Understanding the complex, changing planet on which we live, how it supports life, and how human activities affect its ability to do so in the future is one of the greatest intellectual challenges facing humanity. It is also one of the most important challenges for society as it seeks to achieve prosperity, health, and sustainability.1
The 2007 National Research Council report Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond (referred to in this report as the “2007 decadal survey” or “2007 survey”) called for a renewal of the national commitment to a program of Earth observations in which attention to securing practical benefits for humankind plays an equal role with the quest to acquire new knowledge about the Earth system.2 The decadal survey recommended a balanced interdisciplinary program that would observe the atmosphere, oceans, terrestrial biosphere, and solid Earth and the interactions between these Earth system components to advance understanding of how the system functions for the benefit of both science and society.
NASA responded positively to the decadal survey and its recommendations and began implementing most of them immediately after the survey’s release. Although its budgets have never risen to the levels assumed in the survey, NASA’s Earth Science Division (ESD) has made major investments toward the missions recommended by the survey and has realized important technological and scientific progress as a result. Several of the survey missions have made significant advances, and operations and applications end users are better integrated into the mission teams. The new Earth Venture competitive solicitation program has initiated five airborne missions and is currently reviewing proposals submitted in response to an orbital stand-alone mission solicitation. At the same time, the Earth sciences have advanced significantly because of existing observational capabilities and the fruit of past investments, along with advances in data and information systems, computer science, and enabling technologies. Three missions already in development
1From National Research Council, Earth Science and Applications from Space: Urgent Needs and Opportunities to Serve the Nation, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2005, p. 1.
2National Research Council, Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2007.
prior to the decadal survey—the Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM), Aquarius, and the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP)3—have since been successfully launched and promise significant benefits to research and applications. The potential for the science community to make use of space-based data for research and applications has never been greater.
Finding: NASA responded favorably and aggressively to the 2007 decadal survey, embracing its overall recommendations for Earth observations, missions, technology investments, and priorities for the underlying science. As a consequence, the science and applications communities have made significant progress over the past 5 years.
However, the Committee on Assessment of NASA’s Earth Science Program found that, for several reasons, the survey vision is being realized at a far slower pace than was recommended. Although NASA accepted and began implementing the survey’s recommendations, the required budget assumed by the survey was not achieved, greatly slowing implementation of the recommended program. Launch failures, delays, changes in scope, and growth in cost estimates have further hampered the program. In addition, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has significantly reduced the scope of the nation’s future operational environmental satellite series, omitting observational capabilities assumed by the decadal survey to be part of NOAA’s future capability and failing to implement the three new missions recommended for NOAA implementation by the survey (the Operational GPS Radio Occultation Mission, the Extended Ocean Vector Winds Mission, and the NOAA portion of CLARREO).
Thus, despite recent and notable successes, such as the launches of OSTM, Aquarius, and Suomi NPP, the nation’s Earth observing capability from space is beginning to wane as older missions fail and are not replaced with sufficient cadence to prevent an overall net decline. Using agency estimates for the anticipated remaining lifetime of in-orbit missions and counting new missions formally approved in their enacted budgets, the committee found that the resulting number of NASA and NOAA Earth observing instruments in space by 2020 could be as little as 25 percent of the current number (Figure S.1).4 This precipitous decline in the quantity of Earth science and applications observations from space undertaken by the United States reinforces the conclusion in the 2007 decadal survey and its predecessor, the 2005 interim report, which declared that the U.S. system of environmental satellites is at risk of collapse.5 The committee found that a rapid decline in capability is now beginning and that the needs for both investment and careful stewardship of the U.S. Earth observations enterprise are more certain and more urgent now than they were 5 years ago.
3On January 24, 2012, NASA’s National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project, launched on October 28, 2011, was renamed the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership in honor of the late Verner E. Suomi, a renowned meteorologist from the University of Wisconsin considered by many to be “the father of satellite meteorology.” See http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/NPP/news/suomi.html.
4Figure S.1 is an updated version of a similar chart produced by the 2007 decadal survey. Using agency estimates for the anticipated remaining lifetime of in-orbit missions and counting new missions only if they have been formally approved in enacted agency budgets, Figure S.1 indicates that the number of missions could decline from 23 in 2012 to only 6 in 2020, and the number of NASA and NOAA Earth-observing instruments in space could decline from a peak of about 110 in 2011 to approximately 20 in 2020. A more optimistic scenario based on the Climate-Centric Architecture put forth to leverage anticipated augmented funding to support administration priorities is also shown in Figure S.1; however, this plan, which has not been fully funded, also projects a precipitous decline in observing capabilities.
5National Research Council, Earth Science and Applications from Space: Urgent Needs and Opportunities to Serve the Nation, 2005.
Finding: The nation’s Earth observing system is beginning a rapid decline in capability as long-running missions end and key new missions are delayed, lost, or canceled.
The projected loss of observing capability could have significant adverse consequences for science and society. The loss of observations of key Earth system components and processes will weaken the ability to understand and forecast changes arising from interactions and feedbacks within the Earth system and limit the data and information available to users and decision makers. Consequences are likely to include slowing or even reversal of the steady gains in weather forecast accuracy over many years and degradation of the ability to assess and respond to natural hazards and to measure and understand changes in Earth’s climate and life support systems. The decrease in capability by 2020 will also have far-reaching consequences for the vigor and breadth of the nation’s space-observing industrial and academic base, endangering the pipeline of Earth science and aerospace engineering students and the health of the future workforce.
CHALLENGES TO IMPLEMENTATION AND OPPORTUNITIES TO IMPROVE ALIGNMENT WITH THE DECADAL SURVEY
Although there have been a number of successes, NASA’s Earth science program has suffered multiple setbacks and other external pressures that are, in many cases, beyond the control of program management. Foremost among these is a budget profile that is not sufficient to execute the 2007 decadal survey’s recommended program. In addition, some of the survey-recommended missions have proved more challenging than anticipated, and others envisioned synergies that are not readily achieved via the suggested implementation. The ESD budget has been further strained as a result of mandates from Congress (e.g., the addition of the approximately $150 million TIRS [Thermal Infrared Sensor] to the Landsat Data Continuity Mission) and the interjection of administration priorities (e.g., the Climate Continuity missions6) without the commensurate required funding.
Finding: Funding for NASA’s Earth science program has not been restored to the $2 billion per year (in fiscal year [FY] 2006 dollars) level needed to execute the 2007 decadal survey’s recommended program. Congress’s failure to restore the Earth science budget to a $2 billion level is a principal reason for NASA’s inability to realize the mission launch cadence recommended by the survey.
The committee concluded that in the near term, budgets for NASA’s Earth science program will remain incommensurate with programmatic needs. However, even as NASA strives to “do more with less,” it is confronted with challenges, including limited access to affordable medium-class launch vehicles—the mainstay of Earth observation programs—and significant growth in the cost to develop instruments and spacecraft, a consequence, in part, of how NASA manages its space missions. These challenges (discussed further in Chapter 3) have hindered implementation of the envisioned balanced Earth system science program. With respect to cost growth, the committee found that decadal survey missions have thus far not been managed with sufficient consideration of the scope and cost outlined in the 2007 decadal survey in either an absolute or a relative sense. Chapter 4 offers recommendations to establish and manage mission costs.
6NASA, “Responding to the Challenge of Climate and Environmental Change: NASA’s Plan for a Climate-Centric Architecture for Earth Observations and Applications from Space,” June 2010. Available at http://science.nasa.gov/media/medialibrary/2010/07/01/Climate_Architecture_Final.pdf.
FIGURE S.1 Number of operating (2000-2011) and planned (2012-2020) NASA and NOAA Earth observing missions (top) and instruments (bottom). Shown in blue are missions that are funded and have a specified launch date in NASA or NOAA budget submissions. Thus, the blue curve does not count missions (and associated instruments) that have been proposed or planned but are not yet funded or selected. Shown in pink is an “optimistic scenario” based on the Climate-Centric Architecture put forth to leverage anticipated augmented funding to support administration priorities that makes the following assumptions: GRACE-FO launches in 2016, PACE launches in 2019, ASCENDS launches in 2020, SWOT launches in 2020, EV-2 launches in 2017, SAGE-3 instrument launches in 2014, OCO-3 instrument launches in 2015, and EV-I instruments are launched every year starting in 2017 (plans are for EV-I instruments to be delivered for integration yearly; this assumes they also launch yearly). NOTE: Mission lifetimes for on-orbit missions are taken from estimates provided by NASA and NOAA; the NASA estimates are based on mission team estimates of remaining mission lifetime as provided (and reviewed by the Technical Panel) during the Senior Review process. Acronyms are defined in Appendix G. SOURCE: NASA and NOAA data.
• NASA’s Earth Science Division (ESD) should implement its missions via a cost-constrained approach, requiring that cost partially or fully constrain the scope of each mission such that realistic science and applications objectives can be accomplished within a reasonable and achievable future budget scenario.
Further, recognizing that survey-derived cost estimates are by necessity very approximate and that subsequent, more detailed analyses may determine that all of the desired science objectives of a particular mission cannot be achieved at the estimated cost,
• NASA’s ESD should interpret the 2007 decadal survey’s estimates of mission costs as an expression of the relative level of investment that the survey’s authoring committee believed appropriate to advance the intended science and should apportion funds accordingly, even if all desired science objectives for the mission might not be achieved.
To coordinate decisions regarding mission technical capabilities, cost, and schedule in the context of overarching Earth system science and applications objectives, the committee also recommends that
• NASA’s ESD should establish a cross-mission Earth system science and engineering team to advise NASA on execution of the broad suite of decadal survey missions within the interdisciplinary context advocated by the 2007 decadal survey. The advisory team would assist NASA in coordinating decisions regarding mission technical capabilities, cost, and schedule in the context of overarching Earth system science and applications objectives.7,8
The cost of executing survey-recommended missions has increased, in part because of the lack of availability of a medium-class launch vehicle. To control costs and to optimize the use of scarce fiscal resources, the 2007 decadal survey recommended mostly small- and medium-class missions that could utilize relatively low-cost small- or medium-class launch vehicles (e.g., Pegasus, Taurus, and Delta II). However, the Taurus launch vehicle has failed in its past two launches, and the Delta II is being phased out as the commercial sector focuses on heavier-lift launch vehicles, which are substantially more expensive to procure. Use of such heavy-lift launch vehicles is not generally cost-effective for Earth science missions; indeed, the excess capability and high cost of these vehicles encourage designers to grow their payloads to better match the launcher’s capabilities, which encourages growth in scope and cost. The lack of a reliable and low-cost medium-capability launch vehicle thus directly threatens programmatic robustness. The committee offers the following finding and recommendation concerning the cost and availability of medium-class launch vehicles (see the section “Access to Space” in Chapter 3):
7The team, similar to the Payload Advisory Panel established by NASA to assist in implementation of its Earth Observing System (EOS), would draw its membership from the scientists and engineers involved in the definition and execution of survey missions as well as the nation’s scientific and engineering talent more broadly. (The Payload Advisory Panel was composed of the EOS Interdisciplinary Science Investigation principal investigators and was formally charged with examining and recommending EOS payloads to NASA based on the scientific requirements and priorities established by the Earth science community at large. See NASA, Earth Observing System (EOS) Reference Handbook, G. Asrar and D.J. Dokken, eds., Earth Science Support Office, Document Resource Facility, Washington, D.C., 1993.)
8The committee believes that NASA is best positioned to determine whether this advisory panel should be constituted as a Federal Advisory Committee Act-compliant advisory body.
Finding: Lack of reliable, affordable, and predictable access to space has become a key impediment to implementing NASA’s Earth science program. Furthermore, the lack of a medium-class launch vehicle threatens programmatic robustness.
Recommendation: NASA should seek to ensure the availability of a highly reliable, affordable medium-class launch capability.
Another impediment to effective and efficient implementation of the 2007 decadal survey is the lack of a national strategy for establishment and management of Earth observations from space. This problem was recognized in the decadal survey report, which stated (as quoted in this midterm assessment report),
The committee is concerned that the nation’s institutions involved in civil Earth science and applications from space (including NASA, NOAA, and USGS) are not adequately prepared to meet society’s rapidly evolving Earth information needs. Those institutions have responsibilities that are in many cases mismatched with their authorities and resources: institutional mandates are inconsistent with agency charters, budgets are not well matched to emerging needs, and shared responsibilities are supported inconsistently by mechanisms for cooperation. These are issues whose solutions will require action at high levels of the federal government.9
Such a strategy is perhaps even more important in an era of severe fiscal constraint. Not only is such a strategy important for optimizing NASA’s and the nation’s resources dedicated to Earth system science, but also it is critical to meeting national needs for the results of Earth system science, including the understanding of climate change and land use. The decadal survey recommended that “the Office of Science and Technology Policy, in collaboration with the relevant agencies and in consultation with the scientific community, should develop and implement a plan for achieving and sustaining global Earth observations. This plan should recognize the complexity of differing agency roles, responsibilities, and capabilities as well as the lessons from the implementation of the Landsat, EOS, and NPOESS programs.”10,11
Despite this and other subsequent calls from the community for this national strategy, only a preliminary plan has been outlined.12 A more complete plan for achieving and sustaining global Earth observations remains to be presented or funded. However, the recently released NASA Climate-Centric Architecture plan13 includes a set of Climate Continuity missions, tacitly recognizing for the first time NASA’s role in sustained observations associated with climate (see the section “Lack of a National Strategy for Establishment and Management of Earth Observations from Space” in Chapter 3).
9National Research Council, Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond, 2007, p. 61.
10National Research Council, Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond, 2007, p. 14.
11Following a major restructuring in 2010, the joint NOAA-Air Force procurement of the polar-orbiting satellite system called NPOESS was ended. The NOAA portion of the NPOESS program is now the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS). See, U.S. House of Representatives, “From NPOESS to JPSS: An Update on the Nationís Restructured Polar Weather Satellite System,” Hearing Charter, Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight and the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, September 23, 2011, available at http://science.house.gov/hearing/joint-hearing-investigations-and-oversight-energy-and-environment-subcommittees-polar.
12See “Achieving and Sustaining Earth Observations: A Preliminary Plan Based on a Strategic Assessment by the US Group on Earth Observations,” Office of Science and Technology Policy, September 2010, available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/ostp-usgeo-report-earth-obs.pdf (accessed November 2011).
13NASA, “Responding to the Challenge of Climate and Environmental Change: NASA’s Plan for a Climate-Centric Architecture for Earth Observations and Applications from Space,” available at http://science.nasa.gov/media/medialibrary/2010/07/01/Climate_Architecture_Final.pdf.
Finding: The 2007 decadal survey’s recommendation that the Office of Science and Technology Policy develop an interagency framework for a sustained global Earth observing system has not been implemented. The committee concluded that the lack of such an implementable and funded strategy has become a key, but not the sole, impediment to sustaining Earth science and applications from space.
Chapter 4 discusses a number of items that should be considered in the formulation of such a national strategy.
In addition to cost control measures, the committee considered other ways for ESD to maximize the value of its limited resources. These include the possible augmentation of the Earth Venture-class program discussed below, and use of alternative and/or synergistic platforms or novel flight architectures (including suborbital platforms as previously mentioned), as well as seeking value-added international partnerships. Alternative platforms such as balloons and aircraft (piloted and unpiloted), hosted payloads, small satellites, the International Space Station, and flight formations (for example, the Afternoon Constellation, or “A-Train”) provide NASA with a diverse portfolio of options for exploring different and, where appropriate, less costly ways of conducting Earth observations and measurements (see the section “Alternative Platforms and Flight Formations” in Chapter 4).
Finding: Alternative platforms and flight formations offer programmatic flexibility. In some cases, they may be employed to lower the cost of meeting science objectives and/or maturing remote sensing and in situ observing technologies.
Large uncertainties are typical when attempting to factor international partner missions into long-term plans for U.S. Earth observation missions. Nevertheless, the committee found that ESD has made admirable efforts in securing such partnerships (see the section “International Partnerships” in Chapter 4).
Finding: NASA has made considerable efforts to secure international partnerships to meet its science goals and operational requirements.
STATUS OF PROGRAM ELEMENTS IN NASA’S EARTH SCIENCE PROGRAM
In its assessment of NASA’s Earth science program, the committee examined the major individual programmatic elements within NASA’s ESD and also considered the overall program’s effectiveness in realizing the objectives of the 2007 decadal survey.14 In particular, the committee reviewed the following program elements and also commented on NASA’s Climate Continuity missions. The program elements described in this summary are elaborated on in Chapter 2, where they are listed in the same order as they are here:
• Extended missions—missions whose operations have been extended beyond their nominal lifetime;
• Missions in the pre-decadal survey queue—missions that the decadal survey assumed would be launched as precursors to the decadal survey missions;
• Decadal survey missions—new missions recommended by the 2007 decadal survey;
• Climate Continuity missions;
• Earth Venture missions—a class of smaller missions recommended by the decadal survey;
• Applied Sciences Program;
14A full listing of all the findings and recommendations in the 2007 decadal survey, as well as responses to each of those from NASA in 2009 and updated responses presented to the committee in April 2011, is available in Appendix E.
• Suborbital (Earth Science) Program;
• Technology development; and
• Research and analysis.
Extended missions (missions that operate and provide data beyond their originally planned and funded mission lifetimes) continue to provide a wealth of observations and measurements of benefit to society and to the Earth science community. Data from extended missions are critical to the operations of users such as NOAA’s National Weather Service; they also provide information of fundamental importance to advance Earth science research. Overall, the committee strongly supports the process of the NASA Earth Science Senior Review that evaluates these missions and makes recommendations concerning their funding and continuation.
Missions in the Pre-Decadal Survey Queue
The committee supports NASA’s efforts to fly out its pre-decadal survey mission queue, also referred to as “foundational” missions. Unfortunately, delays, changes in scope, and launch failures15 have hindered progress in implementing the pre-decadal survey mission queue.
Decadal Survey Missions
Implementation of the recommended decadal survey mission queue is proceeding at a pace that is slower than originally envisioned in the survey. Only two of the four Phase 1 missions recommended for implementation by 2013—SMAP and ICESat-2—have entered their implementation phase, while two other missions—DESDynI and CLARREO—remain in pre-Phase A formulation and will likely face significant delays as a result of budget constraints. NOAA, facing its own budget constraints, has requested that NASA assume responsibility for implementing the sea-surface vector winds mission XOVWM (see Table S.1).
Climate Continuity Missions
To balance executive branch and congressional priorities with the community guidance set forth in the decadal survey, the NASA Earth science program issued the report Responding to the Challenge of Climate and Environmental Change: NASA’s Plan for a Climate-Centric Architecture for Earth Observations and Applications from Space,16 which convolves decadal survey and administration priorities to take advantage of new funds made available by the executive branch to accelerate its priorities. Although the committee was encouraged by ESD’s incorporation of the priorities of the decadal survey into its 2010 report, the committee is concerned that in a static or shrinking budget environment there is tension between the need to continue successful Earth science measurements and the need for timely implementation of decadal survey missions. This problem is further compounded by the lack of an interagency framework for a sustained global Earth observing system.
15Two important NASA missions—Glory and Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO)—were lost because of launch vehicle failures. Lack of reliable, affordable, and predictable access to space has now become a key impediment to implementing NASA’s Earth science program.
Earth Venture Missions
NASA has moved expeditiously to implement the Earth Venture-class program, a new mission class recommended by the decadal survey.17 NASA has released two solicitations for the Earth Venture program, one targeted toward suborbital investigations and one for a stand-alone mission that involves relatively simple, small instruments, spacecraft, and launch vehicles. As of December 2011, a draft solicitation had also been released for the first Earth Venture Instruments, targeting principal investigator (PI)-led instrument development. Currently, NASA plans to release Earth Venture stand-alone solicitations every 4 years, suborbital solicitations every 4 years, and instrument of opportunity solicitations every 15-18 months. Earth Venture standalone (space-based) missions further offer an important opportunity to increase the launch frequency of Earth science missions, and thus the committee offers the following finding and recommendation.
Finding: The Earth Venture-class program is being well implemented by NASA and is a crucial component of fulfilling the 2007 decadal survey’s objectives.
Recommendation: Consistent with available budgets and a balanced Earth observation program from space based on the 2007 decadal survey recommendations, NASA should consider increasing the frequency of Earth Venture stand-alone/space-based missions.
Applied Sciences Program
The Earth science and applications from space decadal survey establishes a vision acknowledging the dual importance of basic science and applications for societal benefits. With limited resources,18 the Applied Sciences Program (ASP) within ESD has built a coherent program that is facilitating the use of remote sensing observations for societal benefits, mostly through collaborations with other federal agencies. Other activities include projects to encourage experts in the applications community to participate in specific mission definition teams and workshops. The engagement of end users throughout the entire mission life cycle is necessary to ensure that user needs are well understood; ASP appears to be following this model. ASP efforts appear to be aligned with the spirit and intent of the 2007 decadal survey.
Finding: Aligned with the intent of the 2007 decadal survey, NASA’s Applied Sciences Program has begun to engage applied researchers and governmental (federal and state) operational users on some decadal survey mission science definition and applications teams and to conduct research to better understand the value of these applications.
17The decadal survey made the following recommendation, “To restore more frequent launch opportunities and to facilitate the demonstration of innovative ideas and higher-risk technologies, NASA should create a new Venture class of low-cost research and application missions (approximately $100 million to $200 million). These missions should focus on fostering revolutionary innovation and on training future leaders of space-based Earth science and applications.” See National Research Council, Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond, 2007, p. 59.
18Ray Hoff, chair of the NASA Applied Science Advisory Group, cited on p. 8 of “Meeting Minutes,” from the October 10, 2010, meeting of the NASA ASAG. Available at http://science.nasa.gov/media/medialibrary/2011/01/06/FinalASAGMeetingMinutesOctober2010-1_TAGGED.pdf.
TABLE S.1 Current Status of Earth Science and Applications Decadal Survey Recommended Missions
|Mission||Mission Description (from 2007 decadal survey)||Recommended Launch Time Frame||Planned Launch Date||Statusa|
(Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory)
|Solar and Earth radiation; spectrally resolved forcing and response of the climate system||2010-2013||Noneb||Formulation (Pre-Phase A)
(Soil Moisture Active-Passive)
|Soil moisture and freeze-thaw for weather and water-cycle processes||2010-2013||November 2014||Implementation Phase (Phase B)|
|ICESat-II||Ice sheet height changes for climate change diagnosis||2010-2013||October 2015||Implementation Phase (Phase A)|
(Deformation, Ecosystem Structure, and Dynamics of Ice)
|Surface and ice sheet deformation for understanding natural hazards and climate; vegetation structure for ecosystem health||2010-2013||Noneb||Formulation (Pre-Phase A)
(Hyperspectral Infrared Imager)
|Land surface composition for agriculture and mineral characterization; vegetation types for ecosystem health||2013-2016||None||Formulation (Pre-Phase A)
(Active Sensing of CO2 Emissions over Nights, Days, and Seasons)
|Day/night, all-latitude, all-season CO2 column integrals for climate emissions||2013-2016||Nonec||Formulation (Pre-Phase A)
(Surface Water and Ocean Topography)
|Ocean, lake, and river water levels for ocean and inland water dynamics||2013-2016||Noned||Formulation (Pre-Phase A)
(Geostationary Coastal and Air Pollution Events Mission)
|Atmospheric gas columns for air quality forecasts; ocean color for coastal ecosystem health and climate emissions||2013-2016||None||Formulation (Pre-Phase A)
|Aerosol and cloud profiles for climate and water cycle; ocean color for open ocean biogeochemistry||2013-2016||None||Formulation (Pre-Phase A)
(Lidar Surface Topography)
|Land surface topography for landslide hazards and water runoff||2016-2020||None||Formulation (Pre-Phase A)
(Precipitation and All-weather Temperature and Humidity)
|High-frequency, all-weather temperature and humidity soundings for weather forecasting and sea-surface temperaturee||2016-2020||None||Formulation (Pre-Phase A)
(Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment-II)
|High-temporal-resolution gravity fields for tracking large-scale water movement||2016-2020||Nonef||Formulation (Pre-Phase A)
(Snow and Cold Land Processes)
|Snow accumulation for freshwater availability||2016-2020||None||Formulation (Pre-Phase A)
(Global Atmospheric Composition Mission)
|Ozone and related gases for intercontinental air quality and stratospheric ozone layer prediction||2016-2020||None||Formulation (Pre-Phase A)
(3D Tropospheric Winds from Space-based Lidar)
|Tropospheric winds for weather forecasting and pollution transport||2016-2020||None||Formulation (Pre-Phase A)
During Phase A, a project team is formed to fully develop a baseline mission concept and begin or assume responsibility for the development of needed technologies. This work, along with interactions with customers and other potential stakeholders, helps with the baselining of a mission concept and the program requirements on the project. These activities are focused toward System Requirements Review (SRR) and System Definition Review (SDR/PNAR) (or Mission Definition Review (MDR/PNAR)). See NASA NPR 7120.5, available at http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/codeq/doctree/71205.htm.
During Phase B, the project team completes its preliminary design and technology development. These activities are focused toward completing the Project Plan and Preliminary Design Review (PDR)/Non-Advocate Review (NAR). See NASA NPR 7120.5, available at http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/codeq/doctree/71205.htm.
bIn the 2010 NASA report Responding to the Challenge of Climate and Environmental Change: NASA’s Plan for a Climate-Centric Architecture for Earth Observations and Applications from Space (available at http://nasascience.nasa.gov/earth-science/), CLARREO (the first of two mission components) and DESDynI (two spacecraft sharing a single launch vehicle) were slated for launch in 2017. The committee was informed at its first meeting on April 28, 2011, by the director of NASA’s Earth Science Division, Michael Freilich, that these plans are now on hold because the fiscal year 2012 budget request does not fund mission implementation; no new target launch dates are available for these missions.
cMission planned for launch by end of 2019 per NASA, Responding to the Challenge of Climate and Environmental Change (2010); however, a formal target launch date is not determined until after Mission Concept Review, when a budget wedge is established.
dMission planned for launch by the end of 2020 per NASA, Responding to the Challenge of Climate and Environmental Change (2010); however, a formal target launch date is not determined until after Mission Concept Review, when a budget wedge is established.
eCloud-independent, high-temporal-resolution, lower-accuracy sea-surface temperature measurements to complement, not replace, global operational high-accuracy sea-surface temperature measurements.
fThe GRACE Follow-on Mission, a climate continuity mission called for in NASA’s June 2010 climate-centric architecture report, will provide many of the observations envisioned by the 2007 decadal survey for GRACE-II.
NASA’s suborbital program was in decline for almost a decade, but following the release of the decadal survey in 2007, it has made a significant rebound with almost a doubling of financial support for its airborne program. Total flight hours have increased by a factor of 2.5, and flight hours associated with survey missions have doubled from FY2006 to FY2011. Suborbital platforms serve many purposes, including serving as technology testbeds, enabling instrument flight test and algorithm development before launch, providing data complementary to spaceborne observations, providing for calibration of instruments and algorithm validation measurements post-launch in support of data product generation, and directly contributing to local and regional scientific process studies. In addition, NASA Earth observing missions from the Airborne Science Program support “gap filler” missions, such as Operation Ice Bridge, which acquire observations between satellite missions. The committee’s review led to the following finding:
Finding: The suborbital program, and in particular the Airborne Science Program, is highly synergistic with upcoming Earth science satellite missions and is being well implemented. NASA has fulfilled the recommendation of the decadal survey to enhance the program.
Within NASA ESD is the NASA Earth Science Technology Office (ESTO), which is responsible for promoting the development of technology required to make the decadal survey missions flight ready. ESTO has funded more than 70 new, competitively selected projects that support each of the decadal survey missions to varying degrees. Furthermore, the recent ESTO solicitation for advanced information system technologies was partnered with, and partially funded by, ESD’s Applied Sciences Program to help ensure the transition into operations of technologically matured information systems through applied science demonstrations and pathfinders. Based on its review, the committee found as follows:
Finding: ESTO has organized its proposal solicitations around the 2007 decadal survey and is investing to advance technological readiness across the survey mission queue.
Research and Analysis
According to NASA, research and analysis (R&A) is “the core of the [Earth Science] research program and funds the analysis and interpretation of data from NASA’s satellites, as well as a full range of underlying scientific activity needed to establish a rigorous base for the satellite data and their use in computational models (for both assimilation and forecasting). The complexity of the Earth system, in which spatial and temporal variability exists on a range of scales, requires an organized approach for addressing complex, interdisciplinary problems, taking care to recognize the objective of integrating science across the programmatic elements towards a comprehensive understanding of the Earth system.”19 Recognizing the critical importance of R&A, the decadal survey made the following recommendation to NASA: “NASA should increase support for its research and analysis (R&A) program to a level commensurate with its ongoing and planned missions. Further, in light of the need for a healthy R&A program that is not mission-specific, as well as the need for mission-specific R&A, NASA’s space-based missions should have adequate R&A lines within each mission budget as well as mission-specific operations and data analysis. These R&A lines should be protected within the missions and not used simply as mission reserves to cover cost growth on the hardware side.”20
Through the current R&A program there have been advances in modeling, analysis, and data assimilation, yet much research is still needed to understand the processes in the Earth system and to fully assimilate Earth observations in Earth system models, thereby creating a consistent and integrated picture of Earth. Indeed, the committee emphasizes that a robust R&A program is a necessary condition to achieve the objectives outlined in the 2007 survey. Despite progress made in R&A investments, the challenges facing NASA’s entire Earth science program mean that protecting the nation’s investments in R&A is as important moving forward as in the past.
Finding: NASA has maintained a healthy investment in R&A activities and has protected the budgets of both mission-specific and non-mission-specific R&A programs against possible reallocation to cover cost growth in mission hardware.
19NASA’s FY 2012 President’s Budget Request: Estimates for Science-Earth Science, p. ES-17. Available at http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/516645main_NASAFY12_Budget_Estimates-Science_Earth-508.pdf.
20National Research Council, Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond, 2007, p. 15.
THE NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION
The committee’s assessment of NASA’s Earth science program could not be accomplished without also reviewing the state of NOAA’s missions and Earth science program. NOAA’s current and planned polar and geostationary programs were assumed by the 2007 survey’s committee to be an integral part of the baseline capabilities as it developed its integrated strategy. Two of the survey’s recommended 17 missions (the Operational GPS Radio Occultation Mission and the Extended Ocean Vector Winds Mission) and part of a third (CLARREO) were directed for implementation by NOAA, but none has been implemented. This committee offers the following finding on NOAA’s implementation of recommendations to the agency from the 2007 decadal survey:
Finding: NOAA’s capability to implement the assumed baseline and the recommended program of the 2007 decadal survey has been greatly diminished by budget shortfalls; cost overruns and delays, especially those associated with the NPOESS program prior to its restructuring in 2010 to become the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS); and by sensor descopes and sensor eliminations on both NPOESS and GOES-R.21
These descopes impacted numerous ESD science communities. The committee notes that in an era of budget austerity, NASA’s ESD has very limited capabilities to mitigate the effect of these shortfalls.
LOOKING AHEAD: BEYOND 2020
In preparation for the next decadal survey, the committee offers in Chapter 5 a summary of “lessons learned” that are derived from its evaluation of implementation of the current decadal survey programs. In particular, regardless of how future NASA Earth science programs evolve, the committee concluded that:
1. Maintaining a long-term vision with a fixed and predictable mission queue is essential to building a consensus in a diverse Earth science community that prior to the 2007 decadal survey had not come to a consensus on research priorities spanning conventional disciplinary boundaries. The strength of the decadal survey and its value to agencies and decision makers are, in fact, the consensus priorities established by the survey’s outreach and deliberative processes. Without community “buy-in” to the survey, a return to an ad hoc decision process that is less informed and less efficient in its allocation of resources is the default to be expected.
2. Finding the balance between prioritizing science objectives and creating a mission queue that is viable will be one of the great challenges for the Earth science community over the coming decades. Too much focus on either risks the long-term sustainability and value of NASA’s Earth science program.
21Even before the latest round of budget-driven delays and descopes, NOAA polar and geostationary programs had experienced severe budget challenges with particular consequences for research and operations deemed outside required “core” capabilities. See National Research Council, Ensuring the Climate Record from the NPOESS and GOES-R Spacecraft: Elements of a Strategy to Recover Measurement Capabilities Lost in Program Restructuring, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2008. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has published a number of reports detailing the origins of the cost overruns and assessing program management. See, for example, GAO, Polar-orbiting Environmental Satellites: Agencies Must Act Quickly to Address Risks That Jeopardize the Continuity of Weather and Climate Data, GAO-10-558 (Washington, D.C., May 10, 2010) and Polar-orbiting Environmental Satellites: With Costs Increasing and Data Continuity at Risk, Improvements Needed in Tri-agency Decision Making, GAO-09-564 (Washington, D.C., June 17, 2009).
3. The community will need to give more thought to balancing costs with science objectives and priorities. More explicit decision rules for different budget contingencies might also prove helpful for program managers.
4. Finally, the community will have to look at different ways to construct a healthy and robust mission portfolio—for example, through partnerships and alternative platforms in addition to individual spacecraft and suborbital missions. Preparatory work to identify new technologies and readiness levels could be done ahead of any formal review and indeed could serve as an input to such a review.