NASA should pursue work in any new MMOD areas. The official letter requesting the study and the full statement of task for the Committee for the Assessment of NASA’s Orbital Debris Programs are in Appendixes A and B, respectively.
REVIEW NASA’S MMOD PROGRAMS AND EFFORTS
As indicated in findings presented throughout this report, the committee identified many positive aspects of NASA’s MMOD programs and efforts. Of particular note are the following findings of the committee regarding the resources and responsibilities of NASA’s MMOD programs:
Finding: NASA’s meteoroid and orbital debris programs have used their resources responsibly and have played an increasingly essential role in protecting the safety of both crewed and uncrewed space operations.
Finding: The increasing responsibilities given to NASA’s meteoroid and orbital debris programs have put pressure on the programs’ allotted resources. The increasing scope of work, and the complexity and severity of the debris and meteoroid environment, are outpacing in real dollars the decreasing funding levels of NASA’s MMOD programs.
RECOMMEND CHANGES IN EFFORT OR FOCUS
In its examination of NASA’s varied MMOD programs and efforts, the committee found numerous areas in which NASA should consider doing more or different work. Tackling these research areas is likely to enhance the benefits delivered by NASA’s MMOD efforts, many of which are listed in Box S.1. Examination of the research needs and management issues listed in Box S.1, along with consideration of the committee’s other findings and recommendations, leads to a critical question: How is NASA to prioritize and choose among these numerous research and management areas, given its limited MMOD resources? To address this question, the committee offers the following key, overarching recommendation:
Recommendation: NASA should develop a formal strategic plan that provides the basis for prioritizing the allocation of funds and effort over various MMOD program needs. Among the potential research needs and management issues to be considered is the selection listed in Box S.1. The strategic plan should consider short- and long-term objectives, a schedule of benchmark achievements to be accomplished, and priorities among them. Stakeholders should be engaged to help develop and review this plan. Finally, the MMOD strategic plan should be revised and updated at regular intervals.
Chapter 12 of this report offers the committee’s view of what the strategic plan should address. Simply put, the plan must answer four basic questions regarding MMOD: Where are we? Where do we want to go? How are we to get there? and, How do we measure how we are doing?
The committee did not believe that it should prioritize the various areas in which NASA could expand its work; doing so could preempt NASA’s following the above recommendation. Given that the committee was told to assume a constrained budget environment, it felt that NASA management would be better suited to prioritize the agency’s efforts, in consultation with the broader MMOD scientific community and in response to the committee’s various findings and recommendations.
NEW MMOD AREAS FOR NASA TO PURSUE
The study of satellite anomalies, mission-degrading or mission-terminating events affecting on-orbit operational spacecraft, could provide a meaningful data set that would contribute to an increased understanding of the hazards to spacecraft posed by MMOD relative to other hazards. Such a data set would have to be of sufficient fidelity to enable identification of a probable cause of the anomaly. The data set would be strengthened by an