In August 2012, the National Research Council (NRC) of the U.S. National Academies issued the second-ever “decadal survey” for solar and space physics (Heliophysics). Sponsored by NASA and the National Science Foundation, and with the support of the relevant parts of NOAA and the Department of Defense, the survey effort was informed by some 300 white papers, dozens of town hall and community meetings, and the work, over an 18 month period, of 85 scientists who populated the Survey steering committee, three discipline-oriented study panels, and five cross-disciplinary working groups.
The survey report, “Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society” (http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13060), provides an overview of the principal achievements of the past decade, a broad survey of the current state of knowledge, and a multiagency research strategy to address, over the period 2013–2022, what were identified to be the highest priority scientific targets. As the report's title suggests, survey participants also focused on applications of solar and space physics research—especially in the areas of space weather and space climatology. Indeed, scientific research has reached a level of sophistication such that observations, theory, and modeling may be readily migrated to serve the needs of a society increasingly dependent on space-based and Earth-based technological systems that they themselves are also increasingly susceptible to a space environment that fluctuates on the times scales of both weather and climate (Figure 1).
Current NASA research satellites, including ACE, SOHO (with ESA), STEREO, and SDO, were not only designed for scientific studies, but they also provide data that are essential for space weather forecasts, which also assimilate complementary data gathered from NOAA, Air Force, and USGS space- and ground-based platforms. A truly functional operational space weather observation system—one that can meet evolving civil and defense needs for information on the near-space environment and its effects on Earth, cannot be based on a system where the existence of key observational elements is not the result of long-range planning, but instead is largely serendipitous. Recognizing this problem, the survey committee recommends the following:
- Continuous solar wind measurements be made in perpetuity at the first Lagrangian (L1) point by continuing ACE observations as long as possible, launching the long-delayed DSCOVR spacecraft mission to L1, and assuring future such solar wind monitors. For example, continuity after DSCOVR could be provided via the solar wind monitor on the survey-recommended notional science mission, IMAP (Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe).
- Launch and subsequent continuous operation of space-based solar coronagraphs and magnetographs to observe solar and heliospheric activity, and Earth-viewing instruments to record geospace responses.
- Observations from new strategic locations (such as L5) be evaluated aggressively; and
- NOAA to establish a space weather research program to effectively transition research to operations.
The report emphasizes the critical need for the Federal government to establish a separate funding line to support space weather specification and forecasting tools, in addition to the traditional basic research.
Limited resources, the reliance on NASA research assets for what are operational needs and the ad hoc nature of agency cooperative efforts are longstanding and long-recognized problems. A necessary first step to address just the organizational aspects of these problems would be to develop a means to better coordinate the efforts of the multiple agencies that are involved in making observations and predictions of space weather. The National Space Weather Program (NSWP) offers a vehicle for such coordination, but to strengthen the NSWP and to consider issues pertaining to program oversight and agency roles and responsibilities, the survey committee recommends that it be re-chartered at the highest possible level of the executive branch of the U.S. government. The survey report suggests that the NSWP be placed under the National Science and Technology Council in the OSTP Executive Office of the President.
These steps and others comprise the survey's recommended new initiative in space weather and climatology (SWaC—Chapter 7). Implementing the initiative would require the support of OSTP and the full involvement of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). An analysis by the decadal survey steering committee showed that to establish the required observational platforms and the modeling tools envisioned in the SWaC initiative would require approximately $100–200 million per year over the course of the next decade.
The survey steering committee recommends a heightened role for NASA in the implementation of the SWaC initiative. For example, one model suggested in the report would be to establish a new program within NASA that would be chartered to design, build, test, and launch the key space-based space weather assets. This new activity would build upon the knowledge, experience, and innovative potential of the broad NASA science community. In this scenario, NOAA and other operational agencies would help define requirements while NASA would assume new “monitoring” functions.
Regardless of how the SWaC or a similar effort is organized, it is the strong view of the decadal survey committee that senior government officials must step up and define—at long last—an operational space weather system worthy of a leading technological society.