NRC Initating Five New Space-Related Studies

NRC Initating Five New Space-Related Studies

The National Research Council (NRC) is about to begin five new space-related studies.  Two are for NASA, two for the Department of Defense (DOD), and one for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).  The provisional memberships of three of the five study committees are open for comment at the website of the National Academies, of which the NRC is part. 

The five studies are:

Euclid is the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) dark energy mission.  An earlier NRC study, the decadal survey for astronomy and astrophysics — New Worlds, New Horizons — recommended that NASA build a spacecraft to investigate dark energy (labeled “dark” because scientists do not understand what it is) as well as search for exoplanets and conduct surveys of the universe in the infrared region of the spectrum.   That spacecraft, the Wide Field InfraRed Survey Telescope (WFIRST), will be delayed, however, because of NASA’s constrained budget and the decision that completing the over-budget James Webb Space Telescope is an agency priority.  ESA is moving ahead with its plan for its Euclid dark energy mission and U.S. scientists would like to be part of it.   The NRC study will “determine whether a proposed NASA plan for a U.S. hardware contribution to the European Space Agency (ESA) Euclid mission in exchange for U.S. membership on the Euclid Science Team and science data access is a viable part of an overall strategy to pursue the science goals (dark energy measurements, exoplanet detection, and infrared survey science) of the New Worlds, New Horizons report’s top-ranked, large-scale, space-based priority: the Wide Field InfraRed Survey Telescope(WFIRST).”  The study will be conducted under the auspices of the Space Studies Board (SSB) and the Board on Physics and Astronomy (BPA).  The provisional membership list is available here.

DOD has requested the NRC to review and assess an Air Force concept for a reusable launch vehicle.  The NRC study will “review and assess the SMC/AFRL concept for a Reusable Booster System (RBS) for the U.S. Air Force.  Among the items the committee will consider in carrying out this review are: the criteria and assumptions used in the formulation of current RBS plans; the methodologies used in the current cost estimates for RBS; the modeling methodology used to frame the business case for an RBS capability including: the data used in the analysis, the models’ robustness if new data become available, and the impact of unclassified government data that was previously unavailable and which will be supplied by the USAF; the technical maturity of key elements critical to RBS implementation and the ability of current technology development plans to meet technical readiness milestones.”  The study will be conducted under the auspices of the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) and the Air Force Studies Board (AFSB).  The provisional membership list is available here.

DOD also asked the NRC to “assess the astrodynamic standards established by Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) and their effectiveness in meeting mission performance needs, as well as possible alternatives.  The Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) uses astrodynamic algorithms to perform satellite orbit determination and prediction in order to maintain a catalog of over 20,000 objects, ranging from active satellites to tiny pieces of orbital debris. AFSPC established this set of astrodynamic algorithms as standards to be used in operational space surveillance mission systems. These standards were implemented to achieve interoperability between the JSpOC and the mission systems and to ensure mission performance.”  The study will be conducted under the aupices of the AFSB, ASEB, and Board on Mathematical Sciences and Their Applications.  The provisional membership of this committee has not yet been posted on the NRC website.

At the request of NASA, the Board on Health Sciences Policy, part of the Institute of Medicine (another component of the National Academies), will conduct a study that will review “the scientific merit assessment processes used to evaluate NASA Human Research Program’s directed research tasks.  The study will include a public workshop focused on identifying and exploring best practices in similar peer-reviewed applied research programs in other federal government agencies. The study will also evaluate the scientific rigor of the NASA processes and the effectiveness of those processes in producing protocols that address programmatic research gaps.”  The provisional membership list is available here.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has asked the NRC to “assess the needs and opportunities to develop a space-based operational land imaging capability. In particular, the committee will examine the elements of a sustained space-based Land Imaging Program with a focus on the Department of Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey role in such a program.”   USGS operates the Landsat 5 and Landsat 7 spacecraft that were built by NASA and will operate the next in the series — the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM, also called Landsat 8).   The Obama Administration proposed in the FY2012 budget request that USGS take over responsibility for the entire Landsat program, including defining the requirements and paying for the spacecraft to be built and launched, roles that NASA currently plays.  Congress did not agree with that plan, however, and the question remains as to how the Landsat program will continue after Landsat 8 is launched.   Scientists are anxious to obtain long term data sets of comparable information and want the Landsat series to continue.  The first Landsat was launched in 1972; the two currently in orbit are well past their design lifetimes and each has partially failed.   This study will be conducted under the auspices of the SSB.  The provisional membership of this study committee has not yet been posted on the NRC’s website.

The NRC is required to post the provisional memberships of its study committees for a 20-day public comment period prior to when a study begins in accordance with section 15 of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).   Membership on NRC study committees remains provisional until the NRC determines that individuals do not have improper biases or conflicts of interest with regard to the topic of the study.

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