ESS 265

Chapter 1. Access to Space


Agencies Responsible for Undertaking Space Science Research

The main funding agencies for basic research in space science are NASA and the NSF. The office from which most of the NASA funding comes for basic research is the Space Mission Directorate that pursues four themes: astrophysics, the solar system, the Earth-Sun system connection, and Earth science. This office is managed by an associate administrator (AA) for space missions, presently E. Weiler on an interim basis. Under the AA are four directors who manage the four themes. NASA releases Announcements of Opportunity solicitations for mission proposals and for analyzing data. The solicitation for data analysis is called Research Opportunities Space and Earth Sciences (ROSES). The National Science Foundation does not usually issue AOs but they often have specific dates for evaluation of the proposals. What we would call space physics is funded in the Geosciences Directorate under Atmospheric Science Programs. This area, whose code is ATM, funds Aeronomy, Magnetospheric Physics and Solar Terrestrial research. These areas have programs named CEDAR, GEM, and SHINE that have annual meetings.

Advisory Process

NASA and the NSF obtain advice on the conduct of their programs from external committees run by the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy, from internal committees and from their own employees. The NRC is paid by NASA and the NSF for their advice so that advice is given generally only in areas in which the agency is seeking advice.

The NSF gets advice on solar terrestrial programs from the Committee on Solar Terrestrial Research (CSTR). NASA receives its advice through the Space Studies Board and its associated committees. The two committees that most influence planetary and space physics are the Committee for Planetary and Lunar Exploration (COMPLEX) and the Committee for Solar and Space Physics.

The National Science Foundation has one high level internal advisory board: the National Science Board. NASA now has only one top level, internal advisory committee, the NASA Advisory Council (NAC), that has three science sub-committees. NASA has abolished its earlier extensive internal science advisory structure and established a very top-down flow of science planning. There are no known web links to the NAC or its sub-committees.

The NASA Planning Process

The NRC committees provide general guidance on the scientific objectives for the space program and what types of missions and instrumentation would be needed to achieve these objectives. NASA maintains a strategic plan that indicates which of these many options will be carried out in the immediate future. The individual disciplines within NASA periodically develop Roadmaps that give guidance as to the details of the planned program and the technology developments needed to achieve these goals. Examples of these are the SEC roadmap and the SSE roadmap. If a mission is small enough to be led by a PI in an industry-NASA center-university partnership, the remaining planning generally takes place during the preparation of the proposal. For larger missions the earliest stage of planning takes place in a mission science design team (SDT).

Mission Categories

Participation in NASA's flight program generally occurs by responding with a proposal to a published Announcement of Opportunity. What one needs to do to respond to an AO generally depends on the size of the program. In the Astrophysical and Sun-Earth-Connection disciplines the Explorer program has two announcements with different maximum size. The small Explorer (SMEX) program has a range of small launchers available and a $150M cap on the spacecraft plus launch. Example missions are SAMPEX and FAST. In this program a successful proposer might have an industry-center-university partnership each of which took care of part of the effort. The most ambitious of the Explorer programs is the mid-sized Explorers (MidEX) that are now the largest Explorer spacecraft allowed but still significantly reduced over some earlier Explorer missions. These missions are capped at about $250M for the entire mission. In the Sun-Earth Connections theme, there are Solar Terrestrial Observers that are capped at about $800M for the entire mission. An example of such a mission is the STEREO mission.

The Solar System Exploration program has four series of missions: Discovery, the Mars program, the Mars Scout program and New Frontiers. The Mars program is much more science oriented and open to competition, but, except for the Scout program, the mission sequence and measurement objectives are all decided internally. The Mars program does have a very open process for science input through the Mars Exploration Program Advisory Group (MEPAG) that is open to all attendees who wish to participate. The Discovery program is open to all individuals and planetary topics. It and the Scout program are capped at $450M for the total mission. The Scout program is new and equivalent of a Discovery program for Mars. The New Frontiers program with a cap of about $750M is designed to enable more major planetary missions such as a Venus lander, Pluto flyby, or a moon-sample return. Recently, NASA's Mars objectives have been stretched out and greater attention is being paid other planet exploration.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has a similar program except that its largest missions are called Cosmic Vision missions and are more akin in cost and complexity to NASA's earlier major missions. ESA's most recent major planetary mission was a launch to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (the Rosetta mission). This will be followed by a mission to Mercury (Bepi Columbo). ESA also has a series of smaller scientific missions such as the Mars and Venus Express missions and each member state of ESA may also undertake its own mission independent of ESA. Often European countries collaborate with the U.S. in space missions with one side providing some of the payload for the other's spacecraft.

Japan has a program that is smaller than that of ESA with some individual initiatives and some joint programs such as the Geotail contribution to the ISTP program, a Venus Climate Orbiter, and the Mercury tail orbiter contribution to Bepi Columbo.

The Selection Process

Before getting into the details of the selection process we should first examine the context, physical, financial and philosophical, in which these selections are made. First, physically NASA consists of Headquarters staff centered in Washington, DC and seven major centers and a number of minor centers. In some sense the centers compete with each other for programs while Headquarters tries to minimize this competition by defining particular roles for each. Headquarters administers the planning and selection process but assigns the oversight and financial management to particular centers. The Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, handles Earth Science, Astrophysics and Space Physics. The National Space Science Data Center is also at Goddard. The Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, handles launch vehicles and shuttle science. The Ames Research Center just north of San Jose, California, handles astrobiology, aeronautics, some small missions and some aircraft programs. The Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, handles the manned program and mission operations. It also has historically shepherded the lunar program although the Lunar Prospector Discovery mission was run out of Ames. Glenn Research Center in Cleveland handles aeronautics and advanced propulsion and the Kennedy Space Center handles launch operations.

NASA has attempted in recent years to shift its focus to smaller missions. In the past there was competition within and between disciplines for new start opportunities. The biggest most ambitious program usually won because it was better than the competition, because the number of new missions that congress would allow NASA to start was limited and because large programs tended to require an increase in NASA's budget. The selection of a set of large, infrequent missions had a number of bad effects. It is hard to manage large programs. Big projects are complex and risky. Cost is non-linearly related to size. In addition, the infrequent launches associated with large programs meant that space science slowed down. Furthermore, there was great pressure to use the space shuttle both for launch of spacecraft and for flying on board investigations. Now the shuttle is almost completely devoted to assembly of the space station.

Most recently under the mantra, "faster, better, cheaper", NASA attempted less ambitious projects with greater emphasis on small missions such as the SMEX missions, SAMPEX and FAST, the Discovery missions, such as NEAR and Lunar Prospector, using smaller launch vehicles, and emphasizing new technology. Nevertheless, because of the long timescales for large missions some large missions remain such as Cassini and the Advanced X-ray Astronomy Facility now renamed Chandra. Moreover there will always be a need for some very large missions such as the Next Generation Space Telescope (Webb Telescope).

NASA must plan well in advance to obtain funding for its programs. If it wishes to begin a program in fiscal year N that begins on October 1 of the calendar year N-1, it must start preparing its budget request in the Spring of the year N-2. This request is sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in the fall of year N-2. In December OMB tells NASA what it is willing to put into the President's budget. NASA then is allowed to make a reclama that provides arguments why items not included in the OMB budget should be put back in the budget. In February of the year N-1, the president submits to congress the budget to which NASA and OMB have agreed. First, the House and Senate prepare and debate an authorization bill that authorizes NASA's budget. A joint House-Senate committee then resolves any differences. Next the House and Senate (often in parallel with the authorization process) prepare and debate appropriation bills. These bills give NASA the money and are therefore more critical to NASA than the authorization bill. The President then signs the bills, usually in the fall of year N-1 in time for the beginning of fiscal year N. Since the NASA budget is decided along with other agencies, there are often hard budget choices to be made between non-science and science programs.

The selection process for research grants is quite standardized. There is an announcement of opportunity to propose posted on the world wide web. Those wishing to propose are requested to write a letter of intent that allows those managing the selection process to pick a set of reviewers for the proposals. When the proposal is submitted it is usually mailed to a set of reviewers who assign it a grade and comment on the proposal. A panel then adds its own thoughts to those of the outside reviewers and often ranks the proposals according to perhaps subjective but hopefully uniform criteria. NASA then uses these rankings as a guide to who should receive funding.

In a large program, especially if it has new elements, a draft AO is often posted a couple of months prior to the start of the final AO to allow comments from the community. Once the comments from the community have been considered, the AO is revised and released. Again letters of intent to propose are requested and the submittal deadline is usually about 90 days from the release of the AO. For a major selection such as a Discovery or Explorer mission the selection process may require up to six months. Typically a proposal for a PI-led mission will go to both a science panel and a technical, management, cost and outreach panel (TMCO). Each panel rates the proposed mission in its area of expertise and looks for major weaknesses, minor weaknesses, major strengths and minor strengths. Based on these reviews NASA then selects one or more for continued study. In the case of the Discovery program, several missions are studied competitively and one of these is selected for development. In the Explorer series backup candidates are studied but a prime mission is selected for development and this development proceeds unless a major problem is discovered in the development phase.

The development cycle of any mission is divided into phases A through E. Phase A is the study that proves the feasibility of a mission. This study may be undertaken as part of the selection process as in the final competition of the Discovery program. Prephase-A studies also occur that are undertaken to decide what concepts are worthy of the investment of a Phase A study. These studies are akin to the proposals written for the Explorer and Discovery series but occur for every program. After phase A NASA confirms that it is going ahead with the investigation if the Phase A study indicates feasibility. Phase B develops detailed plans including the ordering of long lead items but does not build hardware. At the end of Phase B is a preliminary design review. Phase C covers the building of the hardware and includes a critical design review that attempts to uncover any and all difficulties and ensure they have been addressed. During Phase C engineering units, flight units and any necessary spares are built. In Phase D, these are tested, integrated on the spacecraft and after a preship review to ensure everything has been completely tested, the spacecraft and its payload are shipped to the launch facility and sent into space. Phase E begins 30 days after launch and covers the operations of the mission and data analysis. Often during this phase guest investigators are added to the program.

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