Many billions of dollars have been invested in the nation’s radio astronomy and Earth remote sensing facilities. The public marvels at new discoveries made at radio astronomy observatories, and the nation remains ever more reliant on accurate and up-to-date weather and climate information retrieved from Earth remote sensing satellites. The use of the radio spectrum to obtain these observations is regulated and protected in accordance with national and international spectrum rules, but the relatively recent proliferation of wireless technology is challenging engineers’ abilities to mitigate unwanted interference from the active services.
Complex rules govern the occupancy and use of the electromagnetic spectrum, both nationally and globally, but these rules have not adequately evolved with technology. Inefficiencies in spectrum use exist while demand increases, and most regulations are not aligned with or even cognizant of the special needs of passive scientific users. These issues are identified in this report, and addressing them presents the nation with an exceptional opportunity to adapt to the wireless revolution while protecting the passive users of the radio spectrum.
The radio spectrum is a finite resource that has been managed as such for the past 70 years by the federal government. This management enabled the growth of strong commercial and scientific communities. The endless pursuit of better techniques to leverage the unique characteristics of the radio spectrum has led to discoveries and innovations of enormous scientific and societal value. Over the past 20 years, rapid technological improvements have exponentially increased the capabilities of scientific, commercial, and government users. But today, the current regulatory regime is straining to enable the capabilities and meet the needs of the various communities of users. A new path is needed to preserve access to the radio spectrum, in which important scientific discoveries are made and civilian and government remote sensing operations are conducted, while allowing for growth that serves an increasingly mobile society. This Summary presents the report’s key findings and recommendations.
Finding: Passive remote sensing observations are essential for monitoring Earth’s natural systems and are therefore critical to human safety, the day-to-day operations of the government and the private sector, and the policy-making processes governing many sectors of the U.S. economy.
Finding: Radio astronomy has great potential for further fundamental discoveries, including the origins and evolution of the universe, the nature of matter, and life in other solar systems, which will have an enormous impact on our understanding of fundamental physics and the place of humanity in the universe.
Recommendation: Recognizing that the national investment in passive radio astronomy and Earth remote sensing is dependent on access to the radio spectrum,