The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Office of Congressional and government Affairs
At A Glance
: National Priorities for Solar and Space Physics Research and Applications for Space Weather Prediction
: 11/28/2012
Session: 112th Congress (Second Session)
: Daniel N. Baker

Broad Reach Endowed Chair of Space Sciences, Professor, Department of Physics and Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences, and Director, Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Colorado, Boulder and Chair, Committee on a Decadal Strategy for Solar and Space Physics (Heliophysics), Space Studies Board, National Research Council, The National Academies

: House
: Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics


Statement of


Daniel N. Baker
Broad Reach Endowed Chair of Space Sciences
Professor, Department of Physics and Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences
Director, Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics
University of Colorado, Boulder
Chair, Committee on a Decadal Strategy for Solar and Space Physics (Heliophysics)
Space Studies Board
National Research Council
The National Academies

before the

Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics
Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
U.S. House of Representatives


November 28, 2012


Mr. Chairman, Ranking Minority member, and members of the Committee, I want to thank you for the opportunity to testify today at the hearing on “National Priorities for Solar and Space Physics Research and Applications for Space Weather Prediction.” My name is Daniel Baker and I am a professor of astrophysical and planetary sciences at the University of Colorado. I am also the Director of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at CU-Boulder. The Laboratory is a research institute that has more than 60 teaching and research faculty in the several disciplines of space and Earth sciences. My institute, which we call LASP for short, receives some $60+ million per year to support experimental, theoretical, and data analysis programs in the Space and Earth Sciences. The majority of these resources come from NASA. But increasing support comes from NOAA, NSF, and other federal agencies. LASP presently supports some 130 engineers as well as dozens of highly skilled technicians and support personnel. We are very proud, as well, that LASP has nearly 70 graduate students and over 100 undergraduate students each year who are pursuing education and training goals in space science and engineering.

I myself am a space plasma physicist and I have served as a principal investigator on several scientific programs of NASA. I am now a lead investigator in the recently launched Radiation Belt Storm Probe (RBSP) mission that is part of NASA’s Living With a Star program. I am also an investigator on NASA’s Cluster, MESSENGER, and Magnetospheric Multi-Scale (MMS) missions. I recently served as Chair of the National Research Council’s Committee on Solar and Space Physics and as a member of the NRC Space Studies Board. I am testifying today in my capacity as chair of the NRC Committee for a Decadal Strategy for Solar and Space Physics (Heliophysics), which recently published the report, Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society (the “decadal survey”). Although my testimony follows the specific recommendations and supporting text in that report; the opinions I express should be attributed to me unless stated otherwise.

The charter for today’s hearing includes 3 overarching questions:

  1. What are the [decadal] survey committee’s top recommendations for the coming decade? What is the current state of the solar and space physics programs at NASA and what are the prospects for the foreseeable future to follow the Decadal Survey’s recommendations given that budgets will remain essentially flat?
  2. What is the role of the Space Weather Prediction Center at NOAA? To what extent does NOAA work with NASA to develop and disseminate space weather models and forecasts? Where can coordination between agencies improve?
  3. The recent solar and space physics decadal survey concluded that “a national, multifaceted program of both observations and modeling is needed to transition research into operations more effectively.” What steps is each agency taking to ensure a solar and space physics research program is effectively maintained and improved?

In my testimony below, I address these questions sequentially; following the testimony, I have appended the Summary of the decadal survey report, which provides a more comprehensive review of the decadal survey’s origins, organization, objectives, and recommendations.

Background and Overview of the 2013-2022 Decadal Survey in Solar and Space Physics

From the interior of the Sun, to the upper atmosphere and near-space environment of Earth, and outwards to a region far beyond Pluto where the Sun’s influence wanes, advances during the past decade in space physics and solar physics have yielded spectacular insights into the phenomena that affect our home in space. The decadal survey report, requested by NASA and the National Science Foundation, and carried out with their financial support and with the cooperation of other federal agencies, especially NOAA, presents a prioritized program of basic and applied research for 2013-2022 that will advance scientific understanding of the Sun, Sun- Earth connections and the origins of “space weather,” and the Sun’s interactions with other bodies in the solar system. The report includes recommendations directed for action by the study sponsors and by other federal agencies—especially NOAA, which is responsible for the day-to-day (“operational”) forecast of space weather. Appended to this testimony is the executive summary of the decadal survey, which provides details on all of the survey report’s recommendations.

The present decadal survey is the second NRC decadal survey in solar and space physics. Like all NRC decadal survey reports, this decadal survey was conducted with the assistance of a broad swath of the solar and space physics community; the final report represented the efforts of more than 85 solar and space physicists and space system engineers working over an 18-month period. In developing its recommendations, the survey committee also drew on over 300 “white papers” that were submitted by the community in response to a broadly-distributed survey request for concepts and new ideas to advance the discipline. The survey committee also sponsored numerous town-hall meetings and workshops prior to the formal start of its deliberations.

Per the study statement of work, the survey’s top-level tasks were to:

  1. Provide an overview of solar and space physics science and provide a broad survey of the current state of knowledge in the field;
  2. Identify the most compelling science challenges;
  3. Identify the highest priority scientific targets for the interval 2013-2022; and
  4. Develop an integrated research strategy.

Survey Recommendations

The survey report’s recommendations are shown in the report summary that is appended to this testimony. The recommended actions include completion of projects in NASA and the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) current program, creation of a new "mid-scale" projects line at NSF, augmentation of NASA and NSF "enabling" programs, and acceleration and expansion of NASA's Heliophysics Explorer Program. For later in the decade, the report recommends beginning new moderate-size NASA missions to address high-priority science targets, and a multiagency initiative to address pressing needs for improved forecasts of space weather and predictions of its impacts on society.

A key element of the survey is that its recommended program was fit to resources anticipated in a challenging fiscal environment. To ensure that the costs of the recommended NASA program were realistic, the NRC contracted with the Aerospace Corporation, who conducted an independent cost and technical evaluation (CATE) of selected reference mission concepts. In addition, the survey committee provided “decision rules” that can be employed to maintain the vitality of the program should the recommended program need to be adjusted because of unanticipated technical problems, cost overruns, or budget shortfalls. At the request of NASA, decision rules specific to the flagship mission Solar Probe Plus were also provided.

Four scientific goals inform the survey committee’s recommendations:

  1. Establish the origins of the sun's activity and predict the variations of the space environment;
  2. Determine the dynamics and coupling of Earth's magnetosphere, ionosphere, and atmosphere and their response to solar and terrestrial inputs;
  3. Understand the interaction of the sun with the solar system and the interstellar medium; and
  4. Discover and characterize fundamental processes that occur both within the heliosphere and throughout the universe.

Considering cost, schedule, and complexity, the decadal survey provides a number of research recommendations to reach these goals. It also considers challenges that could impede achievement of the recommended program, including budget issues, the necessity to coordinate activities across multiple agencies, and the limited availability of appropriately-sized and affordable space launch vehicles.

The report’s first recommendation is to continue support for the key existing program elements that comprise the Heliophysics Systems Observatory and for successful implementation of programs in advanced stages of development. Second in priority is the establishment of a new, integrated multiagency initiative—“DRIVE”—that will more effectively exploit NASA and NSF scientific assets. Fully exploiting available resources is always a priority; in the highly constrained budgets anticipated in the foreseeable future, it is a necessity.

The DRIVE initiative has five components:

  1. Diversify observing platforms with microsatellites and mid-scale ground-based assets;
  2. Realize scientific potential by sufficiently funding operations and data analysis;
  3. Integrate observing platforms and strengthen ties between agency disciplines;
  4. Venture forward with science centers and instrument and technology development; and
  5. Educate, empower, and inspire the next generation of space researchers.

As shown in Figure 1, below, the survey committee recommends a gradual implementation of the elements of DRIVE (because of budget constraints); in addition, elements of DRIVE are sequenced to take advantage of the implementation of new programs later in the decade survey interval. For example, Mission Operations and Data Analysis (MO&DA) augmentation begins in 2016, at a time when the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) will have moved out of its prime mission phase, thus adding greatly to data covered by the general Guest Investigator (GI) program. The NASA portion of DRIVE is fully implemented by 2022, amounting to an augmentation to existing program lines that is equivalent to approximately $33 million in current (2013) dollars. Note: In developing the DRIVE run-outs, the survey committee assumes a 2.7% rate of inflation, which is what NASA currently assumes as the inflation factor to be used for its new starts.

Solar and Space Physics 1

Figure 1: NASA DRIVE implementation: For the cost of a small mission, the DRIVE initiative recommends augmentations to NASA mission-enabling programs that have been carefully chosen to maximize the effectiveness of the program overall. Six of the DRIVE sub-recommendations have cost impact for NASA. Of these, NASA Mission Guest Investigator would require a cost allocation within STP and LWS missions of ~2% of total mission cost for a directed guest investigator program. The other five, NASA LCAS Microsatellites (LCAS), MO&DA augmentation (MODA), Heliophysics Science Centers (HSCs), Heliophysics Instrument and Technology Development Program (HITDP), and Multi-agency Laboratory Experiments (Lab), are shown in the figure.

Third, the report recommends that NASA accelerate and expand the Heliophysics Explorer program, which provides frequent flight opportunities to enable the definition, development and implementation of mission concepts. Informing this recommendation was the recognition that the solar and space physics community has done much of its best and most innovative research with Explorers, a program which had been reduced during the previous decade. A key objective for the next survey interval—2013-2022— is to restore the number of Medium and Explorer class missions such that, in combination with competitively selected Instrument Opportunities on hosted payloads (MOOs), a higher cadence can be achieved that is capable of maintaining the vitality of the science disciplines. Augmenting the current program by $70 million per year, in fiscal year 2012 dollars, will restore the option of mid-size Explorers and allow them to be offered in alternation with small explorers every 2 to 3 years. As part of the augmented Explorer program, it is also recommended that NASA support regular selections of Missions of Opportunity, which allow the research community to respond quickly and to leverage limited resources with interagency, international, and commercial flight partnerships. For relatively modest investments, such opportunities can potentially address high-priority science aims identified in this survey.

A highly constrained budget and the need to complete missions already in advanced stages of development postpones any new moderate- or large-class starts until midway in the survey interval of 2013-2022. Figure 2, below, shows a proposed implementation of the core NASA program, in which each of the assets required to achieve the goals of the solar and space physics program are implemented at what is considered a proper cadence and within a budget profile that should be attainable. The recommended program addresses in a cost effective manner many of the most important and interesting science objectives, but the anticipated budget significantly constrains what can be accomplished. Built on top of the existing research foundation, the core program recommended here ensures that a proper distribution of resources is achieved. In particular, it restores a balance between small, medium, and large missions.

As detailed in the survey report, 3 new moderate- and 1 large-class mission starts are recommendedlater in the decade to investigate space physics at the edge of heliosphere, where the sun's influence on interstellar space is no longer dominate; the effects of processes in Earth's lower atmosphere on conditions in space; fundamental questions related to the creation and transport of plasma in Earth's ionosphere and magnetosphere; and how the Earth responds globally to magnetic storms from the sun.

A key recommendation of the survey committee is that NASA’s Solar-Terrestrial Probes program be restructured as a moderate-scale, competed, principal-investigator-led (PI-led) mission line that is cost-capped at approximately $520 million per mission in fiscal year 2012 dollars including full life-cycle costs. NASA’s Planetary Science Division has demonstrated success in implementing mid-size missions as competed, cost-capped, PI-led investigations via the Discovery and New Frontiers programs. These are managed in a manner similar to Explorers and have a superior cost-performance history relative to that of larger flagship missions. The committee concluded that STP missions should be managed likewise, with the PI empowered to make scientific and mission design trade-offs necessary to remain within the cost cap. With larger-class LWS missions, which the committee recommends to continue to be Center-led, and smaller-class Explorers and Missions of Opportunity, this new approach will lead to a more balanced and effective overall NASA HPD mission portfolio that is implemented at a higher cadence and provides the vitality needed to accomplish the breadth of the survey’s science goals. The eventual recommended minimum cadence of STP missions is one every 4 years.

 Solar and Space Physics 2

Figure 2: Heliophysics budget and program plan by year and category from 2013 to 2024. The solid black line indicates the funding level from 2013 to 2022 provided to the committee by NASA as the baseline for budget planning, and the dashed black line extrapolates the budget forward to 2024. After 2017 the amount increases with a nominal 2 percent inflationary factor. Through 2016 the program content is tightly constrained by budgetary limits and fully committed for executing existing program elements. The red dashed “Enabling Budget” line includes a modest increase from the baseline budget starting in 2017, allowing implementation of the survey-recommended program at a more efficient cadence that better meets scientific and societal needs and improves optimization of the mix of small and large missions. From 2017 to 2024 the Enabling Budget grows at 1.5 percent above inflation. (Note that the 2024 Enabling Budget is equivalent to growth at a rate just 0.50 percent above inflation from 2009.) GDC, the next large mission of the LWS program after SPP, rises above the baseline curve in order to achieve a more efficient spending profile, as well as to achieve deployment in time for the next solar maximum in 2024. Note: LWS refers to missions in the Living With a Star line and STP refers to missions in the Solar-Terrestrial Probes line.

Enabling Effective Space Weather and Climatology Capabilities

NASA research satellites, such as ACE, SOHO (with ESA), STEREO, and SDO, designed for scientific studies, provide critical measurements essential for specifying and forecasting the space environment system, including the outward propagation of eruptive solar events and solar wind conditions upstream from Earth. While these observational capabilities have become essential for space environment operations, climatological monitoring, and research, NASA currently has neither the mandate nor the budget to sustain these measurements into the future.

A growing literature has documented the need to provide a long-term strategy for monitoring in space, and elucidated the large number of space weather effects, the forecasting of which depend critically on the availability of suitable data streams.1 An example is the provision of measurements of particles and fields at the L1 Lagrange point (or, using technologies such as solar sails, closer to the Sun on the Sun-Earth line), which is critical for short term forecasting of harmful space weather effects such as radiation, GPS accuracy reduction, and potentially deleterious geomagnetically induced currents on the power grid. The decadal survey steering committee found that the existing ad hoc approach towards the provision of these capabilities was inadequate.

A new plan is also needed that synthesizes and capitalizes on the strengths of the agencies participating in the NSWP as well as on opportunities in the commercial sector, such as the Active Magnetosphere and Planetary Electrodynamics Response Experiment (AMPERE) that uses the Iridium constellation of communications satellites to measure the electric currents that link Earth's atmosphere and space. The committee sees a need for a clearinghouse for coordinating the acquisition, processing, and archiving of underutilized real-time and near real-time ground- and space-based data needed for space weather applications. For example, highly valued energetic particle measurements made by GPS and LANL GEO satellites for specification of the radiation belts are not now routinely provided. Likewise, model development has been supported by individual agencies rather than being coordinated across relevant stakeholders.

In the survey report, the committee articulates a vision for an enhanced national commitment by partnering agencies for continuous measurements of critical space environment parameters, analogous to the monitoring of the terrestrial environment NASA is conducting in collaboration with a number of other agencies, for example, NOAA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The committee anticipates the criticality of such a program growing in priority relative to other societal demands and envisions that NASA utilize its unique space-based capabilities as the basis for a new program that could provide sustained monitoring of key space environment observables to meet this pressing national need. In addition to ensuring the continuity of critical measurements, robust space environment models capable of operational deployment are also necessary for the prediction and specification of conditions where observations are lacking.

The committee anticipates that it will take decades to achieve a space environment weather and climatology infrastructure equivalent to current capabilities in the modeling and forecasting of terrestrial weather and climate; thus, it is necessary to start immediately. The committee’s vision for achieving critical continuity of key space environment parameters, their utilization in advanced models and application to operations is a major endeavour that will require unprecedented cooperation among agencies in areas where they have specific expertise and unique capabilities.

Space Weather-Related Recommendations

The following recommendations were made by the survey committee to help fulfill its vision of an effective program in space weather that meets national needs—one that advances the fundamental science that underpins understanding of space weather phenomena and its effects on society and the evident need for effective vehicles to translate newly gained knowledge towards societal benefit:

Recharter the National Space Weather Program: The survey committee recommends that, to coordinate the development of this plan, the National Space Weather Program should be rechartered under the auspices of the National Science and Technology Council and should include the active participation of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and Budget. The plan should build on current agency efforts, leverage the new capabilities and knowledge that will arise from implementation of the programs recommended in this report, and develop additional capabilities, on the ground and in space, that are specifically tailored to space weather monitoring and prediction.

Work in a multi-agency partnership to achieve continuity of solar and solar wind observations: The survey committee recommends that NASA, NOAA, and the Department of Defense work in partnership to plan for continuity of solar and solar wind observations beyond the lifetimes of ACE, SOHO, STEREO, and SDO. In particular:

  • Solar wind measurements from L1 should be continued, because they are essential for space weather operations and research. The DSCOVR and IMAP STP missions are recommended for the near term, but plans should be made to ensure that measurements from L1 continue uninterrupted into the future.
  • Space-based coronagraph and solar magnetic field measurements should likewise be continued.

Further, the survey committee concluded that a national, multifaceted program of both observations and modeling is needed to transition research into operations more effectively by fully leveraging expertise from different agencies, universities, and industry and by avoiding duplication of effort. This effort should include determining the operationally optimal set of observations and modeling tools and how best to effect that transition. With these objectives in mind, the committee recommends that:

  • The space weather community should evaluate new observations, platforms, and locations that have the potential to provide improved space weather services. In addition, the utility of employing newly emerging information dissemination system for space weather alerts should be assessed.
  • NOAA should establish a space weather research program to effectively transition research to operations.
  • Distinct funding lines for basic space physics research and for space weather specification and forecasting need to be developed and maintained.

Implementation of a program to advance space weather and climatology will require funding well above what the survey committee assumes will be available to support its research-related recommendations to NASA. The committee emphasizes that implementation of an initiative in space weather and climatology should proceed only if it does not impinge on the development and timely execution of the recommended research program.

Thank you again for the opportunity to bring to your attention the results of the 2nd National Research Council decadal survey in solar and space physics. At your request, I’ve focused my remarks on several questions that have particular relevance to NASA and its Science Mission Directorate; however, as the discussion of space weather indicates, multiple federal agencies have vital interests how we organize the nation’s efforts in solar and space physics research and applications. In summary, our report:

  • Fits the current fiscal boundary;
  • Focuses on research and its societal impact;
  • Empowers the community to innovate;
  • Takes advantage of the unique constellation of missions and data available today and studies the coupled domains of heliophysics as a system;
  • Builds the community’s strength and facilitates development of cost-effective PI-class missions; and
  • Recommends exciting missions of historical significance that hold tremendous promise for new discoveries.


1. See, for example, National Research Council, Severe Space Weather Events—Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts: A Workshop Report, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2008, and D.N. Baker and L.J. Lanzerotti, A continuous L1 presence required for space weather, Space Weather 6:S11001, doi:10.1029/2008SW000445, 2008.


An archived webcast of the hearing can be found on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee's Web site