August 20, 2012
The National Research Council recommends that U.S. government agencies undertake a closely coordinated series of solar physics missions over the next decade that emphasize the responsiveness of small to mid-sized spacecraft to new findings, and beef up funding for a major mission to unravel the influence of solar energy and wind on the Earth’s atmosphere.
The NRC’s second so-called decadal survey in the heliophysics field provides 15 recommendations to shape a science mission road map for NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other federal agencies through 2024.
The 455-page study urges an increase in annual federal spending in the field from just over $600 million to nearly $900 million by 2024, with most of the increase coming late in the period.
“The significant achievements of the past decade set the stage for transformative advances in solar and space physics,” said Daniel Baker, director of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who chaired the 19-member NRC study panel. “In turn, these advances will support critical national needs for information that can be used to anticipate, recognize, and mitigate space weather effects that are adverse to human life and the technological systems society depends upon.”
Future missions should be carefully paced and focused on completing the solar and space physics agenda from the previous NRC decadal survey and backing new missions that stress four broad goals, the panel says:
• Determining the origin of the Sun’s activity and predicted variations in the space environment.
• Determining the dynamics and coupling of the Earth’s magnetosphere, ionosphere and atmosphere and their responses to solar and terrestrial influences.
• Determining the interaction of the Sun with the Solar System and the interstellar medium.
• Discovery and characterization of fundamental processes that occur both within the Sun’s sphere of influence and throughout the universe.