on issues involving ITAR and to facilitate improvements in the efficiency and clarity with which the regulations are implemented. However, the only significant change in ITAR implementation that has occurred over the past year has been the appointment of a representative of the scientific community to the Defense Trade Advisory Group, which advises the Department of State on issues involving munitions exports. 8 The workshop was held on September 12 and 13, 2007, and Space Science and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations: Summary of a Workshop was published in 2008 (The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.). The meeting had broad participation from the scientific community, university and laboratory administration, industry, the federal government, congressional staff, international space agencies, the policy community, and NRC staff.