Recent efforts by NASA management have halted the long erosion of the core Suborbital and R&A programs, out of which balloon and rocket payload development is funded.20 However, additional resources are needed to support the high-priority science areas identified by this survey. NASA should investigate and, if practical and affordable, implement the orbital sounding rocket capability described by NASA’s Astrophysics Sounding Rocket Assessment Team, which would provide a few thousand times more observing time than normal sounding rocket flights, greatly increasing the science that can be accomplished from rockets. The priority in the balloon program should be to increase the launch rate and develop new payloads. The ultralong-duration balloon (ULDB) program is attractive, because it provides about a factor-of-three more observing time than Antarctic long-duration balloons (LDBs) as well as mid-latitude long-duration flights, but it is expensive. One of this survey’s priority science areas, the CMB, along with related dark matter and cosmic-ray detection experiments, has primary requirements for frequent access and increased total observing. If it is more cost-effective per observing day to expand the LDB program and improve its facilities and recovery reliability, then this should have the highest priority.

To increase the launch rate by about 25 percent, it is recommended that the R&A program be augmented by $5 million per year to accommodate the selection of additional balloon and rocket payloads. In addition, $10 million per year will be needed to support the additional launches and improvements in infrastructure.

Theory and Computation Networks

As described in Chapter 5, as observational capabilities advance, the theoretical efforts required to anticipate, understand, and interpret data become more complex. The scientific programs recommended by Astro2010 in many cases require large coordinated theory and computational efforts. These are of a scale inconsistent with the funding levels of the individual investigator grants currently supported by NASA’s Astrophysics Theory Program. Examples of particular urgency include cosmological simulations of large-scale structure formation, modeling of galactic flows and feedback, and the general relativistic simulations of physical processes associated with the mergers of neutron stars.

A NASA annual funding level of $5 million, capable of supporting about eight networks, is recommended. The level of funding should be driven by the quality and relevance to NASA’s missions of proposals received in response to competitive peer review. The networks should be funded in addition to maintaining a healthy Astrophysics Theory Program, not at its expense.


For further information see the 2009 National Research Council report An Enabling Foundation for NASA’s Earth and Space Science Missions.

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