Sun-Earth Connection Advisory Subcommittee Meeting Minutes 3-4 Dec 2001

Status Report From: NASA Advisory Council
Posted: Monday, December 3, 2001


Cocoa Beach, Florida
December 3-4, 2001

Letter to SEC Director Dr. George Withbroe from Dr. David McComas, Chair of SECAS

Dear George,

The Sun-Earth Connection Advisory Subcommittee (SECAS) enjoyed reviewing the status of the Sun-Earth Connection (SEC) program again with you. The Sun-Earth Connection theme continues to be healthy as it aggressively pursues a broad-based range of research and flight programs aimed at understanding space physics phenomena from the interior of the Sun to beyond the outer reaches of the heliosphere. The Living with a Star (LWS) program continues to mature nicely and rounds out the SEC research area by providing an opportunity to extend our already outstanding basic research programs to a more complete and holistic understanding of the Sun-Earth connection system and its real-world implications for effects on life and society.

Because of the joint meeting of all four subcommittees down in Cocoa Beach, this was an abbreviated, two-day meeting. None-the-less, we heard about a substantial fraction of the SEC program. In keeping with our previous letters, this report will focus only on the top few issues that need special or urgent attention. We hope that this format of highlighting the most critical areas that come out of each meeting will spotlight their urgency and help you focus your limited resources on these most critical issues.

Solar Sail Technology Development

The SECAS reviewed the critical role of solar sails in enabling a significant fraction of the future SEC roadmap missions and the present maturity of sail technology development. SECAS therefore continues to express its strongest support for the expeditious development of solar sail technology to a readiness level that will permit thnbspmely execution of these important SEC projects. We note that ST-7, in particular, provides a critical opportunity to demonstrate solar sail technology in space. SECAS urges NASA headquarters to take all reasonable steps to pursue solar-sail development as SEC's highest-priority technology development objective and to demonstrate this technology on ST-7.

Solar Probe

SECAS reiterates its strong support for the Solar Probe mission, an exciting project to address compelling questions on the frontier of knowledge about our Sun. In light of the congressional action to restore $3M in funding to Solar Probe, SECAS recommends that NASA HQ follow through with the selection of payload instruments based on the proposals already received and reviewed. While we realize that the likely funding profile for the mission will probably allow only limited development work for several years, we believe that forward motion on the program would be best stimulated by having a selected payload to begin to optimize in concert with the spacecraft and program definition. However, in light of the fact that there are likely to be technological advances during the next few years that may lead to improved capabilities, we also urge headquarters to consider creating a process through which the selected payload can continue to evolve to take advantage of such advances, including the possible later incorporation of new investigators with proposals for significant improvements.

Living With a Star (LWS)

SECAS was happy to see progress in the Living With a Star (LWS) program on several fronts. First, we are delighted to welcome Dr. Lika Guhathakurta as the new LWS project scientist. Filling this crucial position was a top priority for the program and we are gratified that NASA has completed this critical step.

SECAS was also happy to review the Living With a Star - Science Architecture Team (LWS-SAT) report. We again thank Glenn Mason and his team for their hard work and commitment to establishing a framework for the system approach so critical to the LWS program. The SAT report organizes much the LWS science using a systems approach in which links are examined to "gain a global understanding." This is exemplified by the "SAT Approach" on page 7 and by Figure 1. This approach is commendable. However, considerable complexity and associated scientific challenges may be inherent in the individual "links" as well. Recognition of both the end-to-end links and the challenge within each link will provide a scientifically defensible and balanced discipline.

Because of the scale and complexity of the LWS program and the critical role played by the overarching architecture, SECAS recommends that a standing LWS Working Group be formed to support the LWS Project Scientist, and that the chair of this LWS-WG be a member of SECAS.

SECAS also reiterates the recommendation from our last meeting, in concurrence with the advice of the LWS-SAT, that NASA should establish a 1) Data Systems Study Team (LWS-DSST) and 2) a Theory and Modeling Definition Study Team (LWS-TMDT) as outlined in our last letter. Both teams should be constituted as soon as possible and asked to produce final written reports within 12 months. Furthermore we recommend that membership of the LWS-DSST and LWS-TMDT should consist of a proper mix of theorists, modelers and experimentalists, and that several members of should serve in common between the two committees.

Finally, the SECAS discussed the concept of promoting a prestigious Fellows program as a part of LWS, as initiation fellowships for the most promising new PhDs or early career scientists in Sun-Earth Connections. We envision highly desirable awards, which are intended to be very competitive, and to endow upon the recipients a level of prestige similar to those in other OSS disciplines (e.g. Hubble Fellows2'sSandra Fellows). The awards should be based on demonstrated promise of success and should be fully funded for a period of at least three years and be transportable to allow the recipient to take a position at the institution of choice. We ask NASA to consider this suggestion and, if they agree with its value, develop a draft set of guidelines and implementation plan to be reviewed by SECAS at our next meeting.

Small Launcher Access to Space

SECAS expresses concern over the future vitality of small launcher capabilities in the United States. The Sun-Earth Connections discipline depends for much of its strategic mission on regular, reliable, low-cost access to space on small launch vehicles. We urge NASA to redouble its efforts to explore innovative ways to preserve the capability for launching small payloads.

Connection between IMP-8 and Voyager measurements

The Solar and Heliospheric MOWG report received by SECAS indicated that the galactic cosmic ray (GCR) measurements made by IMP-8 may play an important role in complementing Voyager as it approaches the termination shock. The IMP-8 GCR data are the only measurements of cosmic rays and solar energetic particles, particularly protons and electrons, above ~40 MeV/n --- the energy range most affected by heliospheric modulation effects. It is possible that the MO&DA Senior review was not completely aware of this respect in which IMP-8 provides a unique 1 AU monitor complimenting Voyager during this historic time in its mission. While the SECAS does not wish to second guess the recommendations of the Senior Review Committee, we are concerned that there may have been a lack of communication on this point. Thus, SECAS advises that the Voyager team should be asked to assess the importance of IMP-8 data in its own exploration of the outer heliospheric boundaries. If the GCR measurements made by IMP-8 are critical, then the Voyager project should seek to support and incorporate them into their program. It is critical that this assessment be done soon as IMP-8 will be lost if is not re-commanded in January 2002.

Grants Review Process

SECAS is concerned that both NASA and the science community need to achieve the highest efficiency in the grants process. The ROSS NRA generates large numbers of proposals submitted over the course of several months each year. The large number of proposals and the relative size of the resulting grants might result in inefficiencies in the proposal development process and in the utilization of the reviewer pool, and most certainly impacts the management of the program for headquarters staff. For the purpose of reviewing this process, SECAS requests a full and quantitative briefing on grants process at its next meeting.

On behalf of the entire SECAS, we thank you and your staff again for an excellent meeting and for allowing us the opportunity to provide a community perspective and advice for your consideration.

Finally, on behalf of the entire SEC science community, we want to thank you one more time for your outstanding service to our communityover the past decade. Your leadership and vision will be sorely missed!

Respectfully yours,

David J. McComas, Chairman
Sun-Earth Connections Advisory Subcommittee

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