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Decadal Report on Solar and Space Physics

Aline D. McNaull
Number 120 - September 17, 2012  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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The National Academy of Sciences released a report, “Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society,” outlining priorities for the coming decade in solar and space physics.  This report, released in August, is the second National Research Council (NRC) decadal survey in heliophysics.  The summary section of the report states:

“The report presents a program of basic and applied research for the period 2013-2022 that will improve scientific understanding of the mechanisms that drive the Sun’s activity and the fundamental physical processes underlying near-Earth plasma dynamics, determine the physical interactions of Earth’s atmospheric layers in the context of the connected Sun-Earth system, and enhance greatly the capability to provide realistic and specific forecasts of Earth’s space environment that will better serve the needs of society.”

The survey was supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).  Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado chaired the committee that wrote the report.  Thomas Zurbuchen of the University of Michigan was vice chair of the committee.  The report was prepared under the auspices of the Space Studies Board’s Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences. 

The NRC reviewed and reflected upon past and present accomplishments in solar and space physics in addition to outlining four overarching goals that guided the Committee’s recommendations:

  • “Determine the origins of the Sun’s activity and predict the variations of the space environment.”
  • “Determine the dynamics and coupling of Earth’s magnetosphere, ionosphere, and atmosphere and their response to solar and terrestrial inputs.”
  • “Determine the interaction of the Sun with the solar system and the interstellar medium.”
  • “Discover and characterize fundamental processes that occur both within the heliosphere and throughout the universe.” 

 

The report recommendations are directed primarily to NASA’s Science Mission Directorate Heliophysics Division and the NSF’s Directorate for Geosciences Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences.  The report also recommends actions by other federal agencies, particularly regarding the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) operational forecasting of space weather.

To achieve the goals laid out in this report the committee recommends adherence to the following guiding principles:

  • “To make transformational scientific progress, the Sun, Earth, and heliosphere must be studied as a coupled system;
  • To understand the coupled system requires that each subdiscipline be able to make measurable advances in achieving its key science goals; and
  • Success across the entire field requires that the various elements of solar and space physics research programs—the enabling foundation comprising theory, modeling, data analysis, innovation, and education, as well as ground-based facilities and small-, medium-, and large-class space missions—be deployed with careful attention both to the mix of assets and to the schedule (cadence) that optimizes their utility over time.”

 

The report outlines the following research recommendations:

  • “The survey committee’s recommended program for NSF and NASA assumes continued support in the near term for the key existing program elements that constitute the Heliophysics Systems Observatory and successful implementation of programs in advanced stages of development.”
  • “The survey committee recommends implementation of a new, integrated, multiagency initiative (DRIVE—Diversify, Realize, Integrate, Venture, Educate) that will develop more fully and employ more effectively the many experimental and theoretical assets at NASA, NSF, and other agencies.”
  • “The survey committee recommends that NASA accelerate and expand the Heliophysics Explorer program. Augmenting the current program by $70 million per year, in fiscal year 2012 dollars, will restore the option of Mid-size Explorer missions and allow them to be offered alternately with Small Explore missions every 2 to 3 years. As part of the augmented Explorer program, NASA should support regular selections of Missions of Opportunity.”
  • “The survey committee recommends that NASA’s Solar-Terrestrial Probes program be restructured as a moderate-scale, competed, principal-investigator-led mission line that is cost-capped at $520 million per mission in fiscal year 2012 dollars including full life-cycle costs.”
  • “The survey committee recommends that, following the launch of RBSP and SPP, the next Living With a Star science target focus on how Earth’s atmosphere absorbs solar wind energy. The recommended reference mission is Geospace Dynamics Constellation (GDC).”

The report also describes applications recommendations for enabling effective space weather and climatology capabilities:

  • “Recharter the National Space Weather Program - The survey committee recommends that, to coordinate the development of this plan, the National Space Weather Program should be rechartered under the auspices of the National Science and Technology Council and should include the active participation of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and Budget. The plan should build on current agency efforts, leverage the new capabilities and knowledge that will arise from implementation of the programs recommended in this report, and develop additional capabilities, on the ground and in space, that are specifically tailored to space weather monitoring and prediction.”
  • “Work in a multi-agency partnership to achieve continuity of solar and solar wind observations - The survey committee recommends that NASA, NOAA, and the Department of Defense work in partnership to plan for continuity of solar and solar wind observations beyond the lifetimes of ACE, SOHO, STEREO, and SDO.”

The report also describes decision rules recommended by the Committee in the event that resources need to be reduced and reallocated over the coming decade.  Similarly, the committee highlights augmentation priorities in the event that the solar and space physics community budget is increased in the event of a more favorable budgetary environment. 


A copy of the prepublication version of this report is available here.

Aline D. McNaull
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
amcnaull@aip.org
301-209-3094