Earth Science Division Programs Overview

The five elements of NASA’s Earth Science Division (ESD) ― Flight, Research and Analysis (R&A), Applied Sciences (ASP), Earth Science Technology Office (ESTO), and Earth Science Data Systems (ESDS) ― work together from mission concept to conclusion to both enhance existing Earth observations and find new ways to analyze our living planet.

IceSat-2 satellite illustration
NASA’s Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) uses split-second laser pulses to measure the height of Earth’s ice sheets, glaciers, sea ice, vegetation and more. You can learn more and watch videos about ICESat-2 on its website.

The Flight Program team builds and operates the satellite and airborne missions that deliver critical data to the world’s science community.

Flight mission development ― from advanced concept studies, to flight hardware development, to on-orbit operation ― is managed within the Earth Systematic Missions (ESM) and Earth System Science Pathfinder (ESSP) Programs.

  • Earth Systematic Missions (ESM) Program develops satellite missions to help understand Earth’s response to natural and human-induced changes. Set and directed by NASA, these expanding missions provide invaluable insight and climate data records.
  • Earth System Science Pathfinder (ESSP) Program competitively selects low- to moderate-cost projects that focus on emerging scientific priorities and measurement capabilities. This includes Earth Venture projects that develop new instruments, conduct airborne and field research, and build satellites for full mission engagements.

    Earth Venture is a Program element within the ESSP Program consisting of a series of new science-driven, competitively selected, low cost missions that will provide opportunity for investment in innovative Earth science to enhance our capability to better understand the current state of the Earth system and to enable continual improvement in the prediction of future changes. ESSP Earth Venture projects address a variety of innovative Earth science research projects that study atmospheric composition, weather, carbon cycle and ecosystems, water and energy cycle, climate variability and change, and Earth surface and interior. Studies include the atmosphere, oceans, land surface, polar ice regions, and solid Earth.

    Collage of four earth images: ocean coral, hurricane, glacier and green mountainside

The Flight Program also encompasses the crewed and robotic aircraft campaigns of the Airborne Science Program, which observes Earth’s changes, obtains data for modeling activities, tests and refines new instrument technology, and calibrates satellite instruments.

In addition to managing scientific investigations, Flight also oversees a dozen data centers around the country that each day archive 16 terabytes and distribute 32 terabytes of information products. The Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) acquires, preserves and distributes data from spacecraft and field campaigns to support Earth science research worldwide.

Satellite data visualization of Hurricane Florence
NASA’s Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) core observatory satellite flew over Hurricane Florence in September 2018, capturing a 3D image as the storm’s clouds started to break apart before reforming. Read more about the objectives and applications of GPM online.

Scientists in the Research and Analysis Program (R&A) use satellite observations, data collected by airborne and land-based missions, and computer modeling to turn measurements into understanding about the Earth system and interaction between processes.

R&A supports scientific investigations within NASA and at universities, competitively selecting the most compelling and significant Earth science research.

R&A enables work in major project areas, such as:

  • Competed Individual Investigator Science. R&A supports individual investigator science within disciplinary based programs related to six key focus areas; interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary programs that cut across traditional boundaries; competed science teams for NASA missions; and field campaigns that integrate surface-based, airborne and satellite observations using large-scale models.
  • Enabling Capabilities. Another major component of R&A is its support for the physical and technical aspects of Earth study. This includes: maintaining a fleet of aircraft and associated systems; maintaining and operating high-end computing systems that support Earth system modeling, data assimilation and large-scale data analysis; providing the capability that supports and complements NASA’s satellite program; and maintaining and developing modeling systems for use by the entire scientific community.
Woman standing in a crop field with irrigation equipment.
Nevada farmer Denise Moyle will be able to access NASA Earth observation data to better manage her alfalfa fields, thanks to a web-based platform supported by the Earth Applied Sciences Water Resources program area. It will put accurate and timely NASA data into the hands of water managers conservation group and farmers like her.
Photo courtesy of Glow by G Photography

The Earth Applied Sciences Program helps people around the world use NASA Earth science data to inform crucial decision-making enhance quality of life and strengthen our economy. Working with institutions and individuals, the Earth Applied Sciences program brings the power of NASA's Earth observations to making better decisions about our environment, food, water, health and safety.

Earth Applied Sciences has six program areas:

  • Capacity Building – Our skill-building initiatives empower people around the world to solve local challenges using Earth observations and remote sensing technologies.
  • Disasters – Resilience. Response. Recovery. When disaster strikes, our team provides decision-makers, communities and governments with life-saving Earth observations.
  • Ecological Forecasting – To protect our natural land, marine and freshwater resources, we promote the use of Earth observations in conservation, sustainability and resource management.
  • Food Security and Agriculture – From individual farmers to global food chains, we help optimize decision-making about food availability and access through Earth-observing data.
  • Health and Air Quality – We use Earth-observing data to inform air quality standards and support solutions for public health initiatives — all to strengthen our communities' well-being.
  • Water Resources – Water is one of our most invaluable resources. We help monitor the demand, supply and quality of water around the world and the development of tools to promote conservation.

Earth Applied Sciences also supports projects across a broad spectrum of topics, from urban development and energy management to transportation and infrastructure. Data from NASA’s Earth-observing satellites offer partner organizations and research scientists a powerful tool to deepen their discovery and support their success.

Satellite data visualization of Hurricane Florence
Just hours after it was turned on, the Temporal Experiment for Storms and Tropical Systems Demonstration (TEMPEST-D) experimental, small satellite captured the intense rain bands of Hurricane Florence on Sept. 11, 2018, pictured here overlayed on an image of the storm’s clouds by the NOAA Geoweather Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES). Learn more about TEMPEST-D and hurricanes. Image credits: NASA/NOAA/Naval Research Laboratory Monterey/JPL-Caltech

The Earth Science Technology Office (ESTO) takes on the technical challenges of Earth observations by funding, developing and demonstrating cutting-edge technologies that can be reliably and confidently applied to a broad range of Earth science measurements and missions.

From next-generation sensors and instruments to communication systems and computer modeling, ESTO technologies enable new observations of our home planet and new insights about Earth’s natural systems. ESTO-funded technologies also regularly lead to spin-off or commercial applications that benefit society overall.

Through flexible, science-driven technology strategies and a competitive selection process, ESTO has engaged more than 120 institutions, universities and corporations nationwide to build a broad portfolio of more than 800 past and active investments.

ESTO invests in technology innovation through five primary program lines. They are:

  • Instrument Incubator Program (IIP) develops robust measurement techniques and instruments that are smaller, less expensive and lower the risk of building space-ready scientific instruments.
  • Advanced Component Technologies (ACT) focuses on the critical components and sub-systems needed to support Earth-observing scientific instruments.
  • Sustainable Land Imaging Technology (SLI-T) develops technology specifically designed to reduce the cost and risk of future land imaging (Landsat) measurements.
  • Advanced Information Systems Technology (AIST) develops innovative ways to utilize data through its lifecycle, from generation to analysis. This leads to increased uses and better understanding of remote-sensing data and model output which, in turn, results in new measurement and data products.
  • In-Space Validation of Earth Science Technologies (InVEST) tests instruments in orbit to confirm their effectiveness and to reduce risk, which is vital for small instruments and instrument systems that could not otherwise be fully tested on the ground or via airborne systems.
Earth Science Data Systems Open Access for Open Science
NASA’s Earth Science Data Systems (ESDS) Program is responsible for overseeing more than 60 PB of NASA Earth science data from sources including satellites, airborne campaigns, and in situ measurements.

The Earth Science Data Systems (ESDS) Program oversees the life cycle of NASA’s Earth science data—from acquisition through processing and distribution. ESDS maximizes the scientific return from NASA's missions and experiments using open-source science principles to expand participation in the scientific process, improve reproducibility, and accelerate scientific discovery. ESDS aims to make NASA's openly available Earth science data interactive, interoperable, accessible, and equitable for research and societal benefit both today and tomorrow.

ESDS works to achieve these goals by means of several component projects, programs, and partnerships:

  • The Data System Evolution (DSE) element funds various research opportunities, as well as interagency initiatives and the promotion of data and service interoperability through development and implementation of standards. DSE also includes three competitive programs: Advancing Collaborative Connections for Earth System Science (ACCESS), the Citizen Science for Earth Systems Program (CSESP), and Making Earth System Data Records for Use in Research Environments (MEaSUREs). DSE also supports the Interagency Implementation and Advanced Concepts Team (IMPACT) as well as the development of long-term data records required by NASA scientists.
  • The Earth Science Data and Information System (ESDIS) Project manages the science systems of NASA's Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS). EOSDIS goes beyond providing science data to a wide community of users by streamlining data systems operations, maximizing flexibility, and offering shared services and controls through open-source science.
  • Earth Science Data System Working Groups (ESDSWG) focus on the exploration and development of recommendations derived from pertinent community insights of NASA's heterogeneous and distributed Earth science data systems. Working groups are organized around key technology and information system issues.
  • The Commercial Smallsat Data Acquisition (CSDA) program identifies, evaluates, and acquires remote sensing imagery and data that support NASA’s Earth science research and application activities.
  • NASA's ESDIS Standards Office (ESO) assists ESDIS in formulating ESDS standards policy, coordinates standards activities within ESDIS, and provides technical expertise and assistance with ESDSWG standards-related tasks.
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