NASA Advisory Council Sun-Earth Connection Advisory Subcommittee Minutes 20-22 Feb 2001

Status Report From: NASA Advisory Council
Posted: Thursday, February 22, 2001

Letter to SEC Director Dr. George Withbroe from Dr. David McComas, Chair of SECAS

Dear George,

The Sun-Earth Connection Advisory Subcommittee (SECAS) enjoyed reviewing with you the status of the Sun-Earth Connection (SEC) theme. We thank all of the participants for their contributions and efforts; clearly the Office of Space Science and the SEC theme benefits tremendously from the dedicated and committed people who work in this area.

The Sun-Earth Connection theme is clearly healthy as it aggressively pursues a broad-based range of research and flight programs aimed at understanding space physics phenomena from the interior of the Sun to beyond the outer reaches of the heliosphere. The newly begun Living with a Star (LWS) program rounds out the SEC research area by providing an opportunity to extend our already outstanding basic research programs to a more complete and holistic understanding of the Sun-Earth connection system and its real-world implications for effects on life and society.

The SECAS heard 28 reports covering a large fraction of the SEC program. Rather than enumerating these many talks, this letter will focus only on the top few issues that need special or urgent attention. We hope that by highlighting only few critical areas that come out of each meeting, we will spotlight their urgency and help you focus your limited resources on filling what we see as SEC's most critical issues.

Solar Probe

SECAS heard several briefings about the excellent progress made in the development of the Solar Probe mission. These reports indicated that 1) a new JPL project, under the leadership of the veteran DS-1 Project Manager, had restructured the project to fit within the tight resource constraints, and 2) selection of the instruments from a variety of excellent proposals was imminent.

After decades of studies and restudies, SECAS is extremely pleased to hear that implementation of Solar Probe is at hand. SECAS continues to endorse in the strongest possible terms this totally unique and critical exploratory probe of the solar corona.

Chairman's Note: On 28 February, the President's budget release proposed deletion of the Solar Probe Mission, citing a "very large escalation in cost." This is remarkable considering the fact that costs have gone down rather than up for this mission and it now fits within the much smaller funding guideline that it was given. If implemented, this action will have dire consequences for some of the highest priority science in the space science program.

Living With a Star (LWS) - Science Architecture Team

The LWS Science Architecture Team (SAT) has made progress toward the definition of the science objectives, measurement requirements, and necessary observational platforms for a coordinated system-wide attack on the important societal problems caused by space environmental effects. We look forward to reviewing the prioritization and definition of tasks at our next meeting. SECAS has the following specific recommendations for the SAT.

1. Each science thread and the cross-platform impacts should be carefully mapped into each of the notional (or other) platforms including measurement, measurement rationale, measurement location and timing, measurement resolution, and measurement priority. This might take the form of a three dimensional matrix of spatial scale, time scale, and science thread. We recommend that the SAT prioritize the elements of the matrix and identify the elements for which observations/modeling/theory can make the most progress. An early resolution of these issues is important for the effective allocation of funds that are rapidly ramping upward.

2. The systems viewpoint with cross-platform science threads leads to a special set of challenges in the context of the notional platforms and science and technology definition teams (STDTs). We believe that organizing around the science threads is already part of the charge to the SAT. The STDTs should be organized by platform and composed of interdisciplinary constituents. In this organizational model, all four disciplines need to be represented at the science level in addition to any "end user" representatives.

Low Cost Access to Space (LCAS)

The LCAS 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 to training graduate students, validating new instrument designs, and supporting flight programs. Despite this record, the program is in crisis because of the reprogramming of funds, removal of civil service staff and a transition to contractor administration and operations (NASROC). The program has been unable to maintain a floor of 10 launches per year. Returning UNEX funds to the sounding rocket program is partially correcting this crisis but it is inadequate to restore the program's health.

The unique capabilities of the LCAS program for studying plasma microphysics, the mesosphere and lower thermosphere, and other science targets observable from rocket altitudes provides compelling scientific motivation for a much higher launch rate. Combined with the agency's needs for new, experienced engineering and scientific staff in the next decade, and the necessity for flight validation of a new generation of instruments for Sun-Earth Connections missions, the need for a strengthened LCAS is clearly compelling.

1. We applaud the decision to place leadership for LCAS in the SEC theme.
2. We support the decision to return Explorer funds to LCAS and observe that even after all the funds are restored the loss of civil service staff will not be compensated.
3. Achieving the science potential for LCAS requires a goal of 30 flights per year with a mix of vehicles chosen for the best possible science.
4. If a university initiative matures with new funds, we recommend that LCAS be the centerpiece of that initiative.

Contract "Boilerplate" Attachments

New attachment clauses are being inserted into grants and contracts without sufficient forethought as to their potential impact, clarity, or relevance. As a case in point, attachment 1852.204-76 Security Requirements for Unclassified Information Technology Resources has recently been imposed on universities by the office of NASA's Chief Information Officer. The intent is to address a legitimate concern in today's climate of computer hackers who target NASA systems. However several parts of this attachment have been written in such a manner as to create consternation and confusion within university communities. Examples include requirements that all contractor personnel who have "unescorted or unsupervised physical or electronic access" to NASA owned or funded data (including public domain data) must undergo and pass a National Agency Security Check that will include at a minimum NASA Form 531, Fingerprint Card, and possibly Standard Form 85P; that NASA be informed of all employee terminations (regardless of employee function); and that control of NASA owned or funded data (including public domain) cannot be transferred to another duly authorized person without Government authorization. As written, the attachment over specifies security requirements on universities in an onerous way without regard to intent or benefit.

SECAS recommends that before new "boilerplate" attachments, such as this one, are inserted into grants and contracts that they first undergo a public comment period, which specifically solicits input from affected parties. This opportunity for comment could help prevent requirements clearly out of scale with the intent of the original OMB Circulars and NPG's. During this review, comments and suggestions should be solicited from affected parties, including mission project offices and the awardee institutions. The resultant action (or inaction with explanation) from these comments should also be published.

Solar-Terrestrial Probes (STP) cost flexibility

A key scientific feature of the STP line is the increased scientific return from overlapping missions. However, there are new cost drivers, such as increased review cycles, higher required funding reserves, and costlier mission operations systems, that challenge fitting the STP missions within the present cost guidelines. The scientific return from each mission is the paramount concern and so SECAS advises that SEC leadership should exercise flexibility in applying the cost guidelines, when needed, to insure the unique scientific return of each mission is not compromised.


SECAS reiterates its very strong endorsement of ST-5 for the demonstration of mission enabling constellation mission-specific technologies that are crucial to the SEC future program. We are concerned that cost growth in this project is endangering the utility of ST-5 in developing and demonstrating these constellation mission technologies. The SECAS urges NASA to maintain these elements of the ST-5 program at the expense of other, more generic technologies on ST-5 or even the ST timeline, if necessary.

Finally, we also spent considerable time examining the issue of ways to blend the advantages of PI-mode and project-run selections and missions, as you requested. This is clearly a complex issue, which the SECAS will continue to work on through at least its next (summer) meeting. In the meantime, we can only offer you the simple advice that we all agreed on: continue to try to achieve the maximum SEC scientific return within our limited resources.

On behalf of the entire SECAS, we thank you and your staff again for an excellent meeting and for allowing the us the opportunity toprovide a community perspective for your consideration.

Respectfully yours,
David J. McComas, Chair
Sun-Earth Connections Advisory Subcommittee

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