Executive Summary

Our Sun undergoes activity cycles characterized by increases in its output of electromagnetic and particle radiation over a broad range of energies every 9 to 13 years. The number of sunspots, recorded since the 1600s, shows that these cycles have occurred regularly (albeit with varying intensity) at least 22 consecutive times.

The approaching maximum of cycle 23 (expected to occur between 1999 and 2002) represents an unprecedented opportunity to understand the physics of the solar cycle and its effects on Earth. Knowledge has advanced to the point that researchers are able to investigate specific atmospheric and Earth-space responses, experimental capabilities have greatly improved, and models and laboratory tools make possible controlled simulations of cause and effect. There are also technological motivations for learning more about the solar cycle control of “ space weather” as society becomes increasingly dependent on systems (e.g., distributed power grids, satellite-based communications, and navigation networks) sensitive to space environment disturbances.

At the request of the Sun-Earth Connection science program director at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Space Studies Board's Committee on Solar and Space Physics (CSSP), working jointly with its federated Committee on Solar-Terrestrial Research (CSTR) of the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, reviewed the nation's preparedness for the solar maximum.1 This consideration of readiness concerns both the unique research opportunities presented by the upcoming solar maximum, as well as our capability to mitigate technological problems that might result from the effects of the active Sun. NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Defense (DOD) (the Air Force and the Navy), and the Department of Energy (DOE) provided information for this review, in part during invited agency briefings to the CSSP/CSTR at their meeting in Washington, D.C., on February 26-28, 1997.

The committees' assessment is based on the following assumptions regarding the various agencies' roles:

  • NASA is the nation's space agency responsible for solar and geospace exploration as well as the human use of space;

  • NOAA is the major provider of civilian solar and space environment information;

  • NSF is a major sponsor of basic solar-terrestrial research and the lead agency for the National Space Weather Program;

1  

The committees' review of preparedness for the upcoming solar maximum does not include an analysis of the current capabilities of the nation's ground-based optical and radio solar observatories. This assessment is being performed as part of an ongoing National Research Council study by the Space Studies Board's Task Group on Ground-based Solar Research (TGGSR). The task group study is sponsored by the NSF and NASA, which requested a broad examination of the “health” and future prospects of ground-based solar research. In addition, the agencies requested a focused examination of issues related to the future of the National Solar Observatory. The TGGSR is expected to release its findings in early summer 1998. The CSSP/CSTR emphasize that the present report's lack of recommendations that are specific to ground-based solar facilities is a direct consequence of the ongoing TGGSR study and should in no way be construed as a lack of concern by the committees over the future of these facilities.



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Readiness for the Upcoming Solar Maximum Executive Summary Our Sun undergoes activity cycles characterized by increases in its output of electromagnetic and particle radiation over a broad range of energies every 9 to 13 years. The number of sunspots, recorded since the 1600s, shows that these cycles have occurred regularly (albeit with varying intensity) at least 22 consecutive times. The approaching maximum of cycle 23 (expected to occur between 1999 and 2002) represents an unprecedented opportunity to understand the physics of the solar cycle and its effects on Earth. Knowledge has advanced to the point that researchers are able to investigate specific atmospheric and Earth-space responses, experimental capabilities have greatly improved, and models and laboratory tools make possible controlled simulations of cause and effect. There are also technological motivations for learning more about the solar cycle control of “ space weather” as society becomes increasingly dependent on systems (e.g., distributed power grids, satellite-based communications, and navigation networks) sensitive to space environment disturbances. At the request of the Sun-Earth Connection science program director at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Space Studies Board's Committee on Solar and Space Physics (CSSP), working jointly with its federated Committee on Solar-Terrestrial Research (CSTR) of the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, reviewed the nation's preparedness for the solar maximum.1 This consideration of readiness concerns both the unique research opportunities presented by the upcoming solar maximum, as well as our capability to mitigate technological problems that might result from the effects of the active Sun. NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Defense (DOD) (the Air Force and the Navy), and the Department of Energy (DOE) provided information for this review, in part during invited agency briefings to the CSSP/CSTR at their meeting in Washington, D.C., on February 26-28, 1997. The committees' assessment is based on the following assumptions regarding the various agencies' roles: NASA is the nation's space agency responsible for solar and geospace exploration as well as the human use of space; NOAA is the major provider of civilian solar and space environment information; NSF is a major sponsor of basic solar-terrestrial research and the lead agency for the National Space Weather Program; 1   The committees' review of preparedness for the upcoming solar maximum does not include an analysis of the current capabilities of the nation's ground-based optical and radio solar observatories. This assessment is being performed as part of an ongoing National Research Council study by the Space Studies Board's Task Group on Ground-based Solar Research (TGGSR). The task group study is sponsored by the NSF and NASA, which requested a broad examination of the “health” and future prospects of ground-based solar research. In addition, the agencies requested a focused examination of issues related to the future of the National Solar Observatory. The TGGSR is expected to release its findings in early summer 1998. The CSSP/CSTR emphasize that the present report's lack of recommendations that are specific to ground-based solar facilities is a direct consequence of the ongoing TGGSR study and should in no way be construed as a lack of concern by the committees over the future of these facilities.

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Readiness for the Upcoming Solar Maximum DOD (and in particular the Air Force and the Navy) is both a user of space environment information and a sponsor of related research and monitoring; and DOE is an additional user and sponsor concerned with national security aspects of the space environment. AGENCY-SPECIFIC RECOMMENDATIONS National Aeronautics and Space Administration NASA has built an excellent multisatellite observatory to explore the Sun-Earth Connection; to yield maximum dividends, this investment should be exploited through the upcoming solar maximum. Moreover, continuing this observatory will aid construction of the International Space Station, which will require many extravehicular activities throughout the period of the solar maximum when the space environment will be disturbed. It is unlikely that a Sun-Earth Connection “great observatory” like the current one will be available in the foreseeable future, and NASA's projected budgets and plans do not include such an observatory for the solar maximum of cycle 24. Thus, the timing is right for the current observatory to have its maximum impact on the science issues it was designed to address. The committees recommend that, at a minimum, NASA continue the existing International Solar-Terrestrial Physics (ISTP) program and related operating missions (ACE, Ulysses, Yohkoh, FAST, SAMPEX, and the Voyagers) through the upcoming solar maximum. This includes acquiring high-quality data (e.g., through the Deep Space Network) and then validating, archiving, interpreting, and publishing them. The committees also recommend the timely launches of TRACE, TIMED, and IMAGE and encourage U.S. participation in Equator-S and Cluster, so that spacecraft capable of making unique contributions will be available during this unprecedented solar maximum observational campaign. Finally, the committees recommend that a dedicated guest investigator program be initiated to complement the existing program during the solar maximum. Such a program would allow all selected investigators to have full use of the collected Sun-Earth Connection data to address the problems of the origin of solar activity and its effects in the solar system, especially its effects on Earth. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA is the leader of the nation's space environment monitoring program and a cornerstone of the interagency National Space Weather Program (NSWP). The agency has the unique responsibilities of distributing high-quality geophysical data to a broad-based national and international community and providing reliable space weather forecasts to the civilian sector. It is also the agency responsible for improving an operational space weather monitoring and forecasting system. NOAA played a key role in arranging for the research community to receive real-time data transmissions from ACE. However, NOAA resources have not been available for translating modern data-based or theoretical research models into improved monitoring and forecasting tools. The absence of a NOAA commitment to this unique and critical role will have a fundamental impact on the success of the NSWP.

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Readiness for the Upcoming Solar Maximum The committees recommend that NOAA, through its Space Environment Center, develop and execute a plan to fulfill its responsibilities within the National Space Weather Program during the coming period of enhanced demand for space environment forecasting services. The committees also recommend that NOAA ensure the certification and prompt dissemination of space environment and geophysical databases through its National Geophysical Data Center. National Science Foundation Overall, NSF appears well prepared to face the scientific opportunities and technological challenges of the upcoming solar maximum. The committees thus primarily encourage NSF to continue its efforts and to supplement them as much as possible. The committees recommend that NSF continue its leadership role in the National Space Weather Program and champion stronger interagency involvement in the NSWP to maximize the nation's benefit from the program during the solar maximum. The committees also recommend that NSF consider initiating interagency discussion of a specific solar maximum campaign similar to that developed for the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 event. Department of Defense Although DOD preparations and activities are notable for their breadth and forethought, several areas might benefit from reassessment. In particular, the Air Force has invested primarily in space hardware at the expense of basic research and analysis. Like NOAA, the DOD in general has not recognized the critical need for investment aimed at making data-based and theoretical research models operational. The committees' findings and recommendations include two issues relating to both the Air Force and Navy: Although the continued operation of Yohkoh, SOHO, and the other ISTP experiments through the solar maximum is NASA's responsibility, the committees recommend that DOD make its reliance on these missions (especially for solar and and interplanetary observations) known to NASA. The continuing participation in and support for the National Space Weather Program on the part of both the Air Force and the Navy are critical to that program's success. The committees recommend that this participation be strengthened through joint endeavors such as the development of rapid prototyping systems for space environment forecasting. Specific recommendations for the Air Force programs during the solar maximum include the following: Further integrate the Air Force efforts with the National Space Weather Program, both to take advantage of the NSWP products and to provide insight on tools useful to the NSWP. This involvement would also provide ongoing peer review of those DOD efforts that can

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Readiness for the Upcoming Solar Maximum be discussed in an open forum, ensuring that DOD's investment will result in the greatest possible benefits. Reassess the support and plans for the 55th Space Weather Squadron to ensure that the squadron will be well prepared for the demands of the upcoming solar maximum. This includes provisions for access to state-of-the-art knowledge and forecasting tools. The committees' recommendations for the Navy solar maximum program include the following: Consider an accelerated research initiative in solar physics to take advantage of the large data sets expected from the Yohkoh and SOHO experiments during the solar maximum, so that knowledge gained can be rapidly put to use. Sponsor or cosponsor a community guest investigator program for collaborations on analysis and interpretation of the data from the Navy solar and upper-atmosphere experiments. By enhancing the productivity of those experiments and bringing in useful external expertise, such a program would help speed the National Space Weather Program's rapid application of new knowledge. Department of Energy Although DOE has reasons for its highly targeted commitment to the space environment endeavor, the committees believe that with minimal disruption of the status quo, DOE's contribution to the solar maximum activities described herein can be magnified. The committees recommend that DOE participate in the dialogue of the interagency coordinating committee for the National Space Weather Program and reassess its own role in that activity (e.g., in the area of power transmission). The committees also recommend that DOE continue its support for the flight of space radiation monitors, together with support for making its data available to the community at large, with special expediency during the solar maximum. CONCLUDING OBSERVATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS In addition to agency-specific recommendations, the committees offer the following general observations and recommendations on the nation 's readiness for the upcoming solar maximum: For this solar maximum, an unprecedented solar-terrestrial spacecraft “armada” will be in orbit to use in studying the active Sun as well as Earth 's responses. These spacecraft must remain operational (to the maximum extent possible) with sufficient supporting research to exploit the opportunity they afford—an opportunity unlikely to be equaled in the foreseeable future. NSF and DOD have shown their support for the National Space Weather Program, but to realize the goals of the NSWP, NOAA should work to translate research models of the

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Readiness for the Upcoming Solar Maximum solar-terrestrial system to operational uses, perhaps through the creation of the proposed rapid prototyping center. Increasing effects of solar and geospace environment disturbances on human activities are expected during the period of the solar maximum. The committees recommend that an interagency workshop (or summit) involving scientists, agency representatives, and industrial administrators and engineers be held to improve their state of preparedness through sharing of information.