NASA Responds to Independent Review of Earth System Observatory

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
December 2, 2022
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NASA Responds to Independent Review of Earth System Observatory

NASA shared a response Wednesday on an independent review board established to assess plans and goals for the next generation of Earth-observing satellites: NASA’s Earth System Observatory, a cutting edge suite of spacecraft that will forward understanding of our changing planet.

The independent review board report examined the technical concepts developed so far for robustness as well as the ability to satisfy the mission’s essential requirements. The review helps ensure NASA adopts lessons learned from previous large, strategic science missions. This new set of Earth-focused missions are moving forward and NASA will incorporate recommendations from the board to ensure their success.

The board identified critical cross-cutting factors across the observatory’s organization and management, science priorities and integrated operations, technical approach, and schedule and cost. The review found that, in general, the current design is capable of achieving the basic science requirements set out by the Earth science decadal survey. The report also suggested specific technical and organizational recommendations to ensure success.

“We welcome the feedback and findings from the review board,” said Karen St. Germain, Earth Science Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “These reviews help to identify any issues early in the process and ensure we’re keeping both mission-specific and cross-cutting elements in mind as we plan these critical missions. This feedback is invaluable.”

NASA’s response addresses the following thematic categories:

  • The board recognized the current design successfully addresses Earth sciences decadal survey science priorities. It recommends active collaboration with the National Academy of Sciences, through their Committee on Earth Sciences and Applications from Space, for any significant changes. NASA will engage consistently with this committee.
  • The board encouraged continuation of NASA’s approach of integrating of science goals with the needs of the application teams who will use the observations as well as data management teams to ensure easy access to data. NASA will continue emphasizing synergy across these areas and will designate a set of leadership roles to expand the current coordination.
  • The board recommended emphasizing collaboration with external partners. NASA will take steps to review center work assignments and to expand partnerships as appropriate.
  • The board noted that certain plans for the Earth System Observatory, in particular for the mass change measurement – a measurement of how one Earth system changing will affect another – had technical risks. NASA will develop plans to address these concerns, while also recognizing that adding redundant systems to reduce risk will also affect costs – and they will address this with the committee.
  • The report found a component of the observatory – the Atmosphere Observing System – exceeded the recommendations of the decadal survey and was likely to exceed associated recommended cost targets. NASA will implement changes to address this, as well as will assess alternative approaches for measurements, procurements, and management.

NASA uses independent reviews for early-stage strategic missions to put important and complex science missions on the path to success. This particular review has both assessed the agency’s Earth System Observatory design is on the right path and helped to highlight a few areas for special focus.

For more information about NASA’s Earth science programs, visit:

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