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Enterprise Architecture for NASA's Earth-Sun Science Activities

Leonard Brownlow and James Martin

As the number of science systems under development and of users of research data increases, it has become increasingly difficult to manage and track the fruits of NASA's investments. Many large corporations have developed enterprise architectures of their businesses to help manage their assets and map their initiatives to strategic goals and objectives providing clarity to their senior management. Such architectures can provide a high level visibility into an enterprise and help identify and track stakeholders, users, systems, and products. NASA's Earth-Sun science program is no different; NASA has goals, initiatives, and users. For the Science Mission Directorate alone, these initiatives total about $6 billion a year — which means that there is quite a bit to track.

To assess the capacity of scientific missions to meet the needs of society, and help justify investments, a team comprised of The Aerospace Corporation, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Stennis Space Center, and the University of Missouri, under funding by NASA Headquarters, developed an enterprise architecture for NASA's Earth-Sun Science activities. It will help NASA develop investment strategies and assist scientists and engineers with their planning for system development and transition from Research to Operations (R2O) at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The architecture contains about 3,000 elements that are involved in Earth science research: observation sources, sensors, instruments, environmental parameters, data products, mission products, observations, science models, predictions, and decision-support tools. These products are mapped into 12 Applications of National Priority to show relevance to the public, and also mapped to the measurement requirements of other agencies such as NOAA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Defense (DOD). The architecture was developed using both traditional and non-traditional systems engineering tools and techniques. This article will describe the architecture's capabilities and intended use within the Earth observing community and, more importantly, its application within NASA, R2O, and the Interagency Working Group on Earth Observations (IWGEO).


NASA's Earth-Sun Science Applications Program seeks to enhance the decision-support capabilities of the agency's partners by enabling expanded use of Earth science results, information, and technology. For example, the National Weather Service provides up-to-date, accurate weather forecasts throughout the United States. NASA performs much of the basic research that allows the National Weather Service to achieve its mission.

From NASA's Earth-observing satellites, we can view Earth as a whole system, observe the results of complex interactions, and begin to understand how the planet is changing. We use NASA's unique capabilities to understand and protect our home planet by using this view from space to study Earth as an integrated system. The Earth Science Enterprise, working with its domestic and international partners, provides accurate, objective scientific data and analysis to advance our understanding of Earth system processes.

In an increasingly interconnected world, human activities cause global changes that affect us all. From its beginnings as a federal agency, NASA has worked as chartered in the Space Act of 1958 to use its view from space to understand Earth as a planet. NASA's Earth Science Enterprise conducts research and technology development to answer the question "How is the Earth system changing, and what are the consequences for life on Earth?"

Earth system science has six main areas of focus:

  • climate variability and change
  • the carbon cycle and the ecosystem
  • Earth surface and interior
  • atmospheric composition
  • weather, and
  • the water and energy cycle.

Figure 1: The 12 Applications of national Priority, Courtesy of NASA Click on image to see enlarged.

Each focus area competes for a limited amount of funding, and it is not easy to determine the best investment strategy to guide research activities that will generate the maximum benefit to society. The enterprise architecture under development will assist prudent investment strategies and help scientists and engineers in their system development efforts, especially for complex space-based environmental sensors.

To assist in this analysis, NASA has identified twelve application areas of "national priority" (see Figure 1). For each of these application areas, the architecture gives decision-makers a suite of decision-support tools with environmental predictions from models of the land, ocean, ice, and atmosphere. The Earth science models receive raw and processed data from many sensors around the world — satellite, airborne, and in situ.

Societal Benefits

The Interagency Working Group on Earth Observations has also identified nine major areas of societal benefit for its activities:

  1. improve weather forecasting
  2. reduce loss of life and property from disasters
  3. protect and monitor our ocean resources
  4. understand, assess, predict, mitigate, and adapt to climate variability and change
  5. support sustainable agriculture and combat land degradation
  6. understand the effect of environmental factors on human health and well-being
  7. develop the capacity to make ecological forecasts
  8. protect and monitor water resources and
  9. monitor and manage energy resources.

Figure 2: Mapping of Benefit areas to Earth Observations courtesy of NASA Click on image to see enlarged.

Mapping of Earth Observations to Benefits

The mapping between societal benefit areas and types of Earth observations is complex (see Figure 2) and the enterprise architecture developed captures the details of these relationships to facilitate analysis and assessment.

Integrated System Solutions Architecture

The basic elements of the Earth Science Enterprise are connected in an Integrated System Solutions Architecture (see Figure 3). NASA's partners make policy and management decisions based on outputs of their decision support tools. For example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) must decide how to prepare for and mitigate the impacts of such natural disasters as hurricanes, the National Weather Service must decide when to issue a hurricane warning, and local governments must decide when to issue evacuation orders. All of these decisions can have societal benefits in terms of millions of dollars of property loss averted and thousands of human lives saved.

Figure 3: ISS Architecture courtesy of NASA Click on image to see enlarged.

Clearly, decision-support tools depend on having timely access to the right data about the environment. An enterprise model such as this can help identify sources of such data, as well as capability gaps and shortfalls.

Earth Science Problem Definition

Some of the relevant business questions developed in the Earth-Sun System Architecture Tool are these:

  1. How does NASA Earth-Sun Science Research contribute to meeting the operational needs of NASA's partner agencies?
  2. What is the priority ordering for replacing aging systems and retaining current, or establishing new, services?
  3. How does each Integrated System Solution contribute value to society? What are the potential outcomes?
  4. How can NASA's research assets contribute to meeting the needs of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS)?

Figure 4: Metamodel Architecture Click on image to see enlarged.

The business questions identified by Ron Birk, Program Director of the Earth-Sun System Division at NASA HQ, lead to a conceptual schema. The results of the conceptual analysis described above were converted into a formal metamodel in the Metis architecture modeling tool. (See Figure 4, where the blocks represent entities inside the model while the lines represent relationships between the entities.)

Figure 5: Architectural Elements Click on image to see enlarged.

Enterprise Architecture Model

About 3,000 architectural elements populate the Metis tool. The model includes 60 current and future spacecraft and 35 other airborne and ground-based observatories. These observatories contain 438 instruments that produce 471 data products that, in turn, feed into 241 Earth science models. The model outputs provide data for 28 decision-support tools. The data included in the model is sourced from the Mission to Model (M2M) database maintained at Stennis Space Center. (See Figure 5, which shows the architectural elements.)

Figure 6: Query GUI Click on image to see enlarged.

The business case queries are accessed through a graphical user interface (GUI) (see Figure 6). The results of an Integrated Systems Solution (ISS) query can be reported into PowerPoint charts, or shown in a model view. (See Figure 7, which shows the GUI for business question 1.

The validity of these reports relies on the accuracy of the data in the M2M database. Therefore scientists are strongly encouraged to participate in the M2M survey. As the tool evolves, it is envisioned that it will support funding exercises. Therefore, it behooves principal investigators to ensure that data within the M2M is current and accurately reflects their contributions.


Figure 7: ISS Tool Worksheet Click on image to see enlarged.

Enterprise architecture tools and techniques are very useful for helping high level managers understand the elements of the enterprise they manage. The Metis tool is very suitable for this type of modeling and can be easily customized for each particular situation. It has very good analytical capabilities and allows for quick visualization of the results.

It is expected that the model will expand over time to provide NASA, R2O, and the IWGEO the capability to strategically plan their future investments in sensors and missions. NASA and its partners will be able to directly trace the global benefits to society of their programs, and, using the FEA (Federal Enterprise Architecture), demonstrate the far-reaching implications of their research and operational systems to all applicable government activities.


The authors wish to acknowledge the efforts of the entire development team at The Aerospace Corporation, JPL, NASA HQ, SSC, and University of Missouri.

About the Authors

Leonard Brownlow and James Martin are systems engineers at The Aerospace Corporation. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected]

NASA Article Series

The following articles were originally published in Earth Observation Magazine in the issues indicated below. The first article, "NASA Space Systems Enable Science for Society," introduces the series.

    Originally published in the May 2005 issue of Earth Observation Magazine

  1. NASA Space Systems Enable Science for Society
    Ronald J. Birk, Richard L. Miller, Carlos E. Del Castillo, Timothy L. Miller, James F. Spann
  2. Enterprise Architecture for NASA's Earth-Sun Science Activities
    Leonard Brownlow, James Martin
  3. Originally published in the June 2005 issue of Earth Observation Magazine

  4. NASA's Contributions to Carbon Management: Using Carbon Cycle Science to Inform Decisions
    Edwin Sheffner
  5. Extending The Results Of NASA Research For Homeland Security
    Stephen Ambrose, Dr. Bruce Davis
  6. Originally published in the July 2005 issue of Earth Observation Magazine

  7. Air Quality Management Through Earth Observations & Models
    Lawrence Friedl, Doreen Neil, R. Bradley Pierce & the NASA Air Quality Program Team
  8. Extending the Use of NASA Research Results for Coastal Management Decision Support
    Lawrence A. Friedl, Callie M. Hall
  9. Originally published in the August 2005 issue of Earth Observation Magazine

  10. Extending NASA Research Capabilities For Disaster Management
    Stephen Ambrose, Shahid Habib, Rodney McKellip
  11. NASA Space Systems Enhance Public Health Science for Society
    John A. Haynes, Robert Venezia

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