The space environment surrounding the Earth and Sun is unforgivingly harsh on spacecraft. Rather than being an empty vacuum, it is filled with a rain of high energy particles and ionizing radiation from the Sun. This hot plasma (or solar wind) is trapped and concentrated into regions by the Earth's magnetic field. Thermal waves and gradients exist in the upper atmosphere, and small meteoroids occur naturally in the vicinity of the Earth, along with an ongoing accumulation of man-made debris from past and present spacecraft. This environment can damage a spacecraft in a variety of ways, from the direct impact of a meteoroid to the flipping of a single bit of digital memory in a computer chip.
In addition to effects caused by the natural space environment, spacecraft can be affected by various forms of molecular or particulate contamination, they can suffer from electromagnetic interference effects between on-board electronic components as well as from solar radiation, or they can suffer power surges and shorts caused by the build-up and release of static electric charges. The loss of spacecraft costs the research and communications industries hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
The goal of the SEE Program was to collect, develop and disseminate the space environment technologies that are required to design, manufacture and operate reliable, cost-effective spacecraft for the government and commercial sectors that accommodate or mitigate these effects of the space environment. Design guidelines that stem from a thorough understanding of these effects will reduce the need for costly retrofits and redesign work when implemented early in the development process of a spacecraft. This program will help the U.S. to maintain preeminence in space and promote continued economic competitiveness in the global marketplace.
The SEE Program was formally started in FY 1995 for Technology Development Activities. Initial research proposals in the areas of engineering environmental definitions, environments and effects design guidelines, assessment models and databases, and flight/ground simulation/technology assessment data were solicited through a NASA Research Announcement (NRA) in May of 1994. The response to this announcement resulted in the submittal of 176 proposals for evaluation. The NRA Selection Committee, utilizing a peer-review process including non-governmental reviewers, recommended funding 18 of the proposals. Winning proposals were assigned to various NASA centers based on the recommendation of 7 Technical Working Groups. Each working group consisted of a chairperson who recommended a NASA center based on the expertise in that discipline. Also, each center was responsible for the negotiation, awarding, and monitoring of the resulting NASA contracts.
A NRA was released in July 1997. The response to this announcement resulted in the submittal of 67 proposals for evaluation. Utilizing the same peer review process, the NRA Selection Committee recommended funding 12 of the proposals.
In July, 2001, the SEE Program released a NRA that consisted of two solicitations: SEE Program and Living With a Star (LWS): Space Environment TestBeds (SET). The combined NRA and close working relationship of the two programs ensured synergy and no duplication. The response to this NRA resulted in the SEE Program receiving 37 proposals and SET 15 proposals for evaluation utilizing a similar peer review process as past solicitations, the NRA selection committee recommended funding 9 SEE Program proposals and 8 SET Program proposals.
Current tools for implementing design provisions and operational procedures for space environment effects include: engineering environment definitions, design guidelines, assessment models and databases, and flight/ground simulation/technology assessment data.
To achieve its goal, the SEE program strived to:
1. Maintain up-to-date engineering environment definitions for spacecraft design
2. Have the engineering models, databases, design guidelines, processes, and procedures (i.e., tools) in place for use in initial spacecraft design.
3. Implement the processes and plans to routinely update these tools with research results as soon as the results are available, thus permitting more efficient and accurate spacecraft design and operation.
4. Simplify the access to and use of the tools.
This result in spacecraft that are designed faster, less costly, and operate better than spacecraft designed without these provisions. The products from the SEE program supported Earth observations, space science/astrophysics, Space Station, DoD and commercial missions.
There is an interrelationship between the program, its customers, and the products. The philosophy of the program was customer-driven and product-oriented. The program was composed of government, industry and academic representatives and participants and the customers were government and commercial space missions. General types of program products included:
Environmental Definition Models
Life Certification Methodology
National Test Facilities
Advocacy for national test facilities and flight opportunities were also products of the program as opposed to the facilities and flights themselves.