development of an effective and implementable strategic plan (see below) and need not be a single administrative position (for example, it could be a steering committee of senior program managers).
Finding: NASA’s management structure has not kept pace with the expanding responsibilities of its MMOD programs. Consequently, the MMOD programs do not have a single management and budget point that can efficiently coordinate all of the current and planned activities and establish clear priorities.
Recommendation: NASA should review the current management structure of its MMOD programs in order to achieve better coordination, provide improved central decision making, and establish a framework for setting priorities. This framework should include a major interface with Congress, other federal and state agencies, and the public.
The 2010 National Space Policy expands NASA’s role in MMOD risk assessment to include the potential removal of debris from space, although NASA may not be the party to actually do this. NASA’s MMOD programs have as yet conducted only preliminary assessments of the issues associated with the return of debris to Earth. As discussed elsewhere in this report, these early assessments suggest that active removal of as few as five large objects a year may have a significant impact on controlling the future growth of debris generated by collisional events.3 Detailed analysis will be needed to assess the costs, benefits, and risks associated with alternative actions for debris removal.
The nature of NASA’S meteoroid and orbital debris efforts are continuous and long term in nature, whereas programmatic funding becomes available on an annual basis and is subject to unpredictability. Implementation of the 2010 National Space Policy will necessarily increase the demands placed on NASA’s MMOD programs. Funding levels to support orbital debris programs have been flat or shrinking in real dollars, while responsibilities and programs have been growing. As a result, optical sampling of the space environment has been reduced, analysis of the Haystack data has been limited, tests that would provide more accurate breakup models have not been conducted, needed support for operational missions has sometimes not been available, and model updates/releases have been delayed.
During its review of NASA’s MMOD efforts, the committee noted several instances of research results not being conveyed or communicated to the community at large. Some groups and individuals within NASA do publish their work through a rigorous peer review process; for example, the record of peer-reviewed publications for the LEGEND work is commendable. Other groups and individuals do not pursue peer-reviewed publication, or appear to misconstrue what is meant by peer review, perhaps because of a perceived lack of incentive or reward for following a rigorous publication process. As an example, the committee notes that only approximately 25 percent of the references cited as being instrumental to the development of the ORDEM2000 environment model were peer-reviewed prior to its launch; the remaining references were either other NASA publications or internal NASA documents or communications that are unavailable or difficult to access by those outside NASA.
The concerns with not bringing forth work for peer review in a timely manner are two-fold:
1. The space community is not apprised of NASA’s work and results, nor is it made privy to NASA’s thought process behind rules, regulations, or policies that it develops or supports.
2. The inference can be drawn that if the work is not published through a rigorous peer-review process, it may not be technically sound.
3 These early assessments have a number of assumptions behind this conclusion. See Chapter 1.