NASA Space Science Advisory Committee Meeting Notes 20-22 Mar 2001 (Part 4)

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

Part [1][2][3][4][5]

Wednesday March 21

Chairman's Remarks and Discussion

Dr. Squyres returned to an issue raised the previous day-the plutonium issue and the need for DOE to restart production. After discussion with Dr. Weiler, Dr. Squyres noted that the SScAC would not make a recommendation on this topic.

Another issue was the Information Technology (IT) contract boilerplate. There were two separate issues: (1) a general issue on whether there is a policy of a period of public comment before it becomes effective (if not, there should be and the community should be made aware of it); and (2) the specific issue regarding computer security and fingerprinting. Mr. Joe Bredekamp of OSS discussed this topic with the Committee. IT security has become a very "hot" issue, particularly in the last year, and it has been getting a lot of attention at all levels. Maintaining and ensuring data integrity is one aspect and OSS fully endorses and supports this; another aspect is guarding against unauthorized access. The latter has a natural dynamic tension with OSS's open data policy. Within the Agency, security has been the number one priority on the part of the Inspector General (IG). The policy and guidelines are under the purview of the CIO and have been under long-standing internal review and discussion (they are now approved and in place). Within the CIO community and as implemented through the Centers, Mr. Bredekamp noted that he represents the OSS on the CIO activity. The goal is special care and attention with the way that NASA does business with the research community. Initially, universities were excluded from the security policies and directives; within the last year, there has been Federal policy that requires provisions to apply to all contractors. OSS (and the CIO) felt that these did not apply to universities, particularly grants. During the summer, there was a Federal policy that the Agency implemented through the CIO that would apply to contracts. The wording was reviewed within the Agency, and it was to be "worked" through individual Contracting Officers and projects. It was not to be uniformly applied; it was to be negotiated on a case by case basis as applicable. The issue is: Who has the discretion to decide where it applies? Mr. Bredekamp noted that it was supposed to be determined by the projects. This was not done; it was unilaterally and uniformly applied by contracting officers. Mr. Bredekamp indicated that the SScAC should raise the issue-it is important to stay alert to these activities. The NASA CIO is completely aligned with OSS-the policy should not be uniformly applied. The problem appears to be implementation at the field Centers, particularly GSFC. OSS is attempting to fix this by determining on a case by case basis whether the policy should apply. Dr. Margon observed that OSS is already spending funds on this activity that could be spend on research in space science. Dr. Richstone noted that this problem should be raised to Gen. Armstrong. Mr. Bredekamp noted that Gen. Armstrong is aware of this and is working with the CIO.

Dr. Squyres posed the question: Is there a NASA policy to release new provisions for public comment? Things that impact the university community should be vetted in some way. Dr. Smith noted that there was a public comment period by the OMB about 18 months ago. Mr. Bredekamp indicated that the policy should not have been uniformly and unilaterally applied. Dr. Margon noted that the affected parties have tried to negotiate this and that GSFC has said no. The SScAC was very concerned about this issue and agreed to formulate a recommendation to Dr. Weiler that there be a moratorium on the specific IT security contract provisions and a public comment period on future boilerplate.

NGST Reformulation

Dr. Kinney discussed the background of the reformulation. The rescope was driven by several factors. Nexus (the technology demonstration mission) had grown in cost and would have pushed the NGST launch to 2010. The mirror cost reductions and manufacturing time improvements fell short of the original goals, increasing both cost and schedule. The in-house cost studies on the baseline NGST exceeded cost targets and available budget. All of these led to several months' effort on a robust rescope. There have been no major concerns from the ISWG and community. There are some issues about instruments and international contributions: the interfaces must be clear; the community must be involved; the contributions must be clearly defined, but the instrument package should not be two-thirds non-U.S; and the number of instrument operating modes should be kept to a minimum (simple instruments that are simple to operate).

Dr. John Mather discussed the current strategy, rescope process, instruments and science, international partnership concepts, schedules and major procurements, and status of NASA-funded technology development. The rescoped NGST would have a 6-meter class primary mirror. The prime contractor would be selected in 2002 with Critical Design Review (CDR) in 2004 and launch in 2009. Dr. Mather described the NGST concepts and the instrument suite (more or less unchanged since 1996). The rescope process was initiated by the Project Office last summer. The main technical changes were to meet the following objectives: risk reduction without Nexus flight demonstration; launch by 2009 with modest increase in budget; compatibility with more than one launch vehicle; and retention of the core instrument complement and Ad-hoc Science Working Group (ASWG) priorities. The Project has been through briefings with GSFC management, international partners, and NASA Headquarters. More public meetings are planned this spring. Dr. Mather discussed the technical changes that reduced risk (e.g., reduction in mirror size, and changes in areal density, temperature, and testing) and eliminated the need for Nexus. With respect to instrument metrics, the highest ASWG priority was sensitivity over wide fields of view. Dr. Mather showed how the NGST cameras (the original and the rescoped) compare to other observatories (ground, HST, and SIRTF). NGST complements these observatories. The initial international partner concept was to have the internationals split instrument/non-instrument contributions 50/50. NASA is exploring ESA's contribution to a spacecraft bus. The Canadian Space Agency's (CSA's) contribution is more likely to be in the instrument area. The current idea is for NASA to provide shared instrument services, integration, and test, as well as the Near Infrared Camera instrument. ESA would provide the Near Infrared Spectrograph, based on U.S. detectors and multiobject selector. NASA, ESA, and CSA would develop a partnership plan for the mid-IR instrument. CSA is now interested in providing a fine guidance sensor. None of the details have been worked out to completion. Dr. Squyres observed that this concept looked politically driven rather than a minimum risk solution; there would be intricate and complex interfaces. Dr. Mather discussed the top level observatory schedule. The major decision is the NAR in March 2004. Technologies must be at Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 6 by the NAR. The technologies have made progress (about one level in one year). Dr. Mather described some of the great successes to date on the mirrors. Another important technology is the multiobject selector for the spectrograph. Programmatically, the project is still in Phase A; the RFP for the downselect is scheduled for release in June. There have been major awards for instrument technology. The biggest hurdle is the uncertainty on contractor costs. The largest cost growths could occur in the telescope. In addition, there are issues with the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR).

Report to Associate Administrator

Dr. Squyres briefly reviewed the key issues that had emerged so far in the meeting:

1) A Task Force of the SScAC to look at education and public outreach issues. The SScAC is extremely pleased and impressed with the progress. It is a good time to have an external review. The SScAC did not fully discuss whether a formal SScAC task force is the best way to bring about that review. This has been tabled to the next meeting when Dr. Rosendhal can participate in the discussion.

2) The Mars Program. Mr. Hubbard requested advice from SScAC how to "jump start" the Mars Scout Program. The question is whether it is best to get some seed money out to the community to bring ideas to a state of maturity, or use the ideas that are available now and have more time for development. Dr. Weiler suggested that some technology money be used for developing less expensive things. Scout has evolved into one mission costing $200+ M. Perhaps more thought should go into what Scouts should be. Dr. Squyres noted that the Scout concept is now a line of missions to fill in the scientific gaps. It is open to any kind of concept; the Scout AO will not specify larger missions. Dr. Weiler noted that the question is whether there should be a bigger mission every 5 years, or smaller, more diverse missions more frequently. Has this gotten broad enough discussion? There appears to be an assumption that Scouts will be big things. The Astrobiology Instrumentation NRA will lead to instrumentation for smaller systems. The SScAC should provide guidance on this issue. Dr. Weiler indicated that he would appreciate a comment on whether the Mars Program should be "taxed" at a small percentage for a Mars-specific R&A program.

3) Subcommittee reorganization. The SScAC heard from both the OS and the SEUS; both subcommittees felt that combining the two subcommittees was a bad idea and that they should remain separate. Dr. Squyres noted that the SScAC would discuss this further. Dr. Weiler noted that there could be short, mid, and long-term solutions that the SScAC could comment upon. His only concern with two separate subcommittees was that they could offer conflicting advice to the Astronomy and Physics Division Director. If there are two subcommittees, they should have close connection.

4) Origins. The SScAC recognized that there is a crisis brewing in this theme. The SScAC felt that because this issue falls within the purview of the OS, it is appropriate to have the OS's advice. The OS has made input to Dr. Kinney and she is acting on that advice. At present, the SScAC is delegating any action or advice to the OS. In response to a question, Dr. Weiler indicated that some sharp thinking on SIM is needed as soon as possible. What sold SIM to OMB and Congress was that it was a technological stepping stone to TPF and that it would find Earth-type planets. Over the past five years, the budget increased by a factor of 4, the launch slipped from 2003 to 2009, and SIM may not be a direct technological stepping stone to TPF (TPF may be done other ways). OS should provide advice very soon on SIM. What the project comes back with may not be adequate. If SIM is terminated without a viable back-up plan, the funds will disappear.

5) Boilerplate contract language. The particular issue was onerous and costly computer security requirements. More generally, there was concern that boilerplate language appears in contracts before the community has an opportunity to comment or provide feedback. The SScAC felt that there should be a process for putting the language out to the community to allow for comments before it is implemented. Dr. Weiler suggested that the SScAC invite the top-level staff person (the CIO) at NASA Headquarters to the SScAC meeting to discuss the specific issue. He also suggested that the SScAC draft a letter to Gen. Armstrong regarding the problem as it relates to NASA/university relations.

6) ACCESS. The restructuring of ISS (on which SScAC is not fully informed) could potentially have a negative impact on ACCESS. The SScAC has concerns that the restructuring could make ACCESS more expensive, less effective, or impossible. What is the best course of action for SScAC? Dr. Weiler suggesting that the SScAC wait until the budget comes out and see what all the elements and the impacts are. Dr. Squyres noted that in an environment in which ISS costs are growing, it is important to protect the science budget against encroachment. Dr. Weiler indicated that he has the full assurance of the Administrator that OSS funds will not be diverted to Space Station. Dr. Weiler indicated that funding for ACCESS is a priority decision that Dr. Bunner must make. There are no funds for Cosmic Journeys. Dr. Weiler suggested that ACCESS could be proposed under the Mid-class Explorer (MIDEX) AO that is going out this June. If there is language that precludes ACCESS from being proposed, this should be raised and discussed at a Science Directors' meeting.

Solar Probe Science

Dr. Bruce Tsurutani of JPL discussed Solar Probe science. The science objectives are to determine the acceleration processes and find the source regions of fast and slow solar wind at maximum and minimum solar activity, locate the source and trace the flow of energy that heats the corona, construct the 3D coronal density configuration from pole to pole, and identify the acceleration mechanisms and locate the source regions of energetic particles. Dr. Tsurutani discussed why the solar wind is important to SEC-it creates all the dynamics of what we see in the magnetosphere. He showed examples of transformer damage as a result of magnetic storms. During solar maximum, large coronal mass ejections (CME's) occur about once a month. Dr. Tsurutani described shock propagation and triggering of auroras. What is learned from SEC could be applied for finding magnetized planets elsewhere. Solar Probe has two integrated instruments-in-situ and remote sensing. The in situ sensors are also integrated in terms of simultaneous data-taking at rapid rates. There will be good diagnostics on shocks. The remote sensing suite will make a 3D map of the corona. Solar Probe will fly by Jupiter to get an assist for a perihelion trajectory to the Sun. The mission starts at about 0.5 AU (-10 days) and ends on the other side (+10 days). Perihelion will be 4 solar radii. Dr. Tsurutani noted that he could come back in six months and present a more detailed briefing on the engineering aspects. Solar Probe will provide the first maps of the polar magnetic fields. The Solar Probe magnetograms will be the highest resolution magnetograms of the photosphere ever obtained. Dr. Squyres observed that this will be the most challenging environment that a spacecraft has ever been sent into. Dr. Tsurutani noted that the biggest uncertainty is the dust environment and the impact of the dust on the spacecraft. A workshop has been organized to look at this issue this summer. In addition, there will be high velocity tests at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). This is the only lien on the design. The radiation environment is relatively benign. There is a white paper on the impact of a solar flare on the spacecraft; it would produce Earth radiation belt levels, not Jupiter radiation belt levels. The actual duration in the environment is only a couple thousand seconds. Solar Probe will be the first encounter with a star (our Sun) and will obtain the fist accurate measurements of the Sun's polar magnetic fields. It will provide the highest spatial resolution measurements of the photosphere and corona, trace mass and energy flow of plasma, determine the generation mechanism of interplanetary Alfven waves, definitively identify the processes that lead to the acceleration of the fast and slow solar wind, and produce the first 3D image of the solar corona. In addition, there are space weather issues. Solar Probe will provide the first direct "ground truth" observations of the near-Sun plasma environment that governs all space weather phenomena and will provide direct measurements of the source region of the high and low speed solar wind. The AO was issued in September 1999; instrument selection was scheduled for March 2001 (before the Budget Blueprint cancellation) with launch in February 2007.

Sounding Rockets and Balloons

Dr. Vernon Jones discussed the sounding rockets and balloons program. He stated that both of these programs are "sick" and the only "antibiotic" is money. Both programs came in for overguides last year and will be back for substantial overguides this year. Both have operation floors, below which they are not viable. Both are now at or below those floors. There is only one balloon supplier, and NASA's order rate cannot sustain that supplier. Substantial funds were removed from the program during the streamlining exercise of the Zero Base Reviews. There have been no inflationary increases for about 5 years. The carryover reserves were removed from sounding rockets to start the University Explorer (UNEX) program. Restoration of those funds solve about 50% of the problem. The carryover reserves in balloons was used for Ultra-Long Duration Balloons (ULDB). ULDB is still not developed, although tests are positive. Cancellation of UNEX may preclude ULDB missions. (UNEX was never able to develop the needed $1 M launch capability.) Last year, the missions were prioritized under two options, but there were not enough funds to do all of the missions. There was a campaign of 13 missions, and additional funds were provided to bring the campaign to a total of 19 missions. The science themes are selecting payloads, but the program doesn't have enough funds to provide the rockets and operations. Dr. Jones described the "average" rocket (Black Brant). Although there is more money this year, the missions still have to be prioritized. The option is to do the missions deferred from the previous year (the Poker Flat campaign) plus additional missions for a total of 24. The discipline scientists reach consensus on what flies (all of the science is already peer-reviewed). The geospace discipline has taken the brunt of the postponement. Sounding rockets need an additional $2 M to do the rest of the payloads that are ready in 2002. In out-years, motors and support systems will need to be procured and over $5 M will be needed each year to maintain the target flight rate of 20 missions per year. There have been issues with the NASA Sounding Rocket Operations Contract (NSROC), but not all of the problems come from NSROC. There were some failures at White Sands, and NSROC has implemented corrective actions. A separate review team is looking at the NSROC contract.

With respect to balloons, a very successful Antarctic Balloon Campaign was completed. It achieved a record flight duration of 26 days. Data tapes and flight support equipment were recovered. Most of the experiment hardware was left on the ice until next season. Dr. Jones showed the trajectory of the mission. There are about the same number of balloon flights as sounding rocket flights. Until the last few years, there were no changes in balloon design. Dr. Jones showed the new balloon design-a ULDB pumpkin balloon. Four have been flown with some success (e.g., a 33 hour flight). Technology development is continuing. One of the issues with ULDB is population density (potential casualty rate) and trajectory control. The program needs a capability that will stabilize the trajectory at end of mission. There was an External Independent Readiness Review of the ULDB program and the team was impressed by the balloon team. It recognized that all parts of the balloon operations are under stress, driven particularly by inadequate funds. Extended duration missions are more complex and result in increased remote campaign activity for longer period of time. The balloon program needs about $ 5M per year for operations; additional funds are needed to maintain ULDB capability and conduct one ULDB flight per year. In response to a question, Mr. Jones noted that payloads have already been selected for the flight rate represented by the total budget needs. Dr. McComas noted that in the rocket program, there is an infrastructure baseline that must be supported, regardless of how many rockets are flown. Dr. Jones added that the same is true of the balloon program. Some of the SScAC members were concerned about the apparent imbalance between the funding for the payloads and the funding for the rockets (more payloads are being selected than can be flown). The geospace sciences dominate the candidates for the FY 2001 rocket program. Astrophysics dominates the FY 2001 balloon program.

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