The National Research Council recommends that U.S. government agencies undertake a closely coordinated series of solar physics missions over the next decade that emphasize the responsiveness of small to mid-sized spacecraft to new findings, and beef up funding for a major mission to unravel the influence of solar energy and wind on the Earth’s atmosphere.

The NRC’s second so-called decadal survey in the heliophysics field provides 15 recommendations to shape a science mission road map for NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other federal agencies through 2024.

The 455-page study urges an increase in annual federal spending in the field from just over $600 million to nearly $900 million by 2024, with most of the increase coming late in the period.

“The significant achievements of the past decade set the stage for transformative advances in solar and space physics,” said Daniel Baker, director of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who chaired the 19-member NRC study panel. “In turn, these advances will support critical national needs for information that can be used to anticipate, recognize, and mitigate space weather effects that are adverse to human life and the technological systems society depends upon.”

Future missions should be carefully paced and focused on completing the solar and space physics agenda from the previous NRC decadal survey and backing new missions that stress four broad goals, the panel says:

• Determining the origin of the Sun’s activity and predicted variations in the space environment.

• Determining the dynamics and coupling of the Earth’s magnetosphere, ionosphere and atmosphere and their responses to solar and terrestrial influences.

• Determining the interaction of the Sun with the Solar System and the interstellar medium.

• Discovery and characterization of fundamental processes that occur both within the Sun’s sphere of influence and throughout the universe.

The 18-month study recognized budget constraints, mission cost growth and limited availability of mid-sized launch vehicles as potential obstacles. It recommends collaboration on several new fronts as an antidote:

NASA and the NSF should establish a multi-agency initiative, DRIVE, to further leverage federal assets by incorporating microsat missions where appropriate, ensuring adequate funding for mission operations and data analysis, investing in new technologies and participating in educational outreach.

• The National Space Weather Program should be re-chartered under the supervision of the National Science and Technology Council with input from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and Budget to hasten new capabilities.

• A partnership among NASA, NOAA and the Defense Department to further solar and solar wind observations beyond the lifetimes of current missions including Soho and Stereo.

The panel turned to NASA’s Living with a Star program for a new major mission toward the end of the decade. The reference mission, the Geospace Dynamics Constellation, would study how the Earth’s atmosphere absorbs energy from the solar wind and responds on a global scale with a network of six satellites.