The United States and Europe have been cooperating in space science for more than three decades. This history of cooperation has survived significant geopolitical, economic, and technological changes, such as the end of the Cold War, the pressure of budget reductions, and the increasing focus on economic competition and the global marketplace. Both Europe and the United States have learned from one another and acquired a knowledge base as well as an infrastructure to implement joint missions and research activities. More importantly, the decades of cooperative space research efforts between the United States and Europe have built a community of scientists whose joint scientific exchanges have established a heritage of cooperation on both sides of the Atlantic.
The scientific fruits of this heritage are plainly evident in achievements such as a signature for supermassive black holes provided by the Hubble Space Telescope (HST); the first views of the solar atmosphere and corona illuminated by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO); the sharing of expensive research facilities on the International Microgravity Laboratory (IML); and the impressive data on ocean altimetry from the Ocean Topography Experiment (TOPEX-POSEIDON) mission, which is significantly improving our understanding of global ocean circulation.
There were no guideposts for the emergence of space science cooperation between Europe and the United States. In the process of introducing new procedures and improvements to facilitate cooperation, missteps occurred, and there were political, economic, and scientific losses. This report takes stock of U.S.-European history in cooperative space endeavors, the lessons it has demonstrated, and the opportunities it suggests to enhance and improve future U.S.-European cooperative efforts in the sciences conducted in space.
The Joint Committee's Task
The Committee on International Space Programs (CISP) of the Space Studies Board (SSB) and the European Space Science Committee (ESSC) were charged by the National Research Council (NRC) and the European Science Foundation (ESF), respectively, with conducting a joint study of U.S.-European collaboration in space missions. The study was initiated jointly by the SSB and the ESSC after discussions over several years on the increasing importance of international activities and the need to assess previous experience. This study was conducted by a joint SSB-ESSC committee.
The joint committee's central task was to analyze a set of U.S.-European cooperative missions in the space
sciences, Earth sciences from space, and life and microgravity sciences and to determine what lessons could be learned regarding international agreements, mission planning, schedules, costs, and scientific contribution. Although the charge is largely retrospective and relies on existing or past missions, the joint committee found that in some cases, missions in the development stage offered the best (or only) examples that met the study criteria. The joint committee also determined that though a retrospective study was requested, lessons learned from the analyses must be considered within a prospective context to be relevant to future cooperative activities.
The joint committee agreed on a set of selected missions in the space science disciplines to be used as case studies in this report (Table ES.1). Both National Aeronautics and Space Administration–European Space Agency (NASA-ESA) endeavors and missions conducted between NASA and national space agencies in Europe have been included. In addition, the selection includes both smaller-scale missions managed by principal investigators (PIs) and larger missions managed at the agency level.
Each mission was briefly characterized, with special emphasis on the particular problems and benefits posed by its international makeup. The joint committee analyzed the history leading up to the mission, the nature of the cooperation, and the benefits or failures that accrued from conducting the cooperation. The following questions helped guide the joint committee's survey of the missions:
- What were the scope and nature of the agreement? How did the agreement evolve, and how was it finalized? How long did it take to plan the mission?
- How was the cooperation initiated (e.g., by scientist-to-scientist or agency-to-agency contact)? What was the role of each partner and agency? Were the motivations the same for all partners?
- What were the expected benefits each partner offered?
- What were the extent and practical mechanisms of cooperation? At what level, if any, did hardware integration of multinational components take place? How were communications maintained? Was the project structured to minimize friction between international partners?
- What was the net impact of internationalization on the mission in terms of costs, schedule, and science output?
- What external influences affected the mission during its life cycle? What were their effects? Were problems caused by different internal priorities or by external (e.g., political, financial) boundary conditions (such as budget cycles)?
TABLE ES.1 Missions Used as Case Studies in This Report, Selected by Discipline
NASA-ESA Case Studies
NASA-European National Space Agencies Case Studies
HST, SOHO,a INTEGRAL
ISPM [Ulysses], ISEE
Microgravity research and life sciences
NOTE: AMPTE = Active Magnetospheric Particle Tracer Explorer; EOS = Earth Observing System; GMM = Generic Mars Mission; HST = Hubble Space Telescope; IML = International Microgravity Laboratory; INTEGRAL = International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory; ISEE = International Sun-Earth Explorer; ISPM = International Solar Polar Mission [renamed Ulysses]; ROSAT = Roentgen Satellite; TOPEX = (Ocean) Topography Experiment; UARS = Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite.
a The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) is used by both astrophysicists and space physicists. Its mission addresses both disciplines. For the purpose of this study, SOHO was analyzed as an astrophysics mission.
- Were there issues of competition versus cooperation? Did the desire to protect technological leadership create problems?
- What benefits did the cooperation actually produce?
- Which agreements succeeded and which did not, in both scientific and programmatic terms?
The questions are not formally asked and answered for each mission case study but serve instead as guideposts. In the end, the joint committee sought to know and present the lessons learned and how they can be applied in the future.
The joint committee, having surveyed and analyzed the 13 U.S.-European cases discussed in Chapter 3, identified several conditions that either facilitated or hampered bilateral or multilateral cooperation in space science. Some of these conditions are unique to their scientific disciplines and their "cultures," whereas others are cross-cutting and apply overall to the cooperative experience between the United States and Europe, as analyzed in Chapters 2 and 3. The joint committee determined that these overarching factors can be organized according to the various phases of a cooperative program, namely (1) goals and rationale for international cooperation, (2) planning and identification of cooperative opportunities, (3) management and implementation, (4) personnel, and (5) guidelines and procedures. These factors led to five sets of recommendations.
Goals and Rationale for International Cooperation
The joint committee's examination of U.S.-European missions over more than 30 years shows, in retrospect, that international cooperation has at times been used to justify a mission that may have lacked support from the scientific community at large or other factors important for successful cooperation. (This was particularly true for the International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory [INTEGRAL] mission, which lacked broad support within the U.S. astronomical community.)
Finding: Based on its analysis of 13 case missions involving U.S.-European cooperation, the joint committee identified eight key elements that it believes are essential to success in international cooperation in space missions.
Scientific support. The international character of a mission is no guarantee of its realization. The best and most accepted method to establish compelling scientific justification of a mission and its components is peer review by international experts. Expert reviewers can verify that the science is of excellent quality and meets high international standards, the methods proposed are appropriate and cost-effective, the results meet a clear scientific need, there are clear beneficiaries in partners' countries, and the international program has clear requirements.
From a budgetary and political point of view, the mission must have strong support from the scientific community in a timely manner to overcome budget restrictions (and political hurdles). All partners and funding agencies need to recognize that international cooperative efforts should not be entered into solely because they are international in scope.
- Historical foundation. The success of any international cooperative endeavor is more likely if the partners have a common scientific heritage—that is, a history and basis of cooperation and a context within which a scientific mission fits. This context encompasses a common understanding of the science that can lead to the establishment of common goals. A common heritage also allows the scientific rationale to be tested against other priorities.
- Shared objectives. Shared goals and objectives for international cooperation must go beyond scientists to include the engineers and others involved in a joint mission. One of the most important lessons learned from the years of space research is that "intellectual distance" between the engineering and scientific communities and the accompanying lack of common goals and objectives can have a detrimental effect on missions. The penalty is that the mission project is, at best, only partially successful and, at worst, a total failure. Close interaction is particularly important at the design phase—for example, the participation of scientists in monthly engineering meetings
- can help to support optimal planning when compromises are needed between scientific goals and technical feasibility.
- Clearly defined responsibilities. Cooperative programs must involve a clear understanding of how the responsibilities of the mission are to be shared among the partners, a clear management scheme with a well-defined interface between the parties, and efficient communication. In successful missions, each partner has had a clearly defined role and a real stake in the success of the mission.
- Sound plan for data access and distribution. Cooperative ventures should have a well-organized and agreed-upon process for data calibration, validation, access, and distribution.
- Sense of partnership. The success of an international space scientific mission requires that cooperative efforts—whether they involve national or multinational leadership—reinforce and foster mutual respect, confidence, and a sense of partnership among participants. Each partner's contributions must be acknowledged in the media and in publications resulting from joint missions.
- Beneficial characteristics. Shared benefits such as exchanges of scientific and technical know-how and access to training are not usually sufficient justification in themselves to sustain an international mission. Successful missions have had at least one (but usually more) of the following characteristics:
- Unique and complementary capabilities offered by each international partner, such as expertise in specific technologies or instruments, or in particular analytic methods;
- Contributions made by each partner that are considered vital for the mission, such as providing unique facilities (launchers, space observatories, or laboratories), instruments, spacecraft subsystems, or ground receiving stations;
- Significant net cost reductions for each partner, which can be documented rigorously, leading to favorable cost-benefit ratios;
- International scientific and political context and impetus; and
- Synergistic effects and cross-fertilization or benefit.
- Recognition of importance of reviews. Periodic monitoring of science goals, mission execution, and the results of data analysis ensure that international missions are both timely and efficient. This is particularly important if unforeseen problems in mission development or funding result in significant delays in the mission launch or if scientific imperatives for the mission have evolved since the original mission concept or development. A protocol for reviewing ongoing cooperative activities may avert the potential for failed cooperation and focus efforts only on those joint missions that continue to meet a high-priority for their scientific results.
The joint committee recommends that eight key elements be used to test whether an international mission is likely to be successful. This test is particularly important in the area of anticipated and upcoming large missions. Specifically, the joint committee recommends that international cooperative missions involve the following:
- Scientific support through peer review that affirms the scientific integrity, value, requirements, and benefits of a cooperative mission;
- An historical foundation built on an existing international community, partnership, and shared scientific experiences;
- Shared objectives that incorporate the interests of scientists, engineers, and managers in common and communicated goals;
- Clearly defined responsibilities and roles for cooperative partners, including scientists, engineers, and mission managers;
- An agreed-upon process for data calibration, validation, access, and distribution;
- A sense of partnership recognizing the unique contributions of each participant;
- Beneficial characteristics of cooperation; and
- Recognition of the importance of reviews for cooperative activities in the conceptual, developmental, active, or extended mission phases—particularly for foreseen and upcoming large missions.
Planning and Identification of Cooperative Opportunities
Because planning, implementing, and managing are done by people, the findings and recommendations in the next two sections overlap somewhat with those in the section on personnel. Each area is vital. Even good people find it difficult to overcome poor planning. The joint committee found the following:
Finding: Planning for international missions has typically not been well coordinated with other related national programs or activities. Missions have been developed with similar, if not redundant, capabilities.
With respect to cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency, the joint committee recommends that coordination between the planning and priority-setting committees of these agencies be enhanced to ensure that in an era of declining resources, missions are carefully considered to ensure their unique scientific contribution and global interdependence as well as their national impact.
Regarding cooperation between NASA and European countries, the joint committee recommends that scientific communities in the United States and Europe use international bodies such as the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR), and other international scientific unions to keep informed about planned national activities in the space sciences, to identify areas of potential program coordination, to discuss issues and problems (e.g., technology, data sharing and exchange, cultural barriers) related to international cooperation, and to share this information with national agencies.
Finding: Clear, open communications are particularly important for international missions in space science to ensure that the cooperative space efforts have clearly articulated common goals and responsibilities and that mission results will be freely available. Missions with active science working teams and external user committees provide the best communications both within the project team and with the greater community.
Furthermore, it is critical to foster an active sense of community with excellent communication among scientists, developers, engineers, and managers from all parties involved in carrying out the mission. Principal investigators1 have experienced cases in which poor communication with managers and developers resulted in science return that was significantly below expectations. On the other hand, when scientists, developers, and managers were a true community, mission and instrument requirements were sharpened, design was improved, performance was excellent, and the science return met or even exceeded expectations. Such successful cooperation usually has involved a strong program scientist whose basic responsibility was to carry out the mission.
Given the important role that PIs in Europe and the United States have in leading and coordinating joint PI missions, the joint committee recommends therefore that for non-PI missions (in particular, multiuser ones such as those for microgravity research and life sciences and Earth observation), two program scientists of
stature, one U.S. and one European, be appointed at an early stage of joint planning to lead and coordinate the mission.
The joint committee recommends that only those international cooperative efforts be attempted in which participants consider themselves partners (even if their respective responsibilities and contributions are different) and have confidence in one another's reliability and competence as well as their dedication to the overall mission goals.
Management and Implementation
The management and implementation of cooperative missions rely not only on clearly established goals and rationale and good planning, but also on capable personnel. Similarly, poor management practices can significantly hamper even the most highly motivated team. The joint committee found the following:
Finding: A clear management scheme with well-defined interfaces between the parties and efficient communications is essential.
The joint committee recommends that, at the earliest stages of each international space research mission, the partners designate (1) two management points of contact, one U.S. and one European; (2) a project structure led by two designated PIs or program scientists, one U.S. and one European; and (3) an International Mission Working Group (IMWG) established with the two PIs or program scientists as co-chairs.
Finding: The lessons learned show the importance of defining a protocol for reviewing the ongoing cooperative activities by independent bodies, to ensure that these endeavors are both timely and efficient and that the criterion for high-priority scientific research is still met.
The joint committee recommends that each international mission in the space-oriented sciences be assessed periodically for its scientific vitality, timeliness, and mission operations, if a significant delay in mission development or if mission descope is necessary because of funding difficulties or other factors. For each cooperative mission, the participating space agencies should appoint a separate International Mission Review Committee (IMRC) composed of distinguished peers in science and engineering to review the overall vitality and value of the mission. The IMRC should be independent from the IMWG and the mission PIs. After the primary mission phase, the extension of mission operations and funding allocations from participating agencies for mission operations and analysis phases should be assessed by the IMRC.
A prerequisite for good cooperative efforts between people is that they be recognized for their particular contributions, responsibilities, and roles (as noted also in the discussion in the section on management and implementation).
Finding: Experience shows that the roles and contributions of some partners in the success and results of a mission have not been sufficiently recognized or have even been overlooked in publications and in the media.
The joint committee recommends that the participation of each partner in an international space-related mission be clearly acknowledged in the publications, reports, and public outreach of the mission.
Finding: Those missions with the smoothest cooperative efforts had project managers on both sides of the Atlantic with mutual respect for each other. Clear scientific leadership is important for all types of missions. PI-type missions such as the Active Magnetospheric Particle Tracer Explorer (AMPTE) gained from having dedicated PIs maintain fundamental objectives and ensure data quality and distribution throughout the project.
Finding: Having assessed several cases, the joint committee found that even the best and seemingly most precise formulations of Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) and other agreements may be subject to differences in understanding (especially in times of financial or political difficulties). This is often because of cultural differences or lack of effective communication between key individuals.
Finding: Because of the observed intellectual distance among scientists, engineers, and managers, good communication among these team members is an important ingredient of successful and smooth international cooperation. These interface problems are more critical in international cooperation, because of the added barriers of culture, language, and agency procedures that can further impede effective communication.
The joint committee recommends that program and project scientists and program and project managers be selected who have (1) a strong commitment not only toward the recognized mission objectives, but also toward international cooperation, and (2) excellent interpersonal skills, since it is important that key leaders and managers seek practical means for minimizing friction in joint U.S.-European missions.
Guidelines and Procedures
Finding: The joint committee found that international cooperation has been hampered by nonessential administrative requirements, lack of timely information on both sides of the Atlantic, and changes in budget policies.
There are many examples in which the two partners in a transatlantic cooperation succeeded, having overcome the difficulties imposed by their different selection and funding sequences. In the SOHO case, for example, there were points in the cooperative processes where agencies on both sides responded quickly and effectively to handle hardware problems, schedule delays, launch difficulties, and other unforeseen challenges in order to bring the mission and the cooperative effort to fruition. Other cases were not successful, and the envisaged cooperation did not materialize.
The joint committee recommends that NASA, ESA, and other international partners review their own internal rules and processes (particularly those that influence international collaboration and cooperation) and seek changes that might foster and improve opportunities for international cooperation. At a minimum, the agency partners should improve procedures so that the existing rules and processes can be more effectively explained to all participants. In particular, the necessary financial commitments should be provided on all sides, and contingencies should be agreed-upon. These commitments must be made more stable, especially on the U.S. side.
Finding: International cooperation may be hampered by national interests and issues involving political, economic, and trade policies that may extend well beyond the boundaries of the individual space agencies involved:
- Export-import difficulties may affect the exchange of technology or technical information critical to a joint mission opportunity.
- Data exchange policies and commercial interests may also impede access to scientific data on cooperative missions.
- Laws governing intellectual property rights may restrict information flow or lead to difficulties in bilateral or multilateral U.S.-European space cooperation; and
- Failings within the MOU process can create delays, loss of scientific opportunities, lost economic investments, and a decline in international goodwill, all of which can weaken the foundation for future cooperative activities.
In light of the importance of international cooperative activities in space and given the changing environment for cooperation, the joint committee recommends that the national and multinational space agencies advise science ministers and advisers on the implications that particular national trade, export-import, data, and intellectual property policies may have on important cooperative space programs. As these types of problems on a particular mission arise, the agencies should encourage these ministers or advisers to bring such issues to the agenda of the next G-8 meeting.
Finding: To better phase the development of missions, the joint committee found that establishing milestone agreements in cooperative missions would be useful. The agreement between agencies (generally the MOU) is the key formal document defining the terms and scope of cooperation. Often, the comprehensiveness and clarity of this agreement have contributed significantly to the success of international cooperation in each discipline. Conversely, some of the difficulties encountered in several case studies can be traced in part to inadequate specificity in the agreement, or to misunderstanding or differing perceptions as to the status or interpretation of the agreement and the level of commitment implied by it. The observation that bilateral agreements between NASA and individual national space agencies appear generally less problematic than those between NASA and ESA may reflect the fact that NASA is itself a national agency, whereas ESA is a multinational organization with necessarily different perspectives. NASA-ESA cooperation refers to larger, more expensive, and more complex missions than cooperative activities between NASA and European countries.
The joint committee believes that the interests of all parties are best served when agreements have maximum clarity and specificity as to the scope, expectations, and obligations of the respective agencies and relevant scientific participants. Given the inevitable discrepancies between the procedures, practices, and budget cycles of NASA and ESA, the agreements must serve as essential interface control documents. Because the expectations and the level of commitment evolve as a mission is defined and developed, the need for written agreements also changes. Establishing clear agreements would be facilitated if NASA and ESA could agree on a set of generic mission milestones with clear definitions and on template agreements that certify the passage of such milestones, the anticipated progress toward the next milestone, and the expectations and time line for achieving it.
The joint committee recommends that for cooperative missions in space-based science NASA and ESA establish a clearly defined hierarchy of template agreements keyed to mutually understood mission milestones and implementation agreements.
A suggested example of a set of template agreements is given in Table ES.2, which describes a progression, with the Letter of Mutual Interest, Letter of Mutual Intent, Study MOU, and Mission MOU corresponding roughly to the usual Pre-phase A, Phase A, Phase B, and Phase C/D of space science missions. Only a fraction of missions would be expected to proceed through the full cycle, and each agreement could clearly state the likelihood of proceeding to the next stage.
In light of the continuing scarcity of future resources, the volatility of the U.S. budget process, and the importance of trustworthy international agreements supporting cooperative efforts in space, the joint committee recommends that international budget lines be added to the three science offices within NASA to support important peer reviewed, moderate-scale international activities.2
TABLE ES.2 Hierarchy of Template Agreements for Cooperative Missions
Letter of Mutual Interest
Letter of Mutual Intent
Study Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)
Eventually, when necessary, appointment of an International Mission Review Committee (IMRC)
Finding: The free and open exchange of data lies at the heart of international scientific cooperation.3 When it is missing (as in the case of NASA and ESA in the area of Earth science) significant scientific international cooperation is difficult, if not almost impossible.
The joint committee recommends the following:
- NASA and European space agencies should make a commitment to free and open exchange of data for scientific research as a condition for international scientific cooperation after any proprietary period established for principal investigators;
- The scientific community, through their international organizations (e.g., ICSU, COSPAR), should openly and forcefully state their commitments to this concept and where there are difficulties; and
- U.S. and European space agencies should ensure that programs plan and reserve adequate resources for management and distribution of data and develop and implement strategies for long-term archiving of data from all space missions.