NASA is ready to move ahead with plans to purchase Earth science data from commercial smallsat companies as it weighs the balance of large and small satellite systems to meet its research needs.
The head of NASA’s Earth science division says he does not expect major changes in his programs for the remainder of the fiscal year despite a change in administrations.
At a time when NASA earth scientists are concerned their research may be scuttled by the incoming Trump administration, the space agency’s top science official is preaching pragmatism and unity.
NASA announced Nov. 28 it was formally ending a mission of an instrument on the International Space Station that malfunctioned earlier this year, a setback in the agency’s efforts to use the station as an Earth sciences platform.
NASA used a briefing about the agency’s next Earth science mission to also emphasize the importance of that research in general, given concerns the next administration may seek to slash funding for it.
NASA is planning to purchase tens of millions of dollars of Earth science data from constellations of small satellites in 2017 to determine how well that data can meet its needs.
With funding in the 2016 omnibus spending bill approved by House and Senate appropriators, NASA will be able to revive Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3, a dormant effort to measure carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere.
NASA scientists are auditioning the radar aboard a European satellite to see how well it stands in for the radar that broke down aboard the U.S. space agency’s newly launched Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite in July.
Using satellite maps, a team of Australian and U.S. researchers has found a small tectonic plate or microplate in the Indian Ocean and used that discovery to settle a long-running debate on the timing of India’s impact with Eurasia.
U.S. House lawmakers signaled bipartisan willingness to encourage greater use of commercial satellite imagery at NASA, although exactly which data might be used for what purposes is unclear.
"We want the best relationship with our environment that we can achieve. That requires understanding," says Waleed Abdalati, the man tapped to co-chair the blue-ribbon panel that will tell NASA and NOAA which Earth science satellites it should launch in the decade ahead.
NASA continues to actively solicit ideas for instruments to attach to the ISS exterior for studying Earth.
Despite the July failure of the radar on NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite, scientists hope to salvage the $1 billion mission by enhancing data from its other sensor and perhaps by coordinating its measurements with those taken by other spacecraft.
The Earth Science Advisory Committee recommends the Fluorescence Explorer, or Flex, over CarbonSat to move toward full funding.
After heavily promoting the International Space Station’s exterior as an Earth observation platform, NASA told aspiring principal investigators to steer clear of the outside of the orbital outpost in the second-ever Earth Venture mission competition that began in early September.