Yesterday, CNAS released a new policy brief exploring how the United States can make better use of space technologies to improve disaster warning and response.
Sentries in the Sky: Using Space Technologies for Disaster Response explores some of the challenges with sustaining America’s disaster warning and response services by relying solely on ground-bases sensors to collect information about natural disasters and other events that could threaten U.S. communities. Alternatively, space technologies – which have not yet reached their full potential in disaster warning and response services – can complement existing ground-based sensors by combining new modes of data collection and delivery from space to improve the ability of first responders and others charged with protecting the United States to respond to natural and man-made disasters.
The policy brief focuses specifically on advancing tsunami detection through space-based services as just one of many ways that space technologies can advance disaster warning and response capabilities. But despite this narrow focus on tsunami detection, the policy brief is intended to encourage policymakers and others to think more creatively about ways to leverage space technologies to enhance U.S. national security missions, particularly unconventional (but increasingly important) missions such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
The policy brief builds on a broader body of work at the center on the role of Earth monitoring satellites in national security and foreign policy making. In August 2011, Christine Parthemore and I published Blinded: The Decline of U.S. Earth Monitoring Capabilities and Its Consequences for National Security. More to come from us in this research area.
Photo: An artist concept of the Ocean Surface Topography Mission/Jason 2 Earth satellite. Courtesy of NASA.
The Associated Press’s epitaph for one of America’s most memorable pioneers appropriately captures Neil Armstrong’s place in history.
For several generations of Americans, the pioneering spirit and adventurism that helped carry Neil Armstrong to the moon also characterize a period of American history when our collective imagination seemed boundless. With outstretched fingers Americans reached for the stars and in less than a decade went from just terrestrial beings to lunar explorers. It is a period of American history that, sadly, seems almost unimaginable today as we increasingly look away from space.
In remembering Armstrong, we have an opportunity to reflect not only on one of America’s greatest accomplishments, but also to re-imagine America’s role in space and to search the stars for new opportunities for advancement.
The United States has enduring interests in space, from maintaining remote sensing satellites that help scientists understand and track environmental change, to networks of communications satellites that serve as the connective tissue of an increasingly globalized world. And though federal space programs continue to be squeezed in this fiscally constrained environment – and by all accounts we are increasingly pressed to confront challenges here at home, on Earth – we should spend some time thinking about America’s role in space, and how the United States can wield this cosmic domain to further its interests.
To help spur some reflection on U.S. interests in space, I’m reaching back to a piece my colleague Christine Parthemore and I wrote last year exploring the decline of Earth monitoring satellites and its consequences for U.S. national security: Blinded: The Decline of U.S. Earth Monitoring Capabilities and Its Consequences for National Security.
You can expect more from me in the weeks ahead on how U.S. policymakers should be thinking about using space to confront a range of unconventional challenges.
Photo: Neil Armstrong’s walk on the lunar surface. Courtesy of NASA.
On Wednesday, NASA published an article detailing the many tests the NPP - the NPOESS Preparatory Project, NASA’s next generation of Earth-observation satellites - was required to pass before being able to be launched into orbit. Although the NPP satellite “passed every stage on or ahead of schedule,” said Glenn Iona who works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and oversees environmental testing for NPP, one of the biggest challenges “is taking into account all the different instruments' requirements and restrictions: Will the electromagnetic field generated by one instrument’s electronics interfere with the instrument sitting next to it? Will the jitter caused by the spacecraft or other instruments affect the sensitive Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS)?” With the NPP’s 24 different data products/instruments it “is more of a hybrid that will serve both climate scientists and meteorologists,” as it will monitor daily weather and long-term ozone levels and climate change. NASA hopes that the NPP will act as a bridge between NASA's Earth Observing System and the next generation of satellites called the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS).
NPP’s launch date is set for late October – great news for NASA and the satellite’s environmental-testing team. The system could prove to be a great first step in a still-long road to shoring up America’s declining earth monitoring capability. For more, check out Christine’s and Will’s report released earlier this week, Blinded: The Decline of U.S. Earth Monitoring Capabilities and Its Consequences for National Security.
Photo: NPP is lowered into the thermal vacuum chamber. Once inside the Iron Maiden (visible in the lower left) is fitted in place. Then air is pumped out of the chamber and temperature extremes are applied to replicate orbit conditions. Courtesy of NASA and Ball Aerospace.
Today is part two of our two-day blog launch of our new report, Blinded: The Decline of U.S. Earth Monitoring Capabilities and Its Consequences for National Security. We framed the problem yesterday, but what is the way ahead?
Christine and I wanted to explore this topic in a bit more depth than we had in the past because we don’t think the solutions on offer are quite right. For one, by our analysis the federal government is relying too heavily on the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) to provide the data we need. We heard in countless conversations with officials around the government that GEOSS may not be on track to deliver all it has promised - especially information relevant for U.S. policymakers.
Joint work on collecting climate change data is a great platform for bilateral and multilateral cooperation – a means of securing U.S. interests that’s in need of more ideas these days. Yet, as we found, not only are our own capabilities declining, but we’re also not playing the international cooperation card as well as we could be with regard to remote sensing. Moving forward, we recommend improving our own capabilities, ensuring consistency in interagency cooperation and U.S. programs, and thinking more creatively about working with partner countries as ways to mitigate the loss from the growing earth monitoring capability gap. Being creative minds, we suggest that United States complement GEOSS with other bilateral initiatives to sustain a steady stream of earth monitoring data. Many of these bilateral mechanisms already exist, so we just need to integrate environmental and climate monitoring into their practices.
Do you ever find yourself asking: how is environmental change affecting stability in the Horn of Africa? Or wondering just how many billions of dollars in damage sea level rise may cause in emerging economies like India, China and Brazil? Or looking for good projections of how many years we have until we see an ice-free summer in the Arctic?
If you’re like us, you bring these questions of environment and resources to your job analyzing security, stability and foreign policy every day. And if you’re like us, you are probably increasingly alarmed by the ongoing decline in American earth monitoring systems used in supplying data for the environmental projections and trend analysis we need to do this work.
Yesterday we released to the world a short policy brief called Blinded: The Decline of U.S. Earth Monitoring Capabilities and Its Consequences for National Security. Here’s how we summarize the problem:
Networks of satellites, ground-based sensors and unmanned aerial vehicles – the assets America uses to monitor and understand environmental change and its consequences – are going dark. By 2016, only seven of NASA’s current 13 earth monitoring satellites are expected to be operational, leaving a crucial information gap that will hinder national security planning. Meanwhile, efforts to prevent this capability gap have been plagued by budget cuts, launch failures, technical deficiencies, chronic delays and poor interagency coordination. Without the information that these assets provide, core U.S. foreign policy and national security interests will be at risk.
The India Space Research Organization (ISRO) successfully launched three satellites into orbit on Wednesday: ResourceSat-2 and two nano-satellites, YouthSat and X-Sat. The payloads were launched from the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle-C16, the 17th consecutive successful launch from the PSLV after it failed during its first launch in 1993.
ResourceSat-2 is the follow on mission to ResourceSat-1, an ISRO satellite launched in 2003 that was expected to have a mission life of 5-7 years. As a remote sensing satellite, ResourceSat-2 is equipped with three cameras that provide higher resolution images than its predecessor. In addition, it will carry an experimental instrument built by the Canadian based company, COMDEV, which will provide ship surveillance (including the speed and position of vessels on Earth).
The mission objective for ResourceSat-2 is nearly identical to ResourceSat-1, which focused on providing data on natural resources, including water and agricultural as well as climate studies. In explaining ResourceSat-2’s mission, ISRO Chairman K Radhakrishnan said that it will “monitor natural resources at different resolutions. It can be used to monitor snow cover, glacier changes, urban landscape and others.”
In addition, India has touted ResourceSat-2 as a satellite that will provide useful data to the international community when it begins transmitting on April 28. The Times of India reported yesterday that data from ResourceSat-2 will be shared among 15 countries. Similarly, in discussing the new satellite, R.R. Navalgund, director of the Space Applications Centre (which is a major component of ISRO) said, “You can collect data from the entire globe. So, there will be a great demand for this kind of data which is available from the Resourcesat-2…. It will become the workhorse for monitoring the resources of the entire earth for the global community.”
The Jason-1 and Jason-2 satellites were built and run by France and the United States and launched on December 7, 2001 and June 20, 2008 respectively. As the successor satellites to the TOPEX/POSEIDON mission that began in 1992, the Jason satellites were designed to study the ocean. To this end, the satellites capture images of approximately 90 percent of the non-ice ocean surface every 10 days.
This is an important mission for understanding climate change, as the oceans are an essential component of the Earth’s climate equation. As a NASA publication on Jason-2 notes, “The ocean acts as Earth’s thermostat, storing energy from the sun and keeping Earth from heating up quickly.” This makes the ocean, “the single most important influence on Earth’s weather and climate.”
The Jason satellites monitor different aspects of the ocean. The central task of the Jason satellites is to map ocean surface topography. Ocean surface topography is defined as, “the height of the earth surface relative to Earth’s geoid (a hypothetical Earth surface that represents the mean sea level if there were no winds, currents and most tides).” To simplify, the satellites capture the height of the mountains in the ocean, as well as the depths of ocean valleys.
The Landsat program is a set of moderate resolution satellites that have been collecting images of the Earth for nearly 39 years, the longest continuous mission of its kind. It has many applications for natural security topics. Currently it is operating two satellites - Landsat-5, launched in 1984, and Landsat-7 launched in 1999 – although their continued operation remains in doubt. As a 2007 report by the Office of Science and Technology Policy concluded, “The currently functioning U.S. moderate resolution satellites (Landsat 5 and 7) are operating beyond their design lifetimes in degraded status and are subject to failure at any time.” To maintain the uninterrupted flow of moderate resolution data, the United States must ensure that the successor program, Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM), gets up and running quickly.
Influenced by the Apollo mission, the director of U.S. Geographical Survey first proposed the idea of a remote sensing project, which became Landsat in 1965. After overcoming intense opposition from some within government, Landsat-1 was launched on July 23, 1972. At the time it was the first Earth observation satellite in orbit with the explicit purpose of studying and monitoring the planet. Originally only planned for a one year mission, the satellite operated until January 1978, providing approximately 300,000 images of the Earth. Although originally only conceived of as a five satellite program, six satellites in addition to Landsat-1 have been designed, however Landsat-6 failed during the launch and, consequently, never reached orbit.
Maintaining congressional support has remained a challenge throughout Landsat’s history. Soon after the launch of Landsat-5, Congress passed the Land Remote-Sensing Commercialization Act of 1984, which privatized the program. Under the instruction of this legislation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which had responsibility for the Landsat program, sold the rights to Landsat data to Earth Observation Satellite Company (EOSAT), a private company. The program faltered under privatization however, because there were not enough consumers of the data to provide continuous imaging. By 1989, NOAA instructed the EOSAT to turn the satellites off for good. The program was returned to government control under the first Bush administration when Congress passed the Land Remote Sensing Policy Act of 1992, repealing the 1984 law and ordering the construction of the Landsat-7 satellite.
We’ve discussed earth observation satellites a number of times on this blog in the past few weeks. Much of our focus thus far has been on the utility of these satellites in helping us understand and monitor environmental and climate change. But another one of their many uses is helping countries track and respond to natural disasters. In fact, earth observation satellites have been used in a number of capacities in responding to the recent crises in Japan.
First, a little background is in order. Immediately after the earthquake the Japanese government invoked the international charter “Space and Natural Disasters.” This charter was originally created in a joint effort by the European Space Agency and the French space agency, CNES, after the UNISPACEIII Conference in Vienna in July 1999. It became fully operational on November 1, 2000. Its purpose is to coordinate the world’s satellite capabilities from the different space agencies and the private sector in the wake of natural disasters.
Once the government in Tokyo activated the charter, numerous satellites sprung into action. To be exact, 63 different observations were made within the first 48 hours. These were used to assess the damage, identify areas in desperate need, locate survivors and coordinate the resources for the recovery. Later satellite images were also used to monitor and respond to the nuclear crisis.
The satellites collecting data came from both countries and the private sector. Among the countries that deployed their satellites to aid in the effort were Germany, France, the United States and even some satellites from China. Particularly remarkable was the substantial role that the private sector took on in responding to the disaster. The assistance from Geo-eye, a company headquartered out of Dulles, Virginia, was particularly remarkable. Using the Geo-eye 1 satellite, the highest-resolution commercial earth observation satellite in the world, the company captured stunning images of the damage the natural disasters had created around the Northeastern coast of Japan and the nuclear reactors. In conjunction with Google, Geo-eye used software that allowed consumers to compare pre- and post-quake images of the same area side by side. A number of news services including the New York Times and the BBC have put this service up on their websites. Other private companies that responded to the effort were Rapideye and DigitalGlobe.
Today we are kicking off a new occassional series, "Satellites You Need to Know," which, as you may expect, explores satellites that we think you should know. It's important to understand what capabilities America needs to advance our interests in the natural security arena. And understanding our space assets is generally good practice for all security types.