At the time of the last Earth Science and Applications from Space (ESAS) decadal survey, the space-based Earth Observing System (EOS) was in a critical state. The Earth observing satellites were past their design lives (well past in many cases) with very few missions in the queue. Given the importance of these space-based observations to our daily lives and our success as a society, the risk to our nation was great.
Since that time, through careful management, strong international partners, the infusion of resources (though still significantly less funding than the period of the EOS in the 1990s), and innovation on the part of the technology, engineering, and scientific communities, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Earth science program has provided opportunity, results, and impact for the nation and the world, in return for the investments made in understanding the planet on which we live. In addition, efforts and investments by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) complement these capabilities and deliver value to the nation in terms of information that directly impacts our daily lives. Investments in the space-based Earth observation enterprise, which supports the quest for knowledge and the conversion of that knowledge value to citizens in this nation and throughout the world, have advanced science, served social interests, and mitigated environmental challenges and enhanced our nation’s prosperity.
As we look to the coming decade, it is imperative that this momentum be built upon to realize the maximum value of investments in space-based Earth observation. Doing so effectively requires that we take an integrated approach that (1) fully capitalizes on advancements and opportunities as they emerge, (2) stimulates innovation in the Earth system science community, and (3) boldly seeks to meet the technical, fiscal, and programmatic challenges of the coming decade.
The ESAS 2017 process sought to be inclusive and was built on a foundation of input from across the science and engineering communities to develop recommendations for the coming decade. The priorities and recommendations are expected to stimulate innovation, serve the Earth science and applications community, and deliver value to the citizens that provide the resources that support these pursuits.
The program recommended is an implementable one, with cost estimates for the larger missions validated, and with competition expected to keep costs of the medium-size missions lower and promote
innovation. It achieves balance between flight and nonflight elements of the NASA portfolio, paying specific attention to the balance between large and small missions, mission investment and science, continuity of observations and new observations, science and applications, heritage technologies and new technologies.
In addition, recognizing that unforeseen events, external budget pressures, and other various constraints can force difficult choices, the committee has developed a set of decision rules to inform NASA’s decision-making process on how to address budgetary challenges. The committee also recognizes the potential for increased investments or additional funds being made available through partnerships and technological innovation, and offers guidance on how to use additional resources.
NASA, NOAA, and USGS have faced a number of challenges in their ability to develop and maintain their portfolio in support of their missions. Given their constraints, they have managed these challenges well, and our nation’s space-based observation enterprise is able to provide information and value to its citizens. However, it is continually at risk: some needs go unmet and many opportunities are never realized, as limited resources constrain the programs. Without the infusion of additional resources, there will always be shortfalls in meeting national needs, but to partially mitigate against this, it is imperative that the agencies find ways to implement their programs as cost effectively as possible through partnerships, programmatic innovation, exploitation of new technology, and so on, as doing so will enable them to realize the full potential of their investments.
Finally, a critical element of a successful civilian space-based Earth observation program is coordination among agencies that recognizes the roles and responsibilities of each, maps resources to the fulfillment of those responsibilities, and ensures a healthy interaction among those delivering the science, those developing technologies, and those developing and implementing applications. As each of these elements informs the other, and when executed in concert, with appropriate resource alignment, we will be in the best position possible to deliver an effective and successful Earth Science and Applications from Space Program.
Earth science and applications from space have transformed the way we live. A better understanding of the Earth environment, and the relationship humans have with it, will continue to produce scientific advances, drive economic opportunities, inform sound policy decisions, serve critical humanitarian needs, and much more. The coming decade provides new opportunities for making advances in each of these areas, building on yesterday’s achievement and on today’s investment, to enable tomorrow’s success and ongoing prosperity.
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