NASA’s plan to boost Earth science spending starting
, which would allow the agency to begin work on
five new satellite projects between 2009 and 2013, is drawing criticism from the very scientists who called for the increase.
Berrien Moore and Richard Anthes, distinguished climate scientists who led the development
of NASA’s first
10-year plan for space-based Earth observation, said the
five-year budget blueprint leaves something to be desired —
namely, more money for science in general.
Under NASA’s plan, funding for the agency’s Earth Science division would top $1.36 billion in 2009 — an increase of nearly 7 percent over this year — but then decline in 2010 and 2011 before coming back up to $1.29 billion in 2013.
“The 2009 request is a very good down payment,” Moore said in an interview.
”Unfortunately, the out years are a little subprime.”
director of the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space at the University of New Hampshire, said he would like to see NASA commit another $100 million to $200 million a year to Earth science. But he said scientists nonetheless likely will support the 2009 Earth science request as Congress begins drafting its spending bills.
“I think we will not only rally around it, but we are going to try to do something about the bottom line [NASA science] budget and we are going to try to do that on the Hill,” he said.
Anthes, president of the
University Corporation for
Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., said the 7 percent
increase for 2009 was
encouraging at first glance.
“But a closer look shows that this increase came at the expense of astrophysics and heliophysics,” he said. “Moreover, the request for Earth Science for 2010 and 2011 actually decreases from the  request. Thus the gap between what is needed to implement the decadal survey and the request, already approximately $500 million in 2009, widens rapidly and by 2013 is approaching $1 billion.”
Anthes and Moore co-chaired the National Academy of Sciences panel that produced the first so-called decadal survey for Earth science. The report, “Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond,” called for the United States to undertake 17 new Earth science missions between 2010 and 2020.
Two of the proposed missions would be paid for by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), leaving the remaining 15 to NASA. Rough cost estimates for each of the proposed missions ranged from under $300 million to
measured in 2007 dollars.
NASA officials said they
guidance from the decadal survey in preparing a five-year budget plan — presented to Congress in early February — that includes some $540 million in
Earth science money that was not projected at this time last year. All five Earth science missions NASA plans to start in the coming years were among those specifically recommended by the survey.
Work on two of those missions — the Soil Moisture Active-Passive satellite, or SMAP, and the Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite-2 — is slated to
begin in 2009. The satellites would
launch in 2012 and 2015, respectively.
Alan Stern, NASA associate administrator for science, said the next two missions
the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory, or CLARREO, a joint effort with NOAA; and DESDynI, which is short for Deformation, Ecosystem Structure, and Dynamics of Ice. Those missions would enter development in 2013.
“The only issue is the precise timing and order of which one goes first,” Stern said in a Feb. 21 interview.
CLARREO is expected to be the cheaper of
the two missions, with an estimated price tag of
around $300 million
. DESDynI, a more complicated satellite featuring an interferometric synthetic aperture radar and laser altimeter
, was projected in the decadal survey to cost $700 million.
Stern said an internal study getting under way this year
would help NASA’s Earth Science division decide which of those to tackle first.
NASA’s five-year budget also includes funding for a recommended new category of low-cost, competitively selected Earth science
missions called Venture-class, the first of which would fly in 2014.
NASA expects to fly a new
small satellite or instrument every two years under the $200 million-a-year Venture program, which would replace the Earth System Science Pathfinder program of
sized missions. The
decadal survey complained that the existing program had strayed from its purpose
of providing frequent flight opportunities and instead had become a way for a cash-strapped NASA
to try to do challenging, high-priority science on the cheap.
To pay for these new missions within a
science budget that
essentially stays flat through 2013, NASA took roughly $180 million apiece
from its astrophysics, heliophysics and planetary science divisions. For this reason, Anthes said, the budget is
”inadequate to make the required progress” on the decadal survey recommendations and
also “does great damage to NASA science in general.”
Moore predicted that taking money from astrophysics, heliophysics
and planetary science
would prove unsustainable in the long run.
“To accommodate the decadal survey recommendations requires an expansion of the NASA budget,” Moore said. “They’ve gotten away with being fairly aggressive on the down payment side by moving money around in the [Science Mission Directorate] account. For me, that’s not a long-term viable strategy.”
defended NASA’s budget strategy, saying the agency and the White House not only scrutinized every assumption that went into the five-year plan
but also put together a notional 10-year budget to ensure the missions it starts in the near term are sustainable for the long haul.
said he was not spending too much time worrying about
NASA’s plans for
2010 and beyond since the only budget that really matters is the 2009 budget currently before Congress.
“Frankly, the out years are a reflection of the current president,” Moore said, “and one thing we know for sure he will not be there next year.”