Recognizing that science and exploration go hand in hand, NASA created the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) to address basic and applied scientific questions fundamental to understanding the Moon, Near Earth Asteroids, the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos, and the near space environments of these target bodies.
- Advance basic and applied research fundamental to lunar and planetary science, and advance human exploration of the solar system through scientific discovery;
- Conduct and catalyze collaborative research in lunar and planetary science, enabling cross-disciplinary partnerships throughout the science and exploration communities;
- Provide scientific, technical, and mission-defining analyses for relevant NASA programs, planning, and space missions as requested by NASA;
- Explore innovative ways of using information technology for scientific collaboration and information dissemination across geographic boundaries;
- Train the next generation of scientific explorers through research opportunities, and encourage global public engagement through informal programs, and participatory public events.
SSERVI Science and Exploration Research
SSERVI provides scientific, technical and mission-defining analyses for relevant NASA programs, planning and space missions, including:
- The role of the Moon, Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs), Phobos & Deimos in revealing the origin and evolution of the inner Solar System
- Moon, NEA, and Martian moon investigations as windows into planetary differentiation processes
- Near-Earth asteroid characterization (including NEAs that are potential human destinations)
- Lunar structure and composition
- Regolith of Target Body(s)
- Dust and plasma interactions on Target Body(s)
- Volatiles (in its broad sense) and other potential resources on Target Body(s)
- Innovative observations that will advance our understanding of the fundamental physical laws, composition, and origins of the Universe
Organization of SSERVI
SSERVI, supported by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate, is composed of an administrative office that oversees the operation of several research teams distributed across the United States and a growing number of international partners.
The SSERVI central office is located at NASA Ames Research Center, in the heart of Silicon valley. The administrative staff at the SSERVI central office forms the organizational and collaborative hub for the domestic and international teams. The SSERVI teams are supported through multiple year cooperative agreements with NASA. Interactions with our geographically dispersed teams across the U.S., and our global partners, occur easily and frequently in this environment.
Ames is known for its innovative and cost-savings approaches to space exploration, and rapid advances in technology development happen everyday in this valley. Ames Research Center is home to each of the NASA virtual institute central offices (the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI; 1998-present), the NASA Lunar Science Institute (2008-13), the NASA Aeronautics Research Institute (NARI; 2010-present) and now SSERVI. The National Research Council has strongly endorsed the virtual institute model as an effective and unique business model for forging strong scientific collaborations.
Virtual Institutes address complex, multi-faceted questions, using a Cooperative Agreement Notice (CAN) as the mechanism through which teams are funded. A CAN leverages NASA’s investment because it is a contractual obligation that requires in-kind contributions from the Principal Investigator’s institution (facilities, faculty hires, non-NASA funded labor, etc. Teams are funded for five years, providing stability for students (our future workforce), with CANs issued every 2-3 years to allow overlap between generations of institute teams. This timescale also allows quick response to any change in NASA direction. Each SSERVI CAN is developed with NASA Headquarters by the SSERVI Central Office.
The SSERVI central office is responsible for stimulating science throughout the entire community, and leveraging additional research by connecting others to the Institutes’ currently funded teams. Most notably, the central office organizes and sponsors the annual Exploration Science Forum, held at Moffett Field, California, which brings together several hundred researchers to discuss topics ranging from modeling to mission science.
SSERVI has developed a wide, diverse program for professional development that includes supporting the Next Gen Lunar Scientists and Engineers; founding LunGradCon, a dedicated science conference for graduate students; support for multiple NASA Postdoctoral Fellowships; coordinating a student exchange and training program; and holding student award competitions at the Exploration Science Forum.
The Director’s Seminar Series brings the community together via videoconferences that are archived for future reference. The Focus Groups mobilize expertise across the community on relevant topics developed at a grass roots level. The Institute’s Workshops Without Walls, held in virtual space, provides travel-free conferences with recognized leaders on topics of current interest.
SSERVI-funded publications can be found in the library or through individual team websites. Many papers are co-authored across teams, which is indicative of the effectiveness of a virtual institute in bringing together well-formed teams that find important overlaps at the intersections of their research interests. Interdisciplinary and inter-team research often results in unexpected discoveries. A special focus on the importance of public engagement can be found in the well-developed activities of each team, including several over-arching programs led by the central office.