Langley's Newest Climate Mission Taken Off the Road
By: Jen LaPan and Katie Bethea
Earth Science Division Director Mike Freilich addressed NASA Langley employees on Thursday in response to large-scale cuts to the proposed President’s 2012 federal budget, which directly affect the CLARREO (Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory) mission, among other programs.
The President’s 2012 budget removes $1.2B from the $2.1B Fiscal Year 2011 proposed Earth Science Climate Initiative in years 2012-15. From a difficult meeting with the White House Office of Management and Budget, Freilich was directed to cut NASA Langley-led satellite mission CLARREO, along with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory-led Deformation, Ecosystem Structure and Dynamics of Ice (DESDynI)-Radar and Goddard Space Flight Center-lead DESDynI-Lidar mission. Both CLARREO and DESDynI were Tier 1, or highest priority missions as defined by the National Research Council's Decadal Survey for Earth Science.
"I know unequivocally that the decision to focus these cuts on CLARREO [and DESDynI] was not based in any way on perceptions of under performance of the teams or lack of value of the mission for the country," said Freilich. "The cuts are purely budgetary."
Scheduled for launch in 2017, CLARREO would have carried on Langley's 30-year legacy of monitoring Earth's climate. The CLARREO mission was slated to carry an instrument suite to measure thermal infrared and reflected solar radiation at high absolute accuracy. Additionally, CLARREO would have carried on-board GPS radio occultation receivers to provide a long-term benchmarking data record for the detection, projection and attribution of changes in the climate system.
In addition to developing the science standards, the CLARREO team, made up of employees from across the center, was making significant progress toward mission advancement. Last November, CLARREO reached a major mission milestone when it passed its Mission Concept Review (MCR), an independent assessment that deemed the mission was mature enough to continue into the next stage, Phase A.
"I heard from so many people that CLARREO's MCR was one of the best ever – definitely the smoothest of all of the Tier 1 missions," said Lelia Vann, head of the Science Directorate at NASA Langley. "We're all very disappointed by these cuts. However, CLARREO was not cancelled, and there are other opportunities out there for us to aggressively pursue. And we are doing just that."
The elimination of CLARREO funding means a major scale-back in the mission’s contractor and civil servant labor, and it also means the mission will not proceed to Phase A as the team had planned.
"A good analogy for the situation could be a stalled car in traffic," said Freilich. "We're moving the stalled car, CLARREO, into the break down lane and out of the flow of traffic to keep from creating a huge traffic jam of programs." Freilich went on to say that the agency can't be wedded to programs, and that researchers need to look at other climate continuity opportunities and recover from this setback.
For now, the continuation of an uninterrupted climate record is not in jeopardy while NASA pursues other climate continuity opportunities. Langley’s Science Directorate is still collecting data with the Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System (CERES) instrument. One flight model, CERES FM-5, is set for launch on NPOESS (National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System) Preparatory Project (NPP) in the fall of this year. Another flight model, CERES FM-6, is in development for delivery in 2012 for a potential flight on the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS)-1 in 2016.
In addition, NASA Langley is leading the development of SAGE III on ISS in 2015 as well as the new DISCOVER-AQ mission – one of the five Venture Class missions competitively selected last year.
While the impact of losing the CLARREO mission is far-reaching, NASA Science leadership is focusing on the positive side. The science team, which was selected through a competitive process, will concentrate on studies to figure out how to get the key climate measurements CLARREO would have provided.
Freilich ended his address by saying, "We have to remember the budget still supports a lot of important missions, and from my standpoint, the program may be smaller, but it isn’t slower."
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