NASA, NOAA plan to insulate space weather programs from budget cuts

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Stagnant funding will not be seriously detrimental to space weather observation and forecasting, according to officials speaking Nov. 28 during a hearing before the House Science, Space and Technology subcommittee on space and aeronautics.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA say they are planning accordingly, and may adjust space weather programs as they review recommendations laid out in the National Research Council's 10-year plan for heliophysics. The plan takes into account a budget-constrained environment in order to help NASA and NOAA prioritize programs, they said.

Operating under a continuing resolution will have a minimal impact on space weather, said Charles Gay, deputy associate administrator of NASA's science mission directorate.

"Fortunately for heliophysics, that's annualized. When you annualize that, that's really close to the fiscal 13 president's budget," said Gay. "We don't anticipate any problems, at least for the next 6 months in the heliophysics organization maintaining its missions on track."

The agency should also be better prepared for constrained budgets because it has made strides in its ability to estimate mission costs, said Gay, "through various analytic tools as well as our ability to manage them with earned value management and detailed assessments."

"I think the idea of looking at the solar terrestrial probes line as a cost-capped mission line is worth considering. In fact, we are going to consider it very closely…so we can ensure that they're done on cost and on schedule," he added.

Ensuring an effective 24/7 space weather program in the future requires planning and coordination among agencies today, said Daniel Baker, chair of the National Research Council's decadal survey on solar and space physics.

"It's going to take a much more focused effort at high policy levels to ensure that we don't have gaps or we don't have failures to observe the sun and its effects on the earth," he said.

One potential problem area is NOAA's Advanced Composition Explorer satellite, which launched in 1997 is currently operating well beyond its planned 2-year lifetime. Its replacement, the Deep Space Climate Observatory spacecraft, has a planned 2014 launch and is designed for only 2-years mission life.

Laura Furgione, acting director of the National Weather Service, said NOAA is considering the role of other agencies and the commercial sector to mitigate any gaps and plan for forecasting operations after 2016.

"We have already begun the evaluation of best value options for continuing NOAA-defined requirements for solar winds and even the initiation of operational CME imagery for the post-DSCOVR era," she said.

For more:
- go to the hearing page (includes prepared testimony and archived webcast)

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