Decadal Survey Questions

Below are your questions -- and some answers -- regarding the 2017 Decadal Survey. While not all the questions have answers yet, we will continue to post responses as we develop them. Meanwhile, if you have additional questions, please continue to send them to us via the online form.

Designated Observables

  1. What’s the process for selecting missions and instruments?

    It is anticipated that the overall mission responsibility will be directed to NASA centers. The instruments will be either competed via Announcement of Opportunity (SMD/ESD selection) or provided by partners. The spacecraft will be either competed via RFP to Industry by the NASA Center responsible for the mission or provide by partners. ESD intends to do a call for Multi-Center Study Proposals with specific direction for expectations. A target KDP-A Date will be provided in early FY19 to the study teams for the first two DOs (SBG; Aerosols/CPP).

    ESD intends to fund 6 mission/observing system studies:Surface Biology and Geology (SBG) ($650M total for missions/observing systems):
  • Aerosols Study ($800M total for missions/observing systems)
  • CCP Study ($800M total for missions/observing systems)
  • Aerosols and Clouds, Convection and Precipitation Study (ACCP) ($1.6B total for missions/observing systems)
  • Surface Deformation ($500M total for missions/observing systems)
  • Mass Change ($300M total for missions/observing systems)

The ESAS describes the Designated Observables (DOs) as a “new” program element for cost-capped medium- and large-size missions/observing systems to address observables essential to the overall program. The DOs addresses five of the highest-priority Earth observation needs, and ESAS suggests that these be implemented as three large observing systems and two medium observing systems. The elements of this program are considered foundational elements of the decade’s observations. ESD is taking a broad approach to addressing the DOs. That is, we do not consider the solution space for each DO to be a single dedicated mission, but rather we remain open to missions or observing systems, not just limited to NASA ESD, to address these science priorities. The ESAS maximum recommended development costs are considered total expected development (including launch and science) costs for substantial (not minimum) capability missions/observing systems. ESAS expected NASA to identify implementation approaches which achieve the recommended objectives for less than the identified maximum.

  1. Is there a priority to the designated observables (DO)?

    At present, ESD is planning that the first two DOs to be transitioned as observing systems (in approximately the 2020/2021 timeframe) are:
  • Surface Biology & Geology
  • Aerosols and/or Clouds, Convection, and Precipitation (or some hybrid of the two)

Subsequent DOs to transition to missions/observing systems (expected in the 2023-2027 timeframe) are:

  • Mass Change
  • Surface Deformation and Change
  • The remaining capabilities of Aerosols and/or Clouds, Convection, and Precipitation
  1. How do we develop/establish partnerships for implementation of observables?

    ​ESD is soliciting ideas from Centers, the international community, and the non-governmental/private sector on ways to participate in the strategic planning process associated with realistically implementing the Decadal recommendations. All stakeholders are encouraged to discuss and explore possible observing system implementation approaches with Centers. ESD is encouraging multi-center joint efforts, in partnership with private sector, academia, International and Interagency partners.
  1. When will NASA compete DO study contracts for industry as indicated in past forum briefings?

    The timing of these solicitations is shown in the March 4, 2019 Community Forum presentation (see slide 27). All Community Forum presentations, as well as other materials, are posted publicly in the Presentations and Other Materials section.

    To keep aware of dates for future Community Forums and for other related announcements, please check the Decadal Survey Community Forums page.

Earth System Explorer

  1. How are we going to come up with a scheme to implement Explorers?
  2. What’s the strategy for competing missions or observables for Explorers?

    ESE will use a two-step AO process, similar to mission solicitations in other SMD Divisions. The observing systems/mission will be cost capped at $350M cost-capped (including launch services). The first solicitation will likely allow proposals for any observable from the DS Explorers list. Subsequent ESE solicitations will likely restrict primary observable foci based on previous selections. Step 1 will likely be a 9-14 month Phase A prior to down-select for Step 2. ESD will encourage solicitations that address more than one ESE Observable and that support other aspects of the DS-recommended ESD portfolio. The first ESE solicitation will be planned for release no earlier than FY20, pending budget developments.
  3. Is there a competition approach that can include all 7 observables in the Earth Explorer?

    The first solicitation will likely allow proposals for any observable from the DS Explorers list. Subsequent ESE solicitations will likely restrict primary observable foci based on previous selections.
  4. What are the implications of what seems to be a shift to expanded focus on medium-sized missions to increase program cost effectiveness? (e.g. Earth System Explorer program)

Incubator Program

  1. Will the Incubator program organization be under ESTO?

    The Incubator Program will be a new program element, focused on investment for priority observation capabilities needing advancement prior to cost-effective implementation, including an innovation fund. The program will be under ESTO.
  2. Do we stitch Incubator as a unified program or do we break it apart to meet different needs?
  3. Active sensing (lidar) is needed, how far can we go with a multiphase lidar?
  4. Will the Incubator efforts be treated as IIP/ACT type ROSES competitively selected/funded opportunities?

    See answer to Question 8.

Venture Class Continuity

  1. How are we thinking about continuity of missions?

    Earth Venture Continuity (EVC) specifically seeks to lower the cost for long-term acquisition of key “continuity” observations, rewarding innovation in mission-to-mission cost reduction through technology infusion, programmatic efficiency, and/or other means. ESAS envisioned EVC to be similar to the EVM strand, including full mission implementation costs whether for instruments, spacecraft, and launch vehicles OR hosted payloads with hosting services included. While the ESAS references EVM, ESD will exercise flexibility to implement any of the following arrangements for EVC:
  • Full mission implementation – like CYGNSS
  • PI arranged instrument hosting – like GeoCarb
  • NASA provided hosting for a MOO – like TEMPO or MAIA.
  1. How do we intend to deal with Phase E in the context of venture continuity?

    There is no change on the treatment of the Phase E in the context of venture continuity. In other words, we will follow the process as for other venture missions.
  2. What are the changes to Earth Venture?

    We are adding an Earth Venture Continuity strand. The first EVC solicitation is described in the response to question 16. The specific cadence of the EVC solicitations and any changes to the existing EV solicitation will be announced in the future.
  3. What EV opportunity will be the first "Continuity" opportunity?

    Given the RBI termination, the EVC-1 solicitation will be targeted to radiation budget science, a top priority for ESD. When the Radiation Budget Instrument (RBI) project was discontinued by NASA, ESD was “directed to develop a detailed programmatic plan and associated schedule and budget, enabling development for launch NLT 2027 of an instrument capable of providing the needed radiation budget measurements, leveraging the 2017 Decadal Survey’s recommendation of a competed Venture-Class approach for low-cost continuity measurements. Plan due July 2018.” This action makes initiation of an EVC, targeted solicitation, for radiation budget a top priority for ESD.
  4. Is there budget for Continuity? How accelerated?

    ESD has identified funding for EVC-1. The solicitation for EVC-1 is planned for release in December 2018; a draft solicitation will be circulated for comment prior to final release.
  5. Is it safe to assume RBI-focused Continuity will be capped along the lines of a Class C EVI?

    Funding will be as follows:
  • Cost constrained at $150M for full mission or PI arranged hosting
  • Cost constrained at $110M-$120M for MOO; with $30M-$40M for accommodations


  1. What happens when the administration dictates what we should implement or not? (think PACE, OCO-3, CLARREO-PF President Budget Request)

    NASA follows the federal budget process. The President Budget Request (PBR) is sent to Congress for its consideration. Congress produces and votes on an appropriations bill. If the President signs this bill, it becomes a law and mandates the funding for our projects. For example, PACE, OCO-3, CLARREO-PF, and the DSCOVR instruments were proposed for termination in the FY18 PBR; however Congress voted to continue the missions. The President signed it into law.
  2. What’s process or strategy for engaging centers? What’s the strategy for community engagement?

    We have established many internal and external venues to engage the centers and community at large, including:
  • ESD’s Decadal Survey web page:
  • Use the web page to:
    • See meeting and telecon announcements
    • Ask questions
    • Find answers to questions, as they become available
    • View records of progress and decisions
  • Weekly listening session with ESD staff
  • Monthly calls with NASA Centers
  • Quarterly calls with external communities
  • Engagement with interagency and international partners
  • Town halls at professional society meetings
  1. To the extent that we respect and follow recommendations in the decadal, is the view the same and respected by congress, OMB, OSTP and outside community?
  2. What can Program Managers do with the communities to feed into the decadal implementation strategy? Do we encourage bottoms up examination of portfolio?

    ESD is soliciting ideas from Centers, other agencies, international community, and the non-governmental/private sector on ways to participate in the strategic planning process associated with realistically implementing the Decadal recommendations. All stakeholders are encouraged to discuss and explore possible observable implementation approaches with Centers. ESD is encouraging multi-center joint efforts, in partnership with private sector, academia, International and Interagency partners.
  3. How much attention will we pay to the rest of the decadal, such as items that did not make the front list recommendations (panel reports)?

    The ESAS 2017 Decadal recommendations based on the panel reports can be found in the first 235 pages of the report. The panel reports are informative; however, the final recommendations by the ESAS 2017 Steering Committee were based on the information provided by the supporting study panels and several informal working groups. The ESAS 2017 Steering Committee carefully considered all the information provided that culminated in the ESAS 2017 Decadal recommendations.
  4. R&A and Applied – How are we thinking about bringing them closer?
  5. Do we have a process for deciding how recommendations will be implemented as the wedge opens?

    The DO studies will be initiated in FY19 (Octuber 1, 2018). The EVC-1 AO will be released in December 2018. We anticipate the Earth Science Explorer solicitation to be released no earlier than FY20, pending budget developments.
  6. Is the decadal connected/disconnected from 9th floor (NASA Administrator level) initiatives?

    Decadal plans are developed in coordination with the NASA budgeting process, which is worked through the Agency hierarchy. In addition, the acquisition strategy for new activities must be approved at the Agency level.
  7. Have we started to think how to mix level 4 products to produce higher order value science?
  8. ISS may not be available beyond 2024. What other platforms are out there?

    We are considering hosted payloads as potential platforms.
  9. To what extent do we involve other agencies and the international community?

    See answer to question #23.
  10. How do small satellites play into the decadal?

    The solution space for implementation of the decadal is expected to include small sats.
  11. What are the policies to enable small sats?
  12. How does proposed cancelation of certain high priority missions recommended in the previous decadal survey impact/undermine how the new decadal survey is implemented?

    See answer to question #20.
  13. Budgets are essentially flat (or perhaps even declining) so is it necessary to have discussion with ESAC, ESD, and others on possible strategy for fitting DS priorities into the “box”?
  14. Is there anything “discussion-worthy” or “problematic” with the NASA-NOAA-USGS partnerships and priorities?
  15. When will de final version of the decadal document be released?
  16. Is NASA in liberty to take a different approach that makes a consistent program?

    The ESAS Decadal contains recommendations that have to be taken into account along with mission, priorities, appropriations and administration priorities, to implement a comprehensive consistem Earth Science program.
  17. How do we react different or the same when we get advice from ESAC or decadal?
  18. It may be too early, but have you received any feedback on Decadal from centers, community, etc. yet? If yes, are there any general themes emerging yet re: concerns, ideas?
  19. Will ESD provide travel $$ in support of joint Center discussions with International Partners?

    The DO studies will be funded and the multicenter study plans’ budget should account for any travel required for pursue international parnerships.
  20. What are we doing about/related to COVID-19?

    It’s been a real challenge for our projects, specially those in the beginning of manufacturing and instrument assembly. Those were hit hardest, because a lot of the work needs to be done onsite. We were able to mitigate impacts for projects that are in later development and integration and testing. So it varies widely.

    We also continue to work hard to reduce the stress on the workforce as much as we can – and the ripple affects into the community. We have many employees teaching their kids at home and caring for family members, as well as trying to do their jobs virtually.

    We also want to make sure we are helping people caught in a transitional stage in their careers – such as coming out of school. At the directorate level, we are working to ensure that the burden of COVID-19 impacts doesn’t disproportionately fall on people in the early stages of their careers. We sent out an RFI [request for information] about what could help people like post docs and graduate students close to finishing up. The directorate likely will go out with an announcement asking people to respond in specific ways about the impacts they are experiencing. We are looking at more funding, but the presumption is that we aren’t getting new money. If we use money for early stage professionals, we will have to do something different in terms of future investigators. Future investigations may be fewer or move out more slowly.

    It is also a continuous struggle to make sure our field work is safe for everyone – safe for people in the field and safe for the lab prep work. Field work, however, doesn’t go well with social distancing, with platforms, hangers, validation. Our position has been that if people want to go out and do things, we support that, but if there is any hesitancy and people are unsure of safety, there is no pushing on our end. We don’t want people to feel pressure.

  21. What is your thinking regarding upcoming EV-C calls? Will they be targeted or open calls?

    We are working on future EV-C strategy. We have a bit of runway before this needs to be better defined. Remember that we are alternating EVI and EVC every 18 months or so. We selected Libera in February 2020. We will be releasing EVI-6 around the summer of 2021. EVC will follow about 18 months later.

  22. Is the National Academy EV a workshop, or is it a study?

    It is a study that will include a workshop to review, among other issues, the foundational principles underlying the program. The committee will consider:

    • Measures of success for EV-I and EV-M endeavors
    • The experiences of principal investigators, project managers, and institutions in the proposing, implementation, and operation of EV investigations
    • EV foundational principles, including the means by which they are implemented and enforced, as well as the implications of non-conformity
    • Potential trades among cadence, cost (including cost-caps), and risk in implementing future EVs
    • An assessment of the implications of the changing launch vehicle and hosted payload markets for future EVs
    • Lessons-learned for consideration in future implementations of EV-I and EV-M program elements.

  23. Would the EV workshop be conducted from a science prospective, or will it consider project management and implementation that would occur after selection?

    The venture programs are critically important and the more agile part of our flight portfolio. We are interested in having an independent group take a look at what have we learned from executing the EV programs. We are always looking at increasing success by all metrics, including providing valuable science, programmatically managing cost/schedule, and also finding innovative ways of doing science.

  24. We’ve done a lot of work doing ground support missions. Also radiometric and spatial on demand network for earth observing satellites. How might we go about bringing a service to a broad way across missions? Don’t want it to be a single mission or program and go across working groups.

    As we move from individual studies to rolling out the programs, this kind of question is important. There are a lot of things on the ground side – command and control, data, calibration capabilities – that will be different from the way we used to do things. It becomes very important as we move forward to consider those options. They have the potential to deliver more capability for lower cost if we look at new programs in a holistic way. This probably a few months ahead of us, but we will discuss it among the team, and probably post something on the decadal website and talk about it at our next community update. It is the direction we need to move in, and how we do that depends on the architectures we select.