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Heliophysics Division Corner


The New R&A Structure in Heliophysics ROSES 2013

Strategic Goal:

Understand the Sun and its interactions with the Earth and the solar system, including space weather.

Heliophysics encompasses science that improves our understanding of fundamental physical processes throughout the solar system, and enables us to understand how the Sun, as the major driver of the energy throughout the solar system, impacts our technological society. The scope of heliophysics is vast, spanning from the Sun’s interior to Earth’s upper atmosphere, throughout interplanetary space, to the edges of the heliosphere, where the solar wind interacts with the local interstellar medium. Heliophysics incorporates studies of the interconnected elements in a single system that produces dynamic space weather and that evolves in response to solar, planetary, and interstellar conditions.

All of NASA’s space missions (including the inhabited ISS) and much of our nation’s communications and navigation infrastructure (such as the critical Global Positioning System [GPS]) are operating in an environment driven by the highly variable output from the Sun. The Sun periodically sends out powerful coronal mass ejections and flares that accelerate charged particles to nearly the speed of light. These disturbances drive the aurora and powerful electric currents on Earth, inflate the Van Allen radiation belts, violently churn the ionosphere and uppermost layers of the atmosphere, and can disrupt our technologies in space or be harmful to astronauts. NASA’s heliophysics program provides the research and technological development necessary for the scientific understanding of how space weather affects human and robotic space exploration and the habitability of Earth and other worlds. The models and research tools NASA develops to interpret heliophysics data lead to substantial improvements in operational space weather monitoring.

Heliophysics uses our local space environment as a natural laboratory that can be directly probed with our satellites. Planets and solar systems are commonplace around other nearby stars and probably throughout the universe. The fundamental physical processes active in our near-space environment are also at work in these distant places humans cannot visit. Increasing understanding of our home in space therefore furthers humanity’s knowledge of some of the most basic working principles of the universe. As exploration extends further into space, and as society’s technological infrastructure is increasingly dependent on assets that are impacted by the space environment, a broader and fundamental understanding of these governing processes becomes ever more important and relevant.

The Agency’s heliophysics strategic objective is to understand the Sun and its interactions with the Earth and the solar system, including space weather.The heliophysics NRC decadal survey,Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society(NRC, 2013), articulated the scientific challenges for this field of study and recommended a slate of design reference missions to meet them, to culminate in the achievement of a predictive capability to aid human endeavors on Earth and in space. The Heliophysics Division addresses its Agency objectives and the NRC decadal survey recommendations in the context of our national space policy by working to answer these fundamental science questions:

  • What causes the Sun to vary?
  • How do the geospace, planetary space environments and the heliosphere respond?
  • What are the impacts on humanity?

To answer these questions, NASA’s Heliophysics Division is implementing a program to achieve three overarching science goals:

  • Solve the Fundamental Mysteries of Heliophysics(F), Explore the physical processes in the space environment from the Sun to the Earth and throughout the solar system
  • Understand the Nature of our Home in Space(H), Advance our understanding of the connections that link the Sun, the Earth, planetary space environments, and the outer reaches of our solar system
  • Build the Knowledge to Forecast Space Weather Throughout the Heliosphere (W), Develop the knowledge and capability to detect and predict extreme conditions in space to protect life and society and to safeguard human and robotic explorers beyond Earth

These will be accomplished by studying the Sun, the heliosphere, and planetary environments as elements of a single interconnected system, one that contains dynamic space weather and evolves in response to solar, planetary and interstellar conditions. Such an understanding represents not just a grand intellectual accomplishment for our times - it also provides knowledge and predictive capabilities essential to future utilization and exploration of space. Herein, we describe current plans for NASA's research programs in this area and the guiding principles we will follow in pursuit of the forthcoming exploration challenges.

Research Objectives         Specific Research Focus Areas
Solve the Fundamental Mysteries of Heliophysics, Explore the physical processes in the space environment from the Sun to the Earth and throughout the solar system
  • Understand magnetic reconnection
  • Understandtheplasmaprocessesthataccelerate andtransportparticles
  • Understandion-neutralinteractions
  • Understandthecreationandvariability of solar and stellar magnetic dynamos
  • Understand the role of turbulence and waves in the transport of mass, momentum, and energy

Understand the Nature of our Home in Space,
Advance our understanding of the connections that link the Sun, the Earth, planetary space environments, and the outer reaches of our solar system

  • Understand the origin and dynamic evolution of solar plasmas and magnetic fields throughout the heliosphere
  • Understand the role of the sun and its variability in driving change in the Earth's atmosphere, the space environment, and planetary objects
  • Understand the coupling of the Earth's magnetosphere-ionosphere-atmosphere system, and its response to external an
  • Understand the nature of the heliospheric boundary region, and the interactions between the solar wind and the local interstellar medium d internal forcing

Build the Knowledge to Forecast Space Weather
Throughout the Heliosphere
, Develop the knowledge and capability to detect and predict extreme conditions in space to protect life and society and to safeguard human and robotic explorers beyond Earth

  • Characterizethevariability,extremes,andboundary conditionsofthespaceenvironmentsthatwillbe encounteredbyhumanandroboticexplorers
  • Develop the capability to predict the origin, onset, and level of solar activity in order to identify potentially hazardous space weather events and all-clear intervals
  • Develop the capability to predict the propagation and evolution of solar disturbances to enable safe travel for human and robotic explorers
  • Understand, characterize, and model the space weather effects on and within terrestrial and planetary environments


Program Elements

This research program directly supports the generation of new knowledge, scientific and technological development and scientific progress in different ways. Theory and numerical simulations, data analysis techniques, data modeling and instrument development are fundamental areas of support. Laboratory work is needed to constrain and quantify basic physical processes, radiative transfer and magnetic reconnection as examples. Low cost access to space is needed to develop the next generation of space hardware. Keeping the program robust was a primary goal of the Decadal Survey report.

Supporting Research (H-SR)

This is the most open/least restrictive grant program. Investigations include theory, numerical simulations, modeling, analysis and interpretation of space data. Proposals are accepted across the sub-fields of Heliophysics as well as system-wide investigations. The H-SR component of the research program addresses the Realize portion of the DRIVE initiative.

Technology and Instrument Development for Science (H-TIDeS)

In response to the 2013 DS recommendations for implementing the Diversify portion of the DRIVE initiative, NASA HPD has combined several programs such as instrument and technology development, low-cost access to space (LCAS), the suborbital and sounding rocket programs into a consolidated Technology and Instrument Development for Science (H-TIDeS) program.  Proposals are accepted in three general areas (i) science and/or technology investigations that can be carried out with instruments flown on suborbital sounding rockets, stratospheric balloons, CubeSats, or other platforms; (ii) state-of-the-art instrument technology development (ITD) for instruments that may be proposed as candidate experiments for future space flight opportunities; (iii) laboratory research.

The LCAS program is critical for developing new instrumentation and for training the next generation of instrument scientists. Expansion of the program beyond balloons and sub-orbital rockets to include the ISS, commercial reusable suborbital rockets, and CubeSats offers expanded capabilities that are critical for some types of observations. Flexible flight choices also reduces the risk that issues in one area, say the procurement of rocket motors, will have a major impact on the whole LCAS program.

The suborbital programs provide important hands-on training for future engineers and scientists needed by NASA and the nation. The program involves numerous undergraduate and graduate students from diverse institutions. Graduate students can participate in the entire life cycle of a scientific space mission, from design and construction to flight and data analysis — something no other flight program can do. The addition of CubeSats to the suborbital program extends this training ground into satellite development and operation.

The Instrument and Technology Development (ITD) program allows for pre-flight instrument development and testing. The growing sophistication of new instrumentation creates a problem for some LCAS candidate programs. LCAS cannot easily support a long development program before flight. The ITD program allows laboratory versions of new instruments to be developed and tested reducing schedule and cost risk when the instruments are later proposed to LCAS.

The new Laboratory, Nuclear, Atomic, Plasma Physics (LNAPP) program explicitly supports fundamental physics experiments that are key to Heliophysics science. Proposals for laboratory studies of plasma physical processes and experiments that produce chemical, spectroscopic and nuclear measurements that Heliophysics measurements and models. The LNAPP program addresses the Integrate portion of the DRIVE initiative.

Guest Investigator (H-GI)

The H-GI program is intended to maximize the scientific output of currently operating Heliophysics missions through support of individual investigations that draw extensively upon the data sets from the missions of the HSO. The focus of the selected research continuously evolves to ensure that the most important questions identified for recently launched Heliophysics missions and for operating missions falling under the Senior Review are addressed. The GI component of the research program addresses the Realize portion of the DRIVE initiative.

Grand Challenges Research (H-GCR)

The new Heliophysics Grand Challenges Research (H-GCR) program currently includes one element: Theory, Modeling, and Simulations (TMS). Theoretical, modeling, and simulation investigations are solicited under other Heliophysics programs, but the TMS element is the only Heliophysics program that is dedicated solely to TMS efforts. It differs from the theoretical/modeling/simulation investigations solicited in other Heliophysics program elements in that it addresses only physical processes that have sufficient breadth and complexity to require the efforts of a critical mass of expertise.

In the future, new Heliospheric Science Centers will be developed. NASA and NSF together should work together to create HSCs to tackle the key science problems of solar and space physics that require multidisciplinary teams of theorists, observers, modelers, and computer scientists, with annual funding in the range of $1million to $3 million for each center for 6 years.

Living With a Star (H-LWS)

The grants side of the LWS program has a goal of developing the scientific understanding needed to effectively address those aspects of Heliophysics science that affect life and society. LWS Science solicits proposals for fundamental science that will lead to a physics-based understanding of the integral system linking the Sun to the Solar System, including the impact on the heliosphere, planetary magnetospheres, and ionospheres. The program’s objectives can be achieved by data analysis, theory, and modeling, and the development of tools and methods (e.g., software for data handling). To ensure this, the Heliophysics LWS Science program has three elements: Focus Science Teams which coordinate large-scale investigations that cross discipline and technique boundaries leading to an understanding of the system linking the Sun to the Solar System both directly and via the heliosphere, planetary magnetospheres, and ionospheres; Sun-Climate program whose goal is to deliver the understanding of how and to what degree variations in the solar radiative and particulate output contribute to changes in global and regional climate over a wide range of time scales; and the development of particular Tools and Methods that are needed to achieve the LWS.  The H-LWS program addresses the Integrate portion of the DRIVE initiative.

The Final Report of the LWS TR&T Science Definition Team (SDT) (December 2003), located on the LWS homepage at, identified

Targeted Research & Technology (TR&T) as a systematic, goal-oriented research program. Over the course of the past decade, with the maturation of research topics and the development of the Community Coordinated Modeling Center (CCMC; for tools, the former TR&T can be subsumed into “LWS Science.” The LWS Science program provides the theory, modeling, and data analysis necessary to enable an integrated system-wide picture of Heliophysics science with emphasis on societal relevance.

Significant progress toward quantitative understanding and predictive capability with respect to these problems will require large-scale, integrated modeling activities. Recognizing the need for activities that would be broader and more sustained than those that can be supported by a traditional NASA grants program, the Final Report of the LWS TR&T Science Definition Team recommended that “…large modeling activities that address coupling across traditional science domains in the Sun-Earth chain specifically be included as strategic capabilities.” The SDT also recommended the formation of a Steering Committee in order to update periodically the designated strategic capabilities for future solicitations. The most recent report of this Steering Committee is available on the LWS homepage at

Infrastructure and Data Environment Enhancements (H-IDEE)

Progress in space science is sparked by the synthesis of ground- and space-based observations and open data access. If our goal is to understand the Heliophysics System, having access to dipartite data sets is essential. H-IDEE investigations support ground-based observational facilities that openly provide observations in support of Heliophysics space missions, and extend data services necessary for the conduct of Heliophysics research. The IDEE component of the research program addresses the Realize portion of the DRIVE initiative.

Data Centers and Virtual Observatories

The pursuit of heliophysics research requires easy access to HSO data and tools from a distributed set of active archives, each of which has its own architecture and formats: together these data and tools form the core of the Heliophysics Data Environment (HPDE). The NASA Heliophysics Science Data Management Policy, composed with considerable community input, presents an integrated view of the HPDE. Among other things, the HP Data Policy provides a summary of the components of the HPDE, gives a timeline for the data lifecycle, and provides guidelines for documents such as Project Data Management Plans. This document is guiding the implementation of a distributed, integrated, flexible data environment to meet the current and future needs of Heliophysics research.

Two overarching principles also essential to achieving the goals of current Heliophysics programs are:

  • Embracing NASA's open data policy that high-quality, high-resolution data, as defined by the mission goals, will be made publicly available as soon as practical, and
  • Adhering to the goal of early and continuing independent scientific data usability, which requires uniform descriptions of data products, adequate documentation, sustainable and open data formats, easy electronic access, appropriate analysis tools, and care in data preservation.

Mission data management plans implement the policy. Assembling similar data products from simulations is a work in progress. The GSFC Community Coordinated Modeling Center provides access to modern space research models, support for implementing new models and provides data from models that have been run in the past. This is an excellent first step in making the essential multi-dimensional modeling tools accessible to the scientific An effort to provide the research community with simulation data that is used in publications.

The Heliophysics System Observatory (HSO) is a coordinated and complementary fleet of spacecraft operated as a single observatory. The HSO is a construct that utilizes the entire fleet of NASA solar, heliospheric, geo-space, and planetary spacecraft as a distributed observatory to discover the larger scale and/or coupled processes at work throughout the complex system that makes up our space environment. The combination of two or more missions gives capabilities beyond the sum of the individual missions. Ultimately, the combination of new heliophysics knowledge and a well-supported HSO can facilitate the path towards an operational capability to predict space weather. The HSO has 18 operating missions on 29 spacecraft: Voyager, Geotail, Wind, SOHO, ACE, Cluster, TIMED, RHESSI, TWINS, Hinode, STEREO, THEMIS/ARTEMIS, AIM, CINDI, IBEX, SDO, Van Allen Probes, and IRIS.

Heliophysics System Observatory (HSO)

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