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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program 3 Recommendations The committee’s charge was to offer advice that could optimize the value of NASA’s heliophysics programs without altering the priorities and recommendations of the 2003 solar and space physics decadal survey1 and that could improve the next decadal survey. Based on the information and assessment provided in Chapters 1 and 2, the committee makes nine recommendations and offers eight guidelines in the following three areas: Recommendations to fulfill the Integrated Research Strategy. The central recommendation of the decadal survey was for a coordinated set of spacecraft missions and other research activities that could provide concurrent observations of the same solar and space phenomena as well as other research synergies. Although it would be extremely difficult now to restore all of the science content anticipated in the Integrated Research Strategy, this committee makes five recommendations that could help restore key features of the decadal survey’s Integrated Research Strategy before the end of the decade. Other recommendations to fulfill the decadal survey. The decadal survey also made recommendations on research priorities, technology development, societal effects, education and public outreach, and supporting activities. The present committee makes four recommendations to improve NASA’s execution of the decadal survey recommendations in these areas. Guidance to improve the next decadal survey. The committee also provides eight guidelines intended to improve the quality of the next decadal survey in solar and space physics. The committee recognizes that the decadal survey is the primary process for establishing science and mission priorities for solar and space physics research. Wherever possible, the committee’s recommendations seek to reinforce the recommendations of the 2003 decadal survey. RECOMMENDATIONS TO FULFILL THE INTEGRATED RESEARCH STRATEGY With the Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission, NASA has begun to implement the Integrated Research Strategy of the decadal survey. But the budget issues described in Chapters 1 and 2, including cost growth in the 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.
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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program MMS and Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) missions and funding limitations in the Solar-Terrestrial Probes (STP) program, have forced the deferment of the other missions that the decadal survey anticipated would be under development by 2009. Subsequent NASA decisions, also described in Chapter 1, including the reallocation of funding to the Solar Probe Plus mission and the inadequate implementation of the Geospace Network mission, threaten to upset the recommended mission queue and further adversely affect the decadal survey’s Integrated Research Strategy. The committee makes five recommendations to buttress the survey’s Integrated Research Strategy, to restore as many of the planned concurrent observations as possible, and to mitigate the underlying budget issues. Recommendation 1: (a) If no budget augmentation is forthcoming that is large enough to support the planned Solar Probe launch date of 2017 without impacting other Heliophysics Division missions, NASA should consult with the community through a formal review mechanism (such as committees of the NASA Advisory Council or other independent, external, community priority-setting bodies) to determine Solar Probe’s priority relative to that of other decadal survey recommendations and its launch date. (b) An implementation plan for the science objectives of the Geospace Network that includes both ionosphere-thermosphere and magnetosphere components should be developed as soon as possible in advance of lower-ranked moderate missions in the 2003 decadal survey’s recommended mission queue. The queue of missions and their timing as recommended in the decadal survey provide the concurrent observations that underpin the survey’s Integrated Research Strategy and NASA’s Heliophysics Great Observatory. The decadal survey recommended that NASA should pursue Solar Probe concurrently with its moderate mission recommendations only if the heliophysics budget was augmented to support Solar Probe development. The decadal survey recommended that if that was not possible, NASA should pursue Solar Probe only after the survey’s moderate-mission recommendations had been developed. NASA recently completed a promising study to redesign the Solar Probe mission, and NASA’s FY 2009 budget reallocates $238 million in the outyears to begin development of the new Solar Probe Plus mission. However, the current FY 2009 budget runout is not large enough to allow Solar Probe Plus to meet its originally planned launch date. Moreover, contrary to the decadal survey, Solar Probe Plus would begin development before most of the survey’s recommended moderate missions, including the Multispacecraft Heliospheric, Geospace Electrodynamic Connections, Magnetospheric Constellation, Solar Wind Sentinels, and Stereo Magnetospheric Imager missions. Consistent with the mission queue recommended in the decadal survey, NASA should not begin development of the Solar Probe Plus mission unless the Heliophysics Division’s budget is adequate to support the original launch date or unless NASA formally consults with the community and receives a recommendation to begin development of the Solar Probe Plus mission before the remaining moderate missions recommended in the 2003 decadal survey. The Geospace Network mission was the second-ranked moderate mission recommended in the decadal survey’s Integrated Research Strategy and would consist of two radiation-belt mapping spacecraft and two ionosphere-mapping spacecraft to determine the global response of geospace to solar storms. As described in Chapter 2, NASA has begun implementing the radiation-belt mapping component of the Geospace Network mission but not its ionosphere mapping component. Because solar storms are transient events, both components of the Geospace Network must operate simultaneously to obtain data that allow understanding of how energy is exchanged between Earth’s radiation belts and its ionosphere during solar storms. Without full implementation of the Geospace Network mission, a state-of-the-art ionosphere-thermosphere mission is the most critical gap in the decadal survey’s Integrated Research Strategy. Thus, NASA should immediately identify and pursue means to reestablish an ionosphere-thermosphere mission to achieve the science goals of the Geospace Network mission. Consistent with the mission queue recommended in the decadal survey, NASA should begin implementation of the full Geospace Network before pursuing the survey’s other moderate-mission recommendations. Recommendation 2: Funding for the Heliophysics Explorer Program should be restored to recommended levels as rapidly as possible. The ramp-up in the current 5-year-projection budget is encouraging and should be accelerated as soon as possible.
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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program In addition to providing frequent flight opportunities for world-class investigations, the Heliophysics Explorer Program offers the most likely path forward for restoring as much of the 2003 decadal survey’s Integrated Research Strategy as possible before the next decadal survey. Although the decadal survey could not explicitly rank the Explorer Program missions, which are competitively selected, it incorporated a steady funding level for the Explorer Program in its budget recommendations. Since the decadal survey, the annual budget for the Heliophysics Explorer Program has decreased, from almost $120 million in FY 2005 to just over $45 million in FY 2008. NASA’s FY 2009 budget runout proposes to reverse this trend, increasing the Explorer Program’s budget to $90 million by FY 2013. (These figures assume that the future Explorers budget line is evenly allocated between heliophysics and astrophysics missions.) The committee endorses the budget projections and recommends that NASA seek to accelerate Heliophysics Explorer budget growth. Heliophysics Explorer funding should be restored irrespective of launch availability for the Medium Explorer (MIDEX) payloads. The number of awards in the 2008 Small Explorer (SMEX) downselect demonstrates the depth of viable mission proposals available to NASA. Recommendation 3: Funding for the Solar-Terrestrial Probes flight program should be restored to enable the recommended coordination of investigations. Most of the decadal survey’s moderate-mission recommendations fall under NASA’s STP program. Stable STP funding was therefore necessary to carry out the decadal survey. However, STP funding instead fell from its peak of approximately $140 million in FY 2004 to approximately $70 million in FY 2008. Although the planned restoration of funding for the Heliophysics Explorer Program may restore some of the science content anticipated by the decadal survey’s Integrated Research Strategy, NASA does not know in advance what missions will be proposed to the Heliophysics Explorer Program and therefore cannot rely on the program to fulfill the decadal survey. To carry out the Integrated Research Strategy, NASA needs to fund the Solar-Terrestrial Probes program at the originally planned levels. Recommendation 4: Future Solar-Terrestrial Probes and Living With a Star missions should reduce mission requirements that exceed those assumed in the decadal survey to match resource constraints. As described in Chapter 2, the content in the Announcements of Opportunity (AOs) for the MMS and RBSP missions substantially exceeded the assumptions underlying the budget estimates in the decadal survey, leading to larger and more complex spacecraft, larger launch vehicles, and other cost increases that expanded development budgets by a factor of two or more. In turn, larger MMS and RBSP budgets forced the deferment of other missions in the decadal survey’s Integrated Research Strategy and NASA’s Heliophysics Great Observatory. For the remainder of the decade, NASA should take steps to ensure that the science content and mission requirements for future missions in the STP and Living With a Star (LWS) programs do not imply cost estimates that exceed these missions’ budgets and require additional resources. In particular, before releasing a future science payload AO, NASA should revisit the relevant mission science content and budget estimates from the decadal survey, and ensure that departures from those assumptions are well understood, justified, and necessary. If mission growth still exceeds the budget estimates from the decadal survey, NASA should take additional actions, including descoping mission requirements, to be consistent with the science content assumed in the decadal survey. Recommendation 5: The mission management mode (principal-investigator-led versus center-led) on future Solar-Terrestrial Probe and Living With a Star missions should match resource constraints. Changes in management mode and in associated overhead costs that depart from the original decadal survey should be matched by changes in mission budgets. A key assumption for many of the moderate-mission recommendations in the decadal survey was that the entire mission, not just the science payload, would be competitively selected from proposals by principal-investigator-
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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program led teams and managed by those teams. The decadal survey also recommended that NASA “place as much responsibility as possible in the hands of the principal investigator” (p. 19; p. 157). NASA has instead chosen to have a NASA field center manage the development of the survey’s first moderate mission recommendation, the MMS mission. It is possible that the change in management mode was one reason for MMS cost growth. NASA should ensure that a switch in management mode for missions after MMS in the STP program does not increase costs beyond the mission’s budget and require additional resources. In particular, before deciding on a management mode for future STP and LWS missions, NASA should revisit the assumptions of the decadal survey and ensure that departures from them are not only well understood, justified, and necessary but also accompanied by appropriate budgetary resources. OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS TO FULFILL THE DECADAL SURVEY To better support NASA’s implementation of the decadal survey’s recommendations in the areas of research priorities, technology development, societal effects, education and public outreach, and supporting activities, the committee makes the following four recommendations. Recommendation 6: NASA’s mission roadmapping activities should seek to retain the balance and synergy of the decadal survey’s Integrated Research Strategy. Several key science questions in the decadal survey receive little or no attention in the Heliophysics Roadmap, including coronal heating, the heliosphere’s interaction with the interstellar medium, and the magnetospheres and ionospheres of other planets. NASA should ensure that future roadmaps incorporate these elements and reflect the balance and synergy of the decadal survey’s Integrated Research Strategy in detail. Recommendation 7: NASA should continue to aggressively pursue the recovery of a range of launch capabilities, including replacement or restoration of the Delta II medium-lift launch vehicle, secondary payload capabilities, and access to foreign launch capabilities. Solar and space physics research relies heavily on access to the lighter end of the space access spectrum, and the dominance of moderate, small, and vitality programs recommended in the decadal survey reflects this fact. However, options for launching lighter payloads are shrinking, and moves to larger launch vehicles in the MMS and RBSP missions have increased costs for both missions. NASA is pursuing new medium-lift launch capabilities, such as the Minotaur II, through the Commercial Orbital Transportation Systems program. Although limited by national policy, NASA’s Heliophysics Division has also attempted to expand the community’s launch options by the conversion of excess ballistic missiles. The committee applauds these efforts and recommends that NASA press hard on all possible options for space access for solar and space physics payloads, including use of secondary payload and foreign launch assets. Recommendation 8: The future of key measurements at L1 needs to be resolved between NASA and NOAA at the earliest possible time. Solar wind measurements at L1 are critical for both research analysis and space weather prediction, and the decadal survey recommended that NOAA assume responsibility for operationalizing these measurements. However, NASA’s Heliophysics Division Roadmap includes three NASA missions (Heliostorm, L1-Heliostorm, and L1 Earth-Sun) to be undertaken in partnership with NOAA that mix research and operational L1 requirements. Given the age of the current L1 monitoring spacecraft (Advanced Composition Explorer) and the lack of redundant systems to support operational measurements, it is critical that L1 measurements be operationalized at NOAA quickly. Consistent with the decadal survey, NASA should work with NOAA to hand off cleanly and clearly L1 measurement responsibilities as soon as possible.
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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program Recommendation 9: NASA should emphasize the involvement of undergraduate and graduate students in educational outreach grants. NASA should also consider restoring facilitator positions for coordinating educational outreach efforts between researchers and NASA, and it should improve the coordination of education efforts between NASA’s Heliophysics Division and its Office of Education. The decadal survey recommended that NASA establish education activities to better support college and university faculty in solar and space physics and to encourage college students to enter the field. Much of NASA’s education and outreach effort has instead focused on primary and secondary school students. Even in the absence of such higher education initiatives, investigators can make stand-alone higher-education proposals to NASA’s supporting research and technology grants program. This fact is little known in the solar and space physics community, and NASA should advertise it more widely. NASA could also improve university involvement by restoring the network of regional brokers/facilitators who created and nurtured partnerships between space scientists and educators to carry out highly leveraged education activities prior to 2007. NASA’s Heliophysics Division could also explore ways to leverage resources in NASA’s Office of Education to increase university participation in the division’s programs. GUIDANCE TO IMPROVE THE NEXT DECADAL SURVEY Although carried out over a span of years, the National Research Council’s (NRC’s) decadal planning is an iterative process in which the lessons learned in the formulation and execution of one decadal survey can inform and improve the next decadal survey. To improve the next decadal survey in solar and space physics, the committee offers eight guidelines. These guidelines are not formal recommendations to NASA, but they do provide important advice to the next decadal survey committee on, among other things, negotiating the statement of task for the next decadal survey. Guideline 1: Schedules for future NASA roadmapping exercises should be phased to follow future NRC decadal surveys and midterm assessments. Every 2 years, NASA’s Heliophysics Division undertakes a roadmapping exercise to formalize the science, technology, and mission details that underpin the division’s activities. Ideally, NASA’s roadmaps provide planning depth that builds on the research priorities identified through the NRC’s broad decadal planning process. The Heliophysics Division roadmapping exercise is out of sync with the NRC decadal planning process. For example, NASA undertook its 2008 roadmapping exercise in parallel with the development of this report, and both documents were planned for release in February 2009. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for NASA’s 2008 heliophysics roadmap to consider and incorporate the findings and recommendations of this NRC mid-decade assessment. NASA should ensure that the schedule for the development of future heliophysics roadmaps follows and can build on the release of the next decadal survey in solar and space physics. Guideline 2: The next decadal survey should reconsider any missions from the 2003 decadal survey that have not begun development at the time of the next decadal survey. Even if this report’s recommendations on fulfilling the Integrated Research Strategy will have been executed, most of the recommended spacecraft missions from the 2003 decadal survey will not have begun development at the time of the next decadal survey. Advances in the field, changes in research priorities, and other factors may make some or all of those unimplemented recommendations obsolete. The next decadal survey should therefore reconsider the science goals attached to the spacecraft mission recommendations from the 2003 decadal survey that will not have entered development and prioritize them against newly proposed missions and activities.
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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program Guideline 3: The next decadal survey should incorporate cost thresholds beyond which NASA must consult with the community through a formal mechanism (such as committees of the NASA Advisory Council or other independent, external, community priority-setting bodies) to review a mission’s continued priority. Given the considerable cost growth for the MMS and RBSP missions and its negative impact on the 2003 decadal survey’s Integrated Research Strategy and NASA’s Heliophysics Great Observatory, the next decadal survey should include cost thresholds for spacecraft missions. Cost thresholds could be based on broad categories of mission size (a mission may, for instance, have graduated to a more expensive category since the survey), a percentage of mission cost, amounts specific to each mission, or another mechanism. When a mission’s projected cost exceeds the threshold, NASA should consult with the solar and space physics community through a formal review mechanism (such as a committee of the NRC or the NASA Advisory Council) before deciding to continue the mission’s development, reduce the mission’s scope, or terminate it in favor of another mission or other research activities. Guideline 4: The next decadal survey should develop a methodology to preserve mission coordination when mission coordination is equal to or greater than the importance of the missions themselves. Coordinated observations by multiple spacecraft of the same solar and space events are central to the 2003 decadal survey’s Integrated Research Strategy and to NASA’s Heliophysics Great Observatory. However, the decadal survey did not explicitly weigh the priority of coordinated observations against the priority of individual missions. Budget issues have forced the deferral of several missions recommended by the decadal survey, reducing or eliminating opportunities for coordinated observations and putting the decadal survey’s Integrated Research Strategy at risk. The next decadal survey should provide explicit recommendations about the relative priority of science from coordinated observations versus the science from individual spacecraft missions. If coordinated observations are deemed a high priority, the next decadal survey should provide clear guidance on how to preserve coordinated observations, such as by descoping a mission, setting science floors for individual missions, or rescheduling mission timelines. Guideline 5: In addition to refining cost estimates for mission development, the next decadal survey should improve cost estimates for mission operations and data analysis. The next survey committee should include cost and technical readiness experts to help it arrive at realistic budgets. Also, actual costs for mission operations and data analysis in NASA’s Heliophysics Division have been 50 to 100 percent greater than assumed in the 2003 decadal survey. The next decadal survey should incorporate more realistic cost estimates for mission operations and data analysis. Guideline 6: The next decadal survey should explicitly budget for all recommendations, not just those associated with missions, mission operations and data analysis, and research. The 2003 decadal survey included a number of recommendations for technology development, interdisciplinary research, education and public outreach, and supporting activities that were not called out in the budget estimates. Although the individual budget impact of each initiative is small, together the impacts can be significant. The next decadal survey should incorporate cost estimates for all recommendations that have a budget impact. It should emphasize the explicit role of the Explorer Program rather than simply including a proposed Explorer wedge as part of a decadal budgetary figure. Guideline 7: The next decadal survey should maintain the practice of providing a prioritized consensus list of program recommendations.
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A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program One suggestion to the committee from NASA was that the next decadal survey should spell out only the highest-level science objectives for NASA and other agencies, leaving program and mission definition to the agencies. In the area of flight programs, for example, this would allow NASA to make its own decisions on when and how to configure and implement specific missions. The committee realizes, and indeed stresses throughout this report, that there should be mechanisms in place to deal with changing fiscal conditions. However, the suggestion to abandon defining and ranking actual programs and missions, set by thoughtful analysis from the community, is not the appropriate solution. Guideline 8: The next decadal survey should include a sufficient number of scientists with spaceflight investigation experience from each of the relevant subdisciplines. Having the full breadth of observational methods, theory, and modeling all represented in a decadal survey is central to a community consensus report. For the specific case of recommendations for NASA that deal overwhelmingly with spaceflight missions, it is crucial that each of the subdisciplines (solar, heliosphere, magnetosphere, and aeronomy) have a comparable number of experienced spaceflight investigators on the final survey committee.
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