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U.S Earth Observation Systems in "Precarious" Situation Says NRC

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-May-2012
Updated: 02-May-2012 10:17 PM

The National Research Council's (NRC's) assessment of the U.S. earth observation satellite program is that it is in a more "precarious" situation today than it was five years ago when the NRC issued its first Decadal Survey on Earth Science and Applications from Space (ESAS).

The NRC report released today is a mid-term assessment of how NASA is implementing the recommendations of the ESAS Decadal Survey.  Congress requires the NRC to make such assessments for each of the space and earth science Decadal Surveys the NRC produces.   The NRC issued its first Decadal Survey on Earth science and applications from space in 2007, making recommendations for related NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite programs.

Today's mid-term assessment credits NASA for responding favorably to the Decadal Survey, but concludes that budget constraints, lack of affordable launch vehicles, and "changes in program scope without commensurate funding, directed by the Office of Management and Budget and by Congress" impeded progress is meeting the Decadal Survey's recommendations.    As for NOAA, the report cites budget shortfalls and cost overruns on the next generation of polar-orbiting weather satellites for slowing NOAA's progress in implementing the NRC recommendations.

Consequently, "the nation's Earth observing capability from space is beginning to wane" and by 2020 the number of earth observing instruments in orbit may be as little as 25 percent of what it is today, the NRC says.  A "rapid decline" is beginning, the NRC warned, and "investment and careful stewardship of the U.S. Earth observations enterprise are more certain and more urgent now than they were 5 years ago."

A critical piece of the NRC's recommendations in 2007 was for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to develop and establish a "national strategy" for earth observations from space.  Five years later, only a preliminary outline has emerged, the NRC said today, and that strategy is still needed.


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