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U.S. Announces New Space-based Earth Observation Activities

Press Release From: Office of Science and Technology Policy
Posted: Friday, February 1, 2008

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WASHINGTON--The Bush Administration today announced its plans for a significant enhancement of the Nation's civil Earth observation capabilities. These activities include re- instating key climate measurement capabilities that once were part of the tri-agency National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) effort (but were removed from the future planned satellites during the 2006 restructuring of NPOESS) and also funding a new series of space research missions that will significantly advance our understanding of changes in the Earth's climate, oceans and land surfaces. The climate sensor package will be supported in FY2009 with $74 million requested for the Department of Commerce's (DOC) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The new series of research missions will be supported by $103 million in FY2009, and a total of $910 million for FY2009-2013, requested for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

"These activities reflect President Bush's commitment to understanding causes and trends with regard to changes in the Earth's climate, oceans, and land surfaces," said John H. Marburger, Science Advisor to the President and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). "Such measurements are crucial to the ongoing research regarding global climate change and to our efforts to understand potential technological advances and behavioral changes to help address this challenge. These satellite-based programs in the President's FY2009 budget are a very important step forward in that process."

De-Manifested NPOESS Climate Sensors. The 2006 downsizing of the NPOESS program in response to significant cost overruns led to the removal (or "de-manifesting") of several planned sensors that would have sustained key, long-standing climate measurements. Since this decision, OSTP and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have worked closely with NASA and NOAA to understand the implications of the loss of these climate sensors for climate and ocean research activities, and also to identify options for retaining the key measurement capabilities from this group of planned sensors.

As a result of these assessments and information provided in the National Research Council's (NRC) recent Decadal Survey on Earth sciences, the Administration has concluded that the highest near-term priorities are to sustain the datasets from three key climate measurement capabilities:

  • total solar irradiance (measured by the Total Solar Irradiance Sensor, or TSIS);
  • earth radiation budget data (from the Clouds and Earth Radiant Energy System sensor, or CERES); and
  • ozone vertical profile data (from the Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite Limb sensor, or OMPS-Limb).

The TSIS and CERES measurements contribute to long term climate records that are vital to discriminating between natural and human causes of climate change and to monitoring long-term energy shifts relating to climate change. Because these sensors require on-orbit overlap between successive satellites for proper instrument calibration, a gap in coverage between existing and new sensors would create problematic breaks in existing multi-decadal data records that in turn could harm important ongoing research. The OMPS-Limb data are important for monitoring ozone structure and depletion vertically in the atmosphere, and thus to our understanding of the ozone recovery process and related phenomena controlled by climate change.

Accordingly, the Administration has developed a prioritized, cost-effective package of steps to preclude such data gaps by housing these three sensors on other available satellites, in conjunction with the $74 million in FY2009 NOAA funds provided for these efforts. In particular, a CERES instrument will be flown on NASA's NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) satellite, set to launch in 2010, while another CERES instrument will be built for the first NPOESS satellite (launching in 2013) under current plans. In the case of TSIS, the FY2009 funds will support instrument development and ongoing analyses to identify a suitable satellite platform for hosting this sensor, as well as beginning the necessary integration work for this effort. Notably, the Administration also has identified FY2008 funds required to execute this plan, and previously provided funding in 2007 to host the OMPS-Limb sensor on the NPP spacecraft.

New NASA Earth Observation Research Missions. Satellite-based observations of Earth's atmosphere, oceans, and land surfaces have proven critical to characterizing the impacts of natural and human-induced climate change, improving weather forecasts, predicting and responding to natural disasters, and managing natural resources. Given the scientific importance of such observations, the NRC recommended several space-based Earth observations missions in its recent Decadal Survey on Earth sciences and applications.

In this context, the Administration is requesting $910 million for NASA in FY2009-2013 (with $103 million of this amount provided in FY2009) to develop those missions ranked as the top priorities by the NRC for Earth science research from space. This new series of satellites will study characteristics such as polar ice sheet trends, coastal sea levels, soil moisture, cloud and aerosol properties, and the carbon cycle in an effort to understand and forecast climate change, weather and natural disasters. This new initiative will build on important ongoing NASA activities in the Earth sciences arena, including the funding of continued operations for the fourteen NASA Earth science missions currently in orbit and the remaining work necessary to launch seven additional missions already in development or formulation.

Background on NPOESS. The tri-agency NPOESS program was established in 1994 in order to integrate the polar weather forecasting capabilities developed by the Department of Defense (DOD) and DOC into one cost-effective, next-generation program that would support both civil and military operational weather requirements. Funding for the NPOESS program is divided equally between DOD and DOC, while NASA is responsible for developing new technologies for the effort. Over time, several climate and space environment capabilities also were incorporated into the basic program, making NPOESS important both for operational weather forecasting as well as climate, oceans, and "space weather" research. In 2006, the agencies responded to cost overruns by restructuring NPOESS to reduce program risk and ensure continuity in operational terrestrial weather forecasting capabilities (the original focus for the program). This restructuring led to the removal of several climate and space weather sensors.

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