Report warns of rapid decline in US Earth observation capabilities

May 02, 2012

A new National Research Council report says that budget shortfalls, cost-estimate growth, launch failures, and changes in mission design and scope have left U.S. earth observation systems in a more precarious position than they were five years ago. The report cautions that the nation's earth observing system is beginning a rapid decline in capability, as long-running missions end and key new missions are delayed, lost, or cancelled.

"The projected loss of observing capability will have profound consequences on science and society, from weather forecasting to responding to natural hazards," said Dennis Hartmann, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle, and chair of the committee that wrote the report. "Our ability to measure and understand changes in Earth's climate and life support systems will also degrade."

The report comes five years after the Research Council published "Earth Science and Applications From Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond," a decadal survey that generated consensus recommendations from the earth and environmental science and applications community for a renewed program of earth observations. The new report finds that although NASA responded favorably and aggressively to the decadal survey, the required budget was not achieved, greatly slowing progress. Changes in program scope without commensurate funding, directed by the Office of Management and Budget and by Congress, also slowed progress. A further impediment, the report says, is the absence of a highly reliable and affordable medium-class launch capability.

Despite these challenges, NASA has been successful in launching some of the missions in development when the survey report was published. It has also made notable progress in establishing the "Venture-class" program, as recommended in the decadal survey. The suborbital program and the airborne science program are additional areas where significant progress is being made. In accord with the decadal survey's recommendations, NASA also aggressively pursued international partnerships to mitigate shortfalls and stretch resources.

In the near term, the report concludes, budgets for NASA's earth science program will remain inadequate to meet pressing national needs. Therefore the agency should focus on two necessary actions: defining and implementing a cost-constrained approach to mission development, and identifying and empowering a cross-mission earth system science and engineering team to advise on the execution of decadal survey missions.

The report also reviews the state of NOAA's satellite program, an integral part of the decadal survey's overall strategy and tied to the success of NASA's program. Budget shortfalls and cost overruns in NOAA's next generation of polar environmental satellites account for the slow rate of progress. An interagency framework, recommended in the decadal survey to assist NASA and NOAA in optimizing resources, has yet to be realized. This framework is even more crucial now that both agencies face fiscal constraints, and its importance is reiterated in the present report.

Explore further: Testing immune cells on the International Space Station

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Report on controlling NASA mission costs

Jul 13, 2010

NASA should develop a broad, integrated strategy to contain costs and maintain schedules as earth and space science missions are planned and designed, says a new report by the National Research Council. The report also calls ...

'Frustration' in Europe over joint Mars probe: NASA

Nov 15, 2011

The United States has failed to commit to plans for an unmanned joint Mars mission with the European space agency, causing frustration abroad, top NASA officials told lawmakers on Tuesday.

Decadal survey of astronomy and astrophysics

Aug 13, 2010

A new report by the National Research Council identifies the highest- priority research activities for astronomy and astrophysics in the next decade that will "set the nation firmly on the path to answering profound questions ...

NASA budget will axe Mars deal with Europe: scientists

Feb 10, 2012

US President Barack Obama's budget proposal to be submitted next week for 2013 will cut NASA's budget by 20 percent and eliminate a major partnership with Europe on Mars exploration, scientists said Thursday.

Recommended for you

Testing immune cells on the International Space Station

13 hours ago

The human body is fine-tuned to Earth's gravity. A team headed by Professor Oliver Ullrich from the University of Zurich's Institute of Anatomy is now conducting an experiment on the International Space Station ...

Easter morning delivery for space station

19 hours ago

Space station astronauts got a special Easter treat: a cargo ship full of supplies. The shipment arrived Sunday morning via the SpaceX company's Dragon cargo capsule.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Apr 19, 2014

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Sun emits a mid-level solar flare

Apr 18, 2014

The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 9:03 a.m. EDT on April 18, 2014, and NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured images of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Lurker2358
not rated yet May 02, 2012
Hey, no worries.

We got planty money right? I mean after all, the congress and president just planned to spend another 600 billion in Afghanistan over the next 12 years, we must be rolling in the dough.

A few more satellites don't cost much compared to that anyway.
Vendicar_Decarian
5 / 5 (1) May 03, 2012
I have to laugh when I see Conservative Americans claiming that George Bush Jr. was the greatest President in U.S. history.

It's like watching someone cut off their leg with a chain saw and then proclaiming that it was the greatest thing they have ever done in their entire life.

Well Done borrow and spend Republicans.

More news stories

Easter morning delivery for space station

Space station astronauts got a special Easter treat: a cargo ship full of supplies. The shipment arrived Sunday morning via the SpaceX company's Dragon cargo capsule.

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...

Finnish inventor rethinks design of the axe

(Phys.org) —Finnish inventor Heikki Kärnä is the man behind the Vipukirves Leveraxe, which is a precision tool for splitting firewood. He designed the tool to make the job easier and more efficient, with ...

Poll: Big Bang a big question for most Americans

Few Americans question that smoking causes cancer. But they have more skepticism than confidence in global warming, the age of the Earth and evolution and have the most trouble believing a Big Bang created the universe 13.8 ...