Report: NASA earth observation capability at risk of collapse

NASA's Earth observation capability will be significantly-diminished in the coming years, says a National Research Council report published May 2.

"The U.S. system of environmental satellites is at risk of collapse," say authors.

Loss of Earth observation capability will inhibit the accuracy of weather forecasting, degrade the assessment of and response to natural hazards, and challenge the ability to measure changes in Earth's climate, says the report.

The report says insufficient appropriations to NASA's earth observation programs and the absence of a reliable and affordable medium-class launch capability are to blame. Significant reductions to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's future operational environmental satellite series' budget have not helped matters, add report authors.

"The number of NASA and NOAA Earth observing instruments in space is likely to decline to as little as 25 percent of the current number by 2020," finds the committee.

Five years ago, NRC laid out a 10-year plan for the success of the program, which NASA accepted and began to pursue. But NASA's execution of the plan is behind schedule because program funding has fallen below the required budget of $2 billion per year in fiscal 2006 dollars assumed by the survey.

The program has also grown more expensive than previously estimated due to launch failures, delays and changes in scope, says the report. Congressional and administration priorities have also mandated spending on features in the Landsat Data Continuity Mission and Climate Continuity missions, which were not part of the commission's 10-year plan, without additional funding.

Report authors don't foresee budgets for NASA's Earth science program matching programmatic needs in the near term. They recommend that the scope of the earth science division's future missions be partially or fully constrained by the funding available, "such that realistic science and applications objectives can be achieved within a reasonable and achievable future budget scenario."

It should also stand up a cross-mission science and engineering team to determine how best to execute the missions laid out in the decadal survey missions given the current envirionment, says the report.

For more:
- see the report
- see the press release

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