The Trump administration’s fiscal 2018 budget request allocates $19.1 billion for NASA, a $561 million decrease over previously enacted levels. NASA acting administrator Robert Lightfoot is rather chirpy about it, but at the same time recognized that the agency's Earth science missions will be diminished while NASA’s education office will altogether disappear.
President Trump is known to have skeptical views of climate change. Last April, just as people were making their way to Washington for the climate march, the Environmental Protection Agency changed the climate change page on its website. It met visitors with the message “This page is being updated” and left only a link to the archived version of Obama-era climate change content.
Just what are these planned and ongoing Earth science missions on the chopping board?
Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, Ocean Ecosystem (PACE) Satellite
PACE provides systematic, long-term observations as NASA’s most advanced global ocean color and aerosol mission to date, working to track the effects and extent of climate change.
According to its homepage, PACE data reveal “interactions between the ocean and atmosphere, including how they exchange carbon dioxide and how atmospheric aerosols might fuel phytoplankton growth in the surface ocean.”
Today, only global Earth-observing satellite measurements, for instance, can capture a good picture of how much energy from the sun the planet is absorbing. PACE observations help scientists better understand the roles of aerosols and clouds, oceans, carbon, and relevant factors in climate control.
Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 (OCO-3) Experiment
This future space instrument is designed to probe questions around the distribution of carbon dioxide on the planet relating to growing urban populations as well as changing patterns of fossil fuel combustion.
NASA seeks to develop and assemble the instrument using spare materials from OCO-2 in 2014, and then host the instrument on the International Space Station or a separate space-based platform.
Climate Absolute Radiance And Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) Pathfinder
This decadal survey mission intends to provide a metrology lab in orbit to produce highly accurate records to quantify Earth’s climate change. It is designed to measure heat levels in the atmosphere as well.
Last year, the CLARREO project received funding to demonstrate the technologies needed for the full mission. The funds supposedly support the flight of a Reflected Solar or RS spectrometer, to be hosted on the ISS in a 2020 timeframe.
Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) Spacecraft
A partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Air Force, DSCOVR collects data on Earth’s atmosphere and maintains real-time solar wind monitoring capabilities.
Using this information, NOAA generates space weather forecasts and alerts for events including geomagnetic storms produced by solar wind changes.
Formerly known as GoreSat and Triana, this spacecraft carries a polychromatic imaging camera, an advanced radiometer and a plasma instrumentation suite to obtain measurements of solar wind, interplanetary magnetic field, and sun-lit Earth observations.
“Following assembly and detailed testing, DSCOVR was shipped to the launch site in November 2014 — reaching the final stretches of its long road to launch that took over 16 years,” SpaceFlight101 noted.
Radiation Budget Instrument (RBI)
This fifth Earth science mission to get axed was revealed just last May 23 with the release of the fleshed-out 2018 budget request, Space.com reported.
It has been part of the Joint Polar Satellite System 2, a NASA and NOAA initiative slated for launch to Earth orbit in late 2021. This instrument would have gone to measure the effect of clouds on the planet’s energy budget, according to NASA acting chief financial officer Andrew Hunter.
Here are some ways that slashing climate change research budget could affect Americans and potentially life-saving projects.