A Report of the SSB ad hoc Committee on Solar and Space Physics
Charge and Approach
The newly constituted Committee on Solar and Space Physics (CSSP) has been tasked with monitoring the progress of recommendations from the 2013 decadal survey Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society1 (hereafter, “the decadal survey”). The committee held its first meeting as part of Space Science Week in Washington, D.C., on March 28-30, 2017. In advance of the meeting, and in response to discussions with the leadership of the Heliophysics Division of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Geospace Section of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Science, the committee identified the decadal survey’s recommendation to create NASA-NSF heliophysics science centers (HSCs)2 as a timely topic for discussion. In response, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine issued a charge to the committee, which is given in Box 1. The primary task to the CSSP was to “write a brief report to provide a set of options for NASA and NSF to consider for the creation of HSCs. Topics may include:
- How to make the HSCs unique from other [NSF Geospace and NASA Heliophysics] research elements; and
- Options for implementation (for example, consideration of a virtual institution).”
The conclusions expressed in this report are those of the CSSP members, who have expertise in many of the subdisciplines of solar and space physics. The committee’s approach to this task was to draw upon presentations and discussions at its March 2017 meeting involving the committee and representatives from the NSF Geospace Section, the NSF Division of Astronomical Sciences, the NASA Heliophysics Division, the NSF Physics Frontiers Centers (PFC), and the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI). From these, and from the original material provided in the decadal survey and other reports, such as the 2015 portfolio review of the NSF Geospace Section3 and its subsequent assessment by the National Academies,4 the committee provides guidance on the two questions in the statement of task. The report includes first a brief background and motivation section with descriptions of the PFC and NAI. The second section describes the ways that the HSC program can be made unique from existing research programs. The final two sections address options for implementation—first with a set of lessons learned and commonalities from the programs discussed at the committee’s meeting, and then with a set of best practices for the formation of the HSC program, including consideration of virtual elements of centers. Three summary conclusions were drawn from the meeting discussion and from the expertise of the committee members. These are discussed in context below and are reproduced here for convenience.
CONCLUSION: Heliophysics science centers can be made unique by supporting a cross-cutting team approach and achieving the critical mass and agility necessary to tackle problems of greater depth or breadth than can be addressed by existing single investigator or small group programs.
NOTE: “Introduction” reprinted from Report Series: Committee on Solar and Space Physics: Heliophysics Science Centers, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2017, pp. 1-4.
1 National Research Council (NRC), 2013, Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
2 The decadal survey coined the name “heliophysics science centers,” and herein the committee uses the terms “heliophysics” and “solar and space physics” interchangeably, to encompass all topics traditionally considered to be part of solar, heliospheric, and geospace science.
3 National Science Foundation (NSF), 2016, Investments in Critical Capabilities for Geospace Science 2016 to 2025, Geospace Section of the Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Science, February 5, https://www.nsf.gov/geo/adgeo/geospace-review/geospace-portfolio-reviewfinal-rpt-2016.pdf.
4 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), 2017, Assessment of the National Science Foundation’s 2015 Geospace Portfolio Review, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
CONCLUSION: The emphasis on multidisciplinarity and interagency coordination in the decadal survey recommendations and the level of funding, project duration, and phasing envisioned therein, are consistent with those of successful HSC-like programs considered by the committee.
CONCLUSION: Transformative HSC outcomes are best achieved by open competition, with selection based on the significance of the proposed science topics, alignment with NASA and NSF goals, compelling justification for a center approach, and a realistic implementation plan likely to achieve the project objectives.