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Proposed NASA budget cuts 4 critical Earth science missions

What we were fearing for some time now has finally happened. The proposed White House Budget for fiscal year 2018 has virtually asked NASA to forget about Earth Science.

The Trump administration has proposed a $19.1-billion budget for NASA in 2018, which is in fact marginally less than its existing $19.3-billion allocation. While it is not so bad considering, many departments — such as NOAA and Environment Protection Agency (EPA) — face deep cuts, but the focus is on missions like Mars and Jupiter probes, human exploration and ceding ground to commercial space companies, while drastically reducing funding for earth sciences.

President Trump’s budget proposes a $100-million cut for NASA’s earth science division, which has been allocated $1.8 billion, thus reflecting his much publicized scepticism about Climate Change. NASA’s human exploration division gets the lion’s share of the proposed funds, with $3.7 billion for the Orion crew vehicle and Space Launch System (SLS) jumbo rocket — the spacecraft that will get humans to Mars.

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What the cuts mean?

If Congress approves the budget in toto, the cuts effectively mean termination of NASA’s four missions to examine the planet: PACE, OCO-3, DSCOVR, and CLARREO Pathfinder.

Proposed NASA budget
A satellite image shows the cruise track against a background of ocean color data. Colors indicate the amount of chlorophyll, where red is the highest and blue the lowest. Credit: NASA/Norman Kuring

PACE: PACE stands for the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission was scheduled for launch in 2022. It is NASA’s most advanced global ocean color and aerosol mission to date. Being built and tested at the Goddard Space Flight Center, PACE was envisioned to expand our knowledge of key climate variables such as aerosol particles and clouds, and extend NASA’s long-term record of the phytoplankton pigment, chlorophyll, while providing new insights on ocean biodiversity.

A visualization of carbon dioxide values (colored squares) being measured by the OCO-2 sensor. 

OCO-3: The Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3, or OCO-3, is a future space instrument designed to investigate various questions about the distribution of carbon dioxide on Earth. OCO-3 is a complete stand-alone payload built using the spare OCO-2 flight instrument, with additional elements added to accommodate installation and operation on the International Space Station (ISS). After docking with the ISS, the OCO-3 instrument will be installed on the ISS Japanese Experiment Module- Exposed Facility (JEM-EF) where it will be operating for the duration of the mission.

This video was created using NASA’s EPIC camera aboard NOAA‘s DSCOVR satellite.

DSCOVR: A partnership between NOAA, NASA, and the US Air Force, Deep Space Climate Observatory (or DSCOVR) is an Earth observation and space weather satellite launched in 2015. It collects data on Earth’s atmosphere and maintains real-time solar wind monitoring capabilities. DSCOVR’s EPIC camera (Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera) — a four megapixel CCD camera and telescope — can take full-Earth pictures about every two hours and is able to process them faster than other Earth observation satellites. While DSCOVR will still have the job of giving an early warning of solar weather events that could potentially cause damage back on earth, but its EO tools will reportedly be shut off. Interestingly, at $1.2 million, it was NASA’s second cheapest ongoing earth sciences program. With the launch of NOAA‘s GOES-R satellite in 2016, scientists were also expecting that real-time data from DSCOVR and GOES-R will further provide enhanced space weather forecasts.

NASA budget cut
From its home on the International Space Station, the CLARREO Pathfinder Project reflected solar spectrometer will calibrate by pointing to the sun and the moon.

CLARREO: The Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) is a climate-focused mission that was set to become a key element of the climate observing system.  It was seen as filling the critical need for unambiguous climate change measurements with an unprecedented level of accuracy. The CLARREO mission was to have provided a metrology laboratory in orbit for the purpose of accurately quantifying and attributing climate change. The mission was also envisioned to provide the first orbiting radiometers with accuracy sufficient to serve as reference calibration standards for other space sensors, essentially serving as a “NIST in orbit”.

READ: Why NASA is vital for battling climate change