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The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Board on Physics and Astronomy
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences

A Survey of the Active Scientific Use of the Radio Spectrum


To support the presidential initiative for Spectrum Management for the 21st Century, a presentation of current and future needs of scientific users of the spectrum is in order.  In recent years, the explosion of new wireless technologies has significantly increased the demand for access to the radio spectrum. The increased demand has led to discussions in both government and industry about new ways of thinking about spectrum allocation and use.

Scientific users of the radio spectrum (such as radio astronomers and earth scientists using remotely sensed data) have an important stake in the policies which will result from this activity.  A survey of the scientific uses of the spectrum (up to 3 THz) by passive (receive-only) means was conducted by the NRC, resulting in the 2010 report, Spectrum Management for Science in the 21st Century.  Identifying the potentially dire interference situation posed to NASA’s in-orbit and planned passive remote sensing observatories and to NSF’s ground-based radio astronomy observatories, the report had a significant amount of impact in the Administration and Congress, and NASA has requested that the NRC embark on a similar study to explore the current and planned scientific use of the spectrum by active means and the current and potential vulnerabilities and problem areas. This new study will assist spectrum management decision makers in balancing the requirements of the scientific users of the spectrum with other interests. 

Project Information

Statement of Task

The committee will prepare a report exploring the scientific uses of the radio spectrum by radio frequency transmissions and the measurement thereof.  In carrying out the study, the committee will:

  1. Describe the science that is currently being conducted using the radio spectrum for transmission and measurement of these active signals and identify the spectrum requirements necessary to conduct this research;
  2. Identify the anticipated future spectrum requirements necessary to continue to conduct and expand this research for the next 10-20 years, taking into account trends in overall active use of the spectrum;
  3. Discuss the value to the nation of accommodating the active scientific use of the spectrum, recognizing the need to balance the needs of multiple communities;
  4. Assess the active science communities' current and anticipated future access to the spectrum required for research; and
  5. Recommend strategies to accommodate the continued active use of the spectrum for scientific purposes in order to maintain the needed science capabilities identified above.

The committee will comment on the spectrum use by the relevant scientific communities for applications such as active microwave remote sensing (i.e., airborne and space-based radars) of Earth to observe environmental phenomena, incoherent scatter radar studies of the Earth's ionosphere and radar astronomy of Solar System objects, but will not make recommendations on the allocation of specific frequencies.  The committee will not make recommendations on communications operations (i.e., transmission of data) that support the scientific uses of the spectrum described above.  The committee should consider proven and potential unilateral and cooperative mitigation techniques in its analysis of access to spectrum.

Committee Members and NRC Staff

Fawwaz Ulaby, University of Michigan

Susan Avery, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
Coleman Bazelon, The Brattle Group
William Bristow, U. Alaska-Fairbanks
Donald Campbell, Cornell University
Marie Colton, NOAA /GLERL
Sandra Cruz-Pol, U. Puerto Rico-Mayaguez
Lennard Fisk, U. Michigan
Albin Gasiewski, U. Colorado-Boulder
Jeffrey Herd, MIT Lincoln Lab
Linwood Jones, U. Central Florida
Paul Kolodzy, Kolodzy Consulting
David Long, BYU
Robert Palmer, U. Oklahoma
Dean Paschen, First RF Co.
Michael Spencer, JPL

NRC Staff
David B. Lang, Senior Program Officer, Study Director
James C. Lancaster, BPA Director
Linda Walker, Program Coordinator
Beth Dolan, Financial Associate



Meeting 3
February 10-11, 2014
Keck Center of The National Academies
Washington, DC

Meeting 4
June 11-12, 2014
Jonsson Center
Woods Hole, MA
Agenda TBD

Meeting 1
August 15-16, 2013
Keck Center of The National Academies
Washington, DC

Radio-frequency Interference Workshop (data-gathering activity)
November 8, 2013
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA

Meeting 2
November 14-15, 2013
Beckman Center of the National Academies (Day 1) and Hyatt Regency Irvine (Day 2)



Community Input

Please send comments or suggestions to the committee via e-mail at Community input will be posted on this Web site as it is received.


The project is pleased to acknowledge support from NASA.

The National Academies' Current Projects System

The National Academies' Current Projects System maintains the public record of a committees' activities compliant to Section 15 of the Federal Adivisory Committee Act.  A link to the the project page will be made available here after the membership is confirmed.