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NASA Advisory Council Sun-Earth Connection Advisory Subcommittee Minutes 25-27 Oct 2000

Status Report From: NASA Advisory Council
Posted: Friday, October 27, 2000

Letter to SEC Director Dr. George Withbroe from Dr. Paul Kintner, Acting Chair of SECAS

Dear George,

The Sun-Earth Connection Advisory Subcommittee enjoyed reviewing with you the Sun-Earth Connection Theme and the opportunities and challenges faced by the Theme on October 25-27, 2000 at NASA HQ. We thank all of the participants for their efforts, which made the meeting productive. Clearly the Office of Space Science and the SEC Theme benefits from the dedicated and committed scientists who work at NASA HQ.

The committee report will take two forms. This letter, which summarizes the committee's deliberations, and the recommendations of the subcommittee. In addition Dr. Raymond Walker will report to the Space Science Advisory Committee on the SECAS deliberations.

There were four broad areas that drew the SECAS committee's attention.

The first area is the superb leadership demonstrated by yourself on behalf of the community that has moved SEC into a position of eminence within NASA, solidified SEC gains and the Solar Terrestrial Probe line, and laid the foundation for the next decade with the Living With a Star program. This is a tremendous turn around and one for which you deserve our highest praise. In addition your decision to move Solar Probe into SEC was widely supported although it comes with the concern that it is under funded and may limit other opportunities.

The second major area is the Senior Review of the Supporting Research and Technology program. The request for this review originated with the National Academy of Sciences about 3 years ago when SR&T was not receiving inflationary increases and some flight programs were using SR&T money for data analysis. Since the original request for the review, the policy on SR&T funding has been changed to reflect inflationary increases and data analysis is included in flight program budgets. There is some sentiment that the original motivation for the Senior Review is no longer valid. Next the disciplines have been recently reorganized into Clusters and the management structure within OSS has changed. Also MOWG's are being reformed for the first time in about a decade with the immediate goal of creating advocacy documents for their Cluster. In the midst of all this organizational change we wondered if the outcome would really depend on scientific excellence or if the outcome would depend more on the unintended consequences of the several reorganizations. Finally there were other SEC reviews being conducted next spring which would conflict with the Senior Review. In summary, SECAS felt that there was adequate motivation to postpone the Senior Review of SR&T for 6 months to a year.

The third major area cuts across several different topics. It is motivated by the concern for a new generation of scientists and engineers to replace those due to retire in the next decade, by the flight of experienced personnel from the space sciences and technology, and by the decline of resources for universities to attract and educate the very best for our community. In part these issues are beyond our control originating with a change in the importance of technology within our society and the perception by business that to recruit talent that can think, they must attract engineering and science graduates, not arts and humanities graduates. The one factor in our favor is that students are attracted by access to space. The appeal of being able to work on a flight project still pulls in the best. However the sounding rocket program is in crisis, the UNEX program is indefinitely postponed, and universities in general are trying to do too much with too little money. The occasional SMEX or MidEx is not adequate. SECAS felt that there must an aggressive response to these issues. First the sounding rocket program has to be fixed beginning with transfer of leadership to the SEC theme as a steward for all the themes. This needs to be followed with restoring the sounding rocket program funding so that a floor of 20 launches per year can be maintained. Second the possibility of a university initiative was raised several times during our meeting. SECAS felt that such a initiative should first go to the sounding rocket program to repair and strengthen the program, then to university infrastructure perhaps like DURIP (Defense University Research Instrumentation Program), and then to programs reaching pre-college students which would attract them into the field. Third SECAS was concerned that the UNEX program is now indefinitely postponed. The broad span between a $75M SMEX and a $1M sounding rocket is just too large and leaves no access for excellent small science. Experience demonstrates that successful proposals are top dollar within any specific division as opposed to being the best science per dollar. We have no prescription to change these outcomes but we do think that a study of the issues might help us find solutions.

The final broad area discussed by SECAS was the problem of staying within cost caps. There was a great deal of discussion of this and almost everyone recounted their favorite example(s) with rich anecdotal evidence. No central theme emerged except that everyone was frustrated. The extra cost of Red Team reviews was cited as one example where the need to modulate the reviews by the level of acceptable risk is an important factor in cost. Although we are not able to predict and eliminate cost over runs, there are two possible responses, reducing the flight rate while maintaining the science or reducing the science per flight and maintaining the flight rate. Finding a balance between these two hard choices and enforcing a philosophy and commitment to making hard choices will not come easily. For this reason we ask that the issues of cost caps, cost estimates, the philosophy and management of contingency funds, and institutional strategies to predict and contain costs be presented and examined at the next SECAS meeting. After our meeting several SECAS members reported examples of our community not understanding or appreciating this issue. This topic must have a community wide focus for our long-term health.

Lastly, SECAS favorably responded to the report from the Science and Technology Definition Team (STDT) for Geospace Electrodynamic Connections (GEC). SECAS could not reach strong consensus on the decadal survey called for by Jim Burch but felt, that if the survey went forward, it must be strongly coupled to the current STP strategy and the work of the LWS Science Architecture Team just about to begin meeting. SECAS also felt that MIDEX and SMEX proposals should not be avenues for proposing STP missions whose definition was mature. We thank Dr. Ted Tarbell for the presentation of TRACE images and movies. The graphic display of dynamic coronal features brought expressions of awe from the participants. We applaud the TRACE team for their contributions

Thank you again for the presentations made to SECAS. The specific recommendations follow.

Regards,
Paul Kintner

Theme Leadership. SECAS commends Dr. George Withbroe for his inspiring leadership that has led to the newly recognized importance of the scientific discipline now known as the Sun-Earth Connection. In particular, the establishment of the Living with a Star Program marks a new era of, and recognition for, space physics as a legitimate scientific discipline that also promises to contribute to multiple national interests. SECAS notes that without the efforts of Dr. Withbroe and the SEC Theme staff, this important new program would not exist. We commend them for their efforts and accomplishments in this importantendeavor. BRAVO!!

Living With a Star. Glenn Mason addressed SECAS and gave us a brief preview of the forthcoming effort by the LWS Science Architecture Team. We believe that the backgrounds of the SAT team members will ensure a broad range of ideas for the definition effort.

In the various presentations and discussions regarding the Living With a Star program, a number of issues were raised that merit particular attention or comment:

First, the importance of the Science Architecture Team's role in crafting a coherent program capable of answering the cross-cutting science questions that underlie space weather problems can not be overstated, and we give the assembled team our support and best wishes for the successful accomplishment of their task. While we applaud the SAT chairman's expressed intention to consider the entire program from a fresh perspective, we know they will benefit greatly from the large amount of preparatory work that has already been done by various LWS study teams, by other agencies and organizations, and by the collective efforts of past and present NASA basic research programs.

Second, we wish to emphasize the importance of the theory/modeling/data analysis effort that has begun within the LWS program. It is clear that NASA recognizes the crucial role that these capabilities will play in integrating the observational portions of LWS to extract the needed answers to the complex problems to be addressed by the program. We believe that this effort is so crucial to the program that special attention should be paid by the SAT to its optimal utilization. In particular, we recommend that DATM be treated as a LWS mission with its own science definition team. The charter of such a team should include analysis of potential mechanisms for guiding the direction of LWS-supporting research, as well as effective means for incorporating results into the overall LWS program. One particular area of attention would be how best to utilize the CCMC by supporting codes and model validation efforts.

Third, the LWS program is distinct from the regular SEC research program. To this end, we are in agreement with the proposal to make LWS theory research efforts separate from the SEC Theory Program competition.

Geospace Electrodynamic Connections (GEC) Science and Technology Definition Team (STDT). Dr. Rod Heelis (co-chair of the GEC STDT) presented an excellent overview of the scientific objectives, scientific justification and technical implementation approach of the GEC mission, a Solar Terrestrial Probe. The mission is underpinned by two fundamental SEC questions central to the understanding of magnetospheric-ionospheric-thermosphericcoupling: How does the I-T system respond to magnetospheric forcing? How is the I-T system dynamically coupled to the magnetosphere? To answer these questions, GEC must be able to resolve space-time ambiguities never before tackled down to altitudes as low as 130 km. The GEC will do this by using a constellation of identical satellites that can deep dip to altitudes of 130 km.

SECAS strongly recommends that the GEC STDT draft report be finalized and accepted. The scientific objectives of this SEC-STP mission are critical to the understanding of how the magnetosphere couples with the ionosphere-thermosphere system as well as elucidating how the ionosphere and thermosphere are themselves coupled. SECAS also recommends that the GEC STDT be kept intact through the period so that NASA can obtain realistic costing.

Presidential Initiatives for Enhancing NASA -- University Relationships. An important proposal is under preparation by General Armstrong which specifies initiatives for achieving enhanced relationships between NASA and Universities. SECAS supports the development of a strong NASA/University Initiative. We strongly urge that one of the centerpieces of this initiative be the enhancement of a low cost access to space program, including rockets and long duration balloons. As cited in the report to this subcommittee by G. Riegler, the currently suggested initiatives include

(1) A training grant award program for undergraduates. The eligible areas of study are not yet determined, but may go beyond those topics normally considered of direct NASA interest.

(2) An exchange of faculty and NASA personnel between their respective institutions for extended periods to facilitate an exchange of ideas.

(3) Boosting the research infrastructure at Universities, such as upgrading test equipment, both through direct support and through the access to facilities at NASA centers.

SECAS applauds the intent of the initiatives, and makes the following recommendations:

(a) NASA supported undergraduate programs already exist (e.g., UROP, McNair, NASA Summer Academies) and are clearly beneficial in the retention of undergraduate students with an already declared interest in NASA-related fields of study. However, one of the primary challenges to the science and engineering departments at today's universities is the downward or at best stagnant trend in freshman enrollment in these fields of study. The SECAS panel believes the more crucial area for a new initiative is to entice high school students to enroll in technical and scientific areas of study when they enter college as undergraduates. We therefore advocate that the training award program be targeted toward high school students. These awards may be in the form of paid summer internships with college/university research groups, NASA summer academies or internships at NASA centers, or similar activities that will spark the students' long term interest.

(b) Boosting the university research infrastructure appears the most directly beneficial of the proposed initiatives. This will not only enhance university competitiveness, but also the undergraduate and graduate training. Both the direct support and the use at no cost of NASA facilities would be useful. (It is noted that NASA test facilities can be used now by universities, but only at cost.)

In addition, the panel believes the following initiatives should be ADDED:

(c) Universities are being placed at a disadvantage for instrumentation and mission proposals due to increased NASA requirements regarding International Traffic in Arms Regulations. Industry and government security standards are not university standards and are frequently counter to university policy. NASA needs to re-evaluate its counterproductive approach to this issue.

and most importantly:

(d) This initiative should revive one of the most productive training grounds for students that is currently headed for extinction: the sounding rocket program. As indicated in his letter of 28 August 2000, the Associate Director for Space Science (E. Weiler) states: ".... the sounding rocket program serves an essential role in NASA space science, for the technology test bed, training students and post-docs, and for doing science." The rocket and other effective low-cost-access-to-space programs, including long duration balloons, need to be funded at a robust level.

MIDEX Proposals and Strategic Missions. The question was raised as to whether the standard language in the AO for MIDEX proposals that pertains to the ineligibility of overlapping science objectives with impending strategic missions should be eliminated.

The cost of a MIDEX is considerably less than a strategic mission, and if a substantial fraction of the same science is obtained, then the MIDEX is often to be preferred, but only outside the blackout period currently subscribed. If a competitive (against the strategic mission) MIDEX is chosen for the study phase, there will be a disincentive in the community for preparing or submitting proposals for the strategic mission. This will result in fewer possibilities as choices for the selection. If the competing MIDEX then does not succeed to Phase B, the strategic mission will have needlessly suffered irrevocable harm.

SR&T Senior Review. SECAS is concerned with the planned immediate convening of a Senior Review encompassing the R&A programs, now grouped into a subset of the new R&A clusters. While SECAS appreciates the administrative savings and reporting efficiencies that will hopefully accrue under this new scheme, SECAS is concerned that there needs to be adequate time between the establishment of this new structure and the first assessment for the review to be productive and a true metric of the work being reviewed. SECAS is concerned that a premature review could lead to an inaccurate assessment.

In addition, SECAS is concerned that the proposed schedule has too much overlap with the Senior Review of SEC missions. Much critical SEC input to both reviews is overlapping, and the participation of some of the same community members in both efforts runs a significant risk of diluting the quality of both.

The proposed criteria for the Senior Review Panel members appear unrealistic. Specifically, it is not clear that people can be found with the necessary crosscutting experience.

We recommend that the review be delayed one year until the reorganization becomes mature and the concerns are appropriately addressed.

Decadal Survey. The committee reviewed the announcement by Jim Burch, Chairman of the Committee on Solar and Space Physics, calling for a community assessment of the scientific priorities of the US solar and space physics programs, analogous to the astronomy and "astrophysics decadal survey." In the past year, the Sun Earth Connections Roadmap was completed, in which the major scientific goals for the next 10 years or more were defined. The Roadmap also describes missions to realize these scientific goals, and some of the near-term missions are prioritized. The main features of the SEC Roadmap have been incorporated in the Office of Space Science Strategic Plan.

Solar Physics was included in the astrophysics decadal survey, with the community effort led by survey committee member Alan Title and solar working group chairman Michael Knoelker. The study includes strong support for the solar science program in general and very high priorities for the Solar Dynamics Observatory and the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope.

The committee recognizes the value of such reports in the past for obtaining support from the scientific community andCongress. However, we can find no compelling reason for a decadal survey at this time.

If there is a decadal survey, SECAS feels that it will be of benefit only if its efforts are coordinated with the LWS SAT efforts, the OSS strategic plan, the solar conclusions of the decadal astrophysics survey, and the continuing roadmap activities.

The Sounding Rocket Program. The sounding rocket program is a key component of the SEC theme. Recent reviews established the excellent and unique science produced by this program along with essential contributions in training graduate students, validating new instrument designs, and supporting flight programs. Despite this record the program is in crisis because of declining funding, removal of civil service staff and additional responsibilities conferred upon the program. The program, which recently could support 30 launches per year, is unable to maintain a floor of 20 launches per year. Returning UNEX funds to the sounding rocket program will partially correct this crisis but it is inadequate to restore the program's health.

The sounding rocket and sub-orbital programs have served an essential role as training grounds for space scientists and engineers since the beginnings of the Space Age. Increasing the supply of young scientists in the SEC theme is critical for the success of the ambitious new missions that are starting now, including the Solar Terrestrial Probes and Living With a Star. Given the agency's needs for new, experienced engineering and scientific staff in the next decade, a healthy sounding rocket program is a necessity. Therefore, the committee recommends that the sounding rocket program be augmented to increase the number of launches per year and to increase funding for instruments and payloads. Any NASA/University Initiative should feature restoration of the sounding rocket program.

To achieve these goals we recommend:

(a) Management for the Sounding Rocket Program should belong to the SEC Theme Director.
(b) Fund the number of launches commensurate with the scientific pressure and technical training needs.
(c) Raise funding for sounding rocket payloads to restore losses due to inflationary erosion.
(d) Make restoration of the sounding rocket program health a central part of the NASA/University Initiative.

Red Teams. We believe that the approach to risk management described by OSS management, is a sound one: the scale of a mission should determine the level of acceptable risk, with MIDEXes managed more conservatively and UNEXes accepting a higher degree of risk. We are concerned, however, that the levels of risk considered reasonable for each class of mission have not been well articulated, nor the impact at each stage in mission development (Phase A, Phase B, & Phase C) and urge OSS and the Explorer program office to do so before the next program AO.

We also see benefit in project management keeping 20% contingency on projects of intermediate risk (more for higher-risk missions). We are concerned, however, that each new level of risk management activity (reviews and responding to their output, increased QA, risk assessment exercises) are imposing additional time and funding demands on PI's on cost-capped missions.

Finally, we urge OSS not to avoid selecting missions only because of risk, when the scientific return justifies the risk.

Effective Partnerships. We are concerned at the cost growth of the spacecraft in the cost-capped STEREO mission. It appears that this occurred early in the program, and represents the effect of incomplete communication of instrument accommodation requirements originally developed by the Science Definition Team. Since this is a process that NASA has successfully carried out on many missions, we are concerned that this may represent a communication problem between the Goddard SEC program office and the APL project management. Since SEC has a major stake in seeing the Goddard-APL partnership succeed, both for Solar-Terrestrial Probes and Living With a Star missions - and now similarly the Goddard-JPL partnership for Solar Probe, we urge the SEC management to study ways to improve communications between program office and implementation center (APL and JPL) for SEC missions.

Low-Cost Access to Space. Background: The Committee expresses grave concern over the multiple problems with all elements of low-cost access to space, including the UNEX program, sounding rockets, and balloons. One critical impact of these problems is to exacerbate the difficulties in attracting young scientists and engineers into the field who are required to implement the major long-range programs of the future.

Recommendation: The Committee recommends a system-wide evaluation of NASA's low-cost access to space to develop an overall program that will: provide a broader range of opportunities needed to accomplish the types of science that depend on these elements; enable testing of new technology; give opportunities to both graduate and undergraduate students to be exposed to and to gain experience with exciting and fruitful space science missions.

Such a review should be based on requirements, not with the elements as they currently exist. Then the need for inclusion of various flight elements and their definitions and magnitudes should be included based on their fulfillment of the requirements.

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