Status Report

NASA Space Science Advisory Committee Meeting Notes 20-22 Mar 2001 (Part 5)

By SpaceRef Editor
March 22, 2001
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Part [1][2][3][4][5]

Committee Discussion

Reorganization of advisory structure-Dr. Margon stated that there are hybrid plans that could address the concern raised by Dr. Weiler. For example there could be two separate subcommittees that would meet in parallel (separately at the same location at the same time, with plenary sessions on the third day of the meetings). Trying to have people in common on both subcommittees would be a burden on those members. Dr. Squyres noted that in practice, the subcommittees advise OSS Directors, but provide reports to the SScAC. Some members felt that in the long run, it might be advantageous to realign the subcommittees with the Division Directors. Other members were concerned about the loss or compromise of the theme structure, which has provided a very effective focus for science, and felt that the subcommittees should remain separate even in the long term. The SScAC agreed that the suggestion by Dr. Margon would be a good short-term (e.g., one-year) plan; it would be too great a shock to merge the subcommittees at this time.

ACCESS and ISS-Dr. Margon suggested that the SScAC recommend that the MIDEX AO (to be released in June) be amended to make it possible to propose attached station payloads. Right now there are three impediments under the AO as currently written: no attached station payloads unless they are Missions of Opportunity; Missions of Opportunity are capped at $30M; and payload must be 60 months to orbit. The suggestion would be to remove the first statement and add that the last statement does not apply to Station payloads. The SScAC adopted this recommendation. Dr. Bunner observed that there are some pros and cons to the ACCESS mission in following this approach-it has already been through peer review on the Strategic Plan; however, if there are impediments to that route, the mission must look for another viable path.

NGST-The program has taken steps to address the issues. There has been a significant reduction of cost, but most of the science was preserved. There are international complexities that cannot be avoided. The project has proposed the optimum credible program, given the political and financial constraints. Overall, the SScAC was impressed with the actions taken by the project and commended it on the results of the restructuring. Dr. Margon noted that the SWG was very pleased with the descope plans; its biggest concern was the complexities in the instrument sharing arrangements. However, it had no better suggestions. The SScAC endorsed the OS finding regarding the international arrangements and the mid-IR instrument.

Solar Probe-There has been a clear indication that Solar Probe has been terminated by the Administration. The SScAC was very impressed by the scientific merits of the mission. It has been highly ranked and is well positioned in the Strategic Plan. The project has done a great job of bringing costs down. The perception that this program is experiencing cost growth needs to be corrected. The SScAC could not comment on the budget aspects (it did not have budget information), but recognized the scientific importance of Solar Probe.

FY 2002 Performance Targets

Ms. Jennifer Kearns discussed the FY 1999 Plan and the FY 2000 Plan. The FY 1999 Plan had only 27 targets; OSS met 23 of them. When audited by GAO and the IG, they stated that it was not comprehensive enough. Therefore, in construction of the FY 2000 Plan, a target was selected for each line in the budget (65). All of the progress in R&A and Data Analysis (DA) accounted for only 2 targets. OSS did very well on these; however, only 34 targets were accomplished out of the total of 65. The balance of science and programmatics was skewed in the wrong direction. There was a problem with weightings as well as the way that some of the mission targets were written. OSS took issue with the way that the colors were assigned by the Comptroller and wants to adjust the FY 2002 plan to eliminate these types of problems. The FY 2002 targets are those that OSS really cares about, and they tie closely with the Strategic Plan. They also respond to the entirety of the OSS budget (but not line by line). A suggestion was made to structure the plan along the lines of the budget, but have the criteria be science-based rather than programmatic. This would be difficult; a lot of the lines are mission hardware based, and it would be hard to phrase these in terms of science for a particular FY. It was generally agreed that OSS went farther than it needed to go in response to criticism on the FY 1999 plan. The FY 2002 plan should be structured so that someone doesn’t come along and collapse the first 8 things (science) to 2 and expand the last 4 things to 60. The SScAC felt that what was presented for FY 2002 was appropriately structured-there are 8 goals attributed to science; this reflects the right balance. There should be flexibility in the indicators. The objectives and annual performance goals come almost directly from the Strategic Plan, and this is as it should be. The SScAC suggested deleting the words “earn external review rating of ‘green’ or ‘blue'” from each of the Annual Performance Goals, and add at the end of each “as determined by external review.” The relative weighting of the indicators should be in within the judgment of the external reviewers. Dr. Squyres suggested that the indicators for the programmatic items (embargoed and not shown to the SScAC at this meeting) should be written very carefully-don’t write ones that are ambiguous. Dr. Margon suggested adding “peer-reviewed” to the fourth indicator under EPO, if, in fact, these projects are peer reviewed. The skeleton of the FY 2003 plan will be presented to the NAC in June. OSS would like to get SScAC’s endorsement of that structure. It will follow the same structure in FY 2002. The SScAC endorsed the overall structure.

Technology Program Status

Dr. Harley Thronson reported on the status of the technology program. He discussed the duties and responsibilities of the Technology Director, the working group and task group, technology and mission acquisition evaluations, propulsion and IT/Information System (IS) priorities, and the OSS Technology “strategic plan.” The Director works with two groups-a working group (the Space Science Technology Management Operations Working Group) and a task group (the Technology Steering Group). The SScAC may want to call on these groups from time to time. The task group will be working on an OSS Mission Technology Inventory for the technology strategic plan. It will be a searchable data base that lists technology investments, the applicable mission(s), the TRL level, the funding profile, etc. Two experts in experimental economics/game theory are modeling the relationships among Headquarters and the Centers/JPL. The results will be presented over the summer. A Senior SAIC technologist with relevant experience has been contracted to carry out an in-depth evaluation of technology acquisition strategies in a variety of somewhat comparable agencies and academia. MSFC is leading a 6-month systems analysis of representative future mission concepts for in-space propulsion. Ultimately, there will be a propulsion “roadmap” for OSS and the Agency. An Agency-wide evaluation on IT/IS will begin soon. OSS will start with the determination of IT/IS requirements for future missions (software and hardware). Dr. Thronson asked the Committee: Are there other major capabilities for which a broad ‘relevance and needs’ analysis should be undertaken? GSFC (Mary Kicza) has been instructed to do an analysis of large optical systems of interest to OSS and the Office of Earth Science. Another possibility might be robotics and autonomous systems. A key aspect of the analysis is a system study (injecting new technology). The SScAC felt that robotics and remote autonomous systems and large optical systems are applicable across a wide range of disciplines. These are the right things on which to have a relevance and needs analysis performed. Dr. Thronson noted that three studies should be done or nearly complete by the next meeting: in-space propulsion, robotics and remote autonomous systems, and large optical systems. OSS does not currently have a formal “strategic plan” for technology beyond the general guidance in the Space Science Strategic Plan. The technology strategic plan would address the policies and principles to acquire and support technology, the balance of long- and short-term funding, maturation and deployment of technology, determination of OSS needs (long and short-term), partnerships with other agencies, the current technology portfolio (including gaps), and risk management. A nearly complete, advance version of an OSS technology strategic plan could be ready by the end of the summer, sufficient to begin input into the OSS Strategic Plan. It would have to be vetted by the SScAC. Dr. Squyres noted a couple of potential pitfalls. He advised Dr. Thronson to be careful with the label ‘strategic plan’; it would be best to get away from that term. If it is going to be strategic in nature, the activity must be synchronized with the next version of the OSS Strategic Plan. In addition, Dr. Thronson’s activity also needs to be involved in the roadmap activities of the themes. Technology priorities need to be driven by the themes. Dr. Thronson noted that he would be working with the subcommittees and Dr. Allen on this task, and he requested that the SScAC take a critical look at the product.

Committee Discussion

Before adjourning for the day, the SScAC returned to the issue of balloons and sounding rockets. Dr. McComas noted that this issue was presented in the SECAS report. The SECAS feels that the program is badly broken, and something needs to be done. This program is critically important to SEC disciplines (e.g., geospace science). The SECAS made the recommendation that OSS strive for 30 flights per year, based upon science needs. Dr. Margon indicated that SEU (Dr. Bunner) has not asked for more funds for sounding rockets. Dr. Papike agreed there is an issue, but more information is needed. Dr. Squyres noted that the rocket and balloon programs serve very important needs. They provide a near-space environment for certain payloads, and they provide the capability to train young scientists on payload hardware. Dr. Mellott noted that part of the problem is that the theme directors lost contact with the operations part of the budget. As a result of a previous SScAC recommendation, Dr. Withbroe was given responsibility for the rocket program. Dr. Margon felt that the SScAC needs to hear a more global view of the severity of the problem, e.g., what stress the Board of Directors feels from the situation on the rocket and balloons programs. The SScAC agreed that the science that is done in the rocket and balloon program is a good investment of dollars; balloons and rockets have significant merit in filling an important niche; they serve both scientific and education needs. Given the new management structure in OSS, there is a natural way to deal with the rockets and balloons programs, e.g., put balloons under Astronomy and Physics and put the rockets under SEC. They should be integrated into the programs of these two Divisions.

SScAC requested the new OSS organization chart, with staff names, after it is formally announced.

Thursday, March 22

Committee Discussion

The SScAC discussed another subject raised the previous day-the Mars Scout missions. In the current program, the Scouts are intended to be Discovery-like missions with a cap around $300M. These would be complete missions, proposed by the community. The scientific intention would be to fill in scientific gaps in the Mars Program. There are two questions: (1) what is the best way to get this started? and (2) Is the Program heading too far in the direction of a single large mission instead of more smaller missions? The AO process allows for a wide range of possible approaches. Dr. Drake noted that the approach to start with a workshop, select a number of studies for development, put out the AO, select more than one concept, and then downselect for flight would lead to a rather restricted Phase C/D period. The SSES discussed this issue and suggested that Mr. Hubbard work to maximize the Phase C/D period. The SSES also discussed the issue of scope-what can be proposed under Scout? The SSES urged Mr. Hubbard to define the program broadly. While the focus for the 2007 mission is a surface mission, the 2011 mission could include “drop off” payloads with an orbiter. This is the era of sample return; there could also be some type of surface package. The key is defining the program broadly. Dr. Papike felt that Scouts should bring in new expertise (encourage new and different players). Dr. Drake agreed that the net should be cast widely with respect to targets, types of spacecraft, and community.

Discussion with the CIO on IT Security

Mr. Lee Holcomb, NASA CIO, met with the SScAC to discuss the issue of the “boilerplate” clause on computer security. Dr. McComas noted that there were two concerns: fingerprinting graduate students and the need for a comment period. The Federal Register notice mechanism is in place, but has proven to not be very efficient. Mr. Holcomb noted that the clause was routed through every Office at Headquarters for concurrence before it was sent to the Centers for implementation. He did acknowledge that there were substantive problems with interpretation of the clause by GSFC. The procurement clause derives from two policies, one of which is the IT security policy (under the control of Mr. Holcomb) and the NASA security policy (under the control of the new Code X). When those two came together, the Procurement Implementation Clause (PIC) has some ambiguities in it. Contracting Officers (CO’s) were instructed internally to follow a general principle: bring the Center IT Security Manager, the Project Manager, and the CO together to negotiate applicability. The general guidance was to negotiate, not to issue unilaterally. This clause does not apply to grants at all. NASA is primarily concerned with mission critical systems, and this was in the guidance to the negotiating officers. It is not applicable to research, nor is it applicable to processing space data at levels beyond level 0/1. Headquarters has contacted GSFC several times and told them to fix the problem (there is not a problem with other Centers). Mr. Holcomb stated that he intends to suspend negotiating this clause into the disputed contracts. There are areas where it should have some applicability, e.g., operating spacecraft equipment from an institution (but only for people who have privileged access to the computers). The area where it is cloudy is developing flight software associated with an instrument-Headquarters has left this up to the Center Project Managers. For certain instruments it might be appropriate to apply it. The SScAC felt that the specific instances of where it is applicable need to be written into the language or given to universities. Gen. Armstrong and Mr. Holcomb have been working to communicate this issue to the universities, i.e., to clarify procedures and to communicate it to CO’s. Dr. Margon noted that the remedy should also address those contracts that have already been modified (costs are being expended to track employee terminations, etc.). Mr. Holcomb agreed that this should be considered if there are large costs involved to implement this clause. He suggested that the SScAC be given what Gen. Armstrong has produced to put into the SScAC summary that goes to the community. Dr. Squyres also asked Mr. Holcomb to provide a statement on what he had communicated to the committee today. Mr. Holcomb noted that the policy was put in the Federal Register for comment (from around December 1999 to around June 2000). The SScAC was concerned about developing a better process for getting the word to the community. Dr. Squyres noted that OSS could be of some help-when the PICs are circulated internally, someone in OSS could flag those that could be problematic and communicate those to the community. Mr. Holcomb stated that a decision has been made to suspend any further action on implementing the clause. The direction to GSFC will go out this week. IT security is a serious issue. Mr. Holcomb noted that he is working with the science community to implement security measures in a cost-effective manner. Dr. Squyres agreed that the science community realizes that lack of security can be extremely damaging and researchers take it very seriously.

Discussion of Recommendations

The SScAC developed recommendations on the following topics: attached ISS payloads as MIDEX projects; the reorganization of the advisory structure; Solar Probe; sounding rocket and balloon operations; NGST; computer security; and the Mars Program.

Final recommendations are in the letter from Dr. Squyres to Dr. Weiler (included in Appendix D).

Strategic Planning 2003

Dr. Allen presented the preliminary thinking for the 2003 Strategic Plan. The general approach will be similar to the 1997 and 2000 plans. There will be one new aspect: input from two surveys by the NRC on SSE and SEC, similar to the astronomy Decadal Survey. These studies will emphasize community outreach and prioritization and will focus on science, with less emphasis on missions. They will produce a broadly based, compelling science story. These studies will not be done until the beginning of next calendar year, which means that the roadmapping activity will fall into two phases. The first phase will start this fall (without the NRC input) and will include the collection of mission candidates and characterization as well as technical and cost estimation. In April/May 2002, the subcommittees will start the second phase (taking into account the NRC science survey results and formulating theme mission queue recommendations) and finish it in October 2002. The Technology Plan will also enter during Phase 2.

The Strawman schedule is: initiate roadmap activities – fall 2001; NRC science survey results available – April/May 2002; initiate roadmap phase 2 activities – May 2002; roadmapping results due to Headquarters – September/October 2002; consensus workshop – November 2002; first plan draft circulated for review (SScAC and Space Studies Board) – February 2003; SSB comments on draft – May 2003; Final SScAC review – July 2003; plan goes into production – August 2003; plan released – September 2003.

Dr. Squyres observed that the roadmapping and strategic plan activities should draw as much as possible on the good work that has already been done. This message needs to come very strongly from OSS (Dr. Allen).

Before adjourning, Dr. Squyres briefed Dr. Weiler on the key issues that were discussed by the SScAC:

1) Boilerplate contract language Ð The SScAC had a very positive interaction with NASA’s CIO, Mr. Holcomb. He indicated that for the particular issue (a computer security clause being implemented by GSFC), he is declaring a moratorium until the Agency can review the situation and resolve the problems. There was a specific suggestion that someone in OSS keep an eye on PICs, and alert the community (universities) when they might have a potential impact.

2) NGST Ð The SScAC was very pleased with the reformulation; it was exemplary. There were a few concerns about the complexities of the payload arrangements and the mid-IR instrument that were highlighted by the OS.

3) Solar Probe Ð The SScAC was very impressed by the quality of science and how important it is as a key component of the Strategic Plan; it reiterated strong support for the mission.

4) Suborbital Program Ð The SScAC has always been a strong supporter of the suborbital program; it fills a unique niche. There seems to be a mismatch between the amount of selected science and what can be launched. It would be a good thing to address the problems through the reorganization.

5) ISS Attached Payloads Ð The SScAC recommends that the MIDEX AO be revised to allow ISS attached payloads within the full MIDEX cost cap. Although some aspects might be “untidy,” the science would be worth it.

6) Mars Program Ð The SScAC was impressed with the robustness of the Mars Program. At the last meeting, the Committee enthusiastically endorsed Mars “Discovery-like” missions. When the AO for this is released, the “net” should be cast widely enough so that innovative concepts (from the large to the very small) can compete on their science merits. The SScAC believes that a strong R&A element should be part of any robust program, and it endorsed a Mars R&A program.

7) Subcommittee Restructuring Ð The SScAC concluded that the best way to handle this is to maintain separate committees for the present, but closely coordinate the activities (e.g., committees meet at the same location on the same dates, with a plenary session at the end). For the longer term, the SScAC will reevaluate this arrangement in about a year.

Dr. Weiler encouraged everyone to fully understand the OSS budget (when it is released with the NASA budget on April 9) before drawing any conclusions. It will take some studying to understand all of the “puts and takes.” He noted that overall, this Administration has been very fair to OSS. Because they are starting three months late, it will be a challenge for the Congress to pass a budget bill by October 1, 2001.

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SpaceRef staff editor.