ESDS Program

Standards Process


The goal of NASA's Earth Science Data and Information Systems (ESDIS) Project standards process is to facilitate interoperability among components of the NASA Earth Science network of data systems. Establishment of appropriate standards and practices enables flexibility as future data and service providers will have well-defined access points to join NASA's Earth Science network of data systems. This flexibility is central to supporting the evolving strategies of NASA's Earth Science activities. In order to accomplish these goals, the standards process needs to focus on recommending standards and practices that are relevant to NASA's Earth Science network of data systems and that have mature implementations and demonstrable operational readiness. The standards process is also designed to encourage community participation in order to leverage community expertise, ideas, and capabilities. NASA's ESDIS Standards Coordination Office (ESCO) manages the process.

Standards Criteria

A primary concern is to foster a recommended set of "working edge" standards. That is, in order to recommend a proposal as a NASA Earth Science Data Systems (ESDS) standard, there must be evidence both of successful domain implementation and demonstrable operational readiness. Community input is sought to ensure broad review and garner broad support.Before it can be approved, a proposed standard must meet the following criteria:

  • The format specification must be sufficiently well-documented to be technically implementable
  • There must be at least two representative implementations
  • There must be evidence of significant operational experience

Proposed standards of commercial origin must meet these additional criteria:

  • The format specifications should be published in open literature and freely available
  • There should be no patent, copyright, or other intellectual property encumbrances on the format or its specification
  • Besides the commercial entity that developed and/or maintains the format, there should be:
    • at least two (2) independent implementations that read the format
    • at least one (1) independent implementation that writes the format

Additionally, the ESDIS Project supports developing and emerging standards that can fulfill current and future needs of NASA Earth science data systems.

Individuals and organizations are encouraged to contact ESCO with suggestions for existing or developing standards and practices that are not already on the
list of current standards and practices. ESCO provides support to submitters in creating or validating submissions to the standards process.

Information about how to create and submit a new standard or practices document are on the Instructions to RFC Authors page.

Interested parties may contact ESCO via email at:

ESCO support can include assistance in creating the required documentation and in obtaining early focused, expert reviews.

Upon favorably completing the review process, the documented standard or practice is recommended for use within NASA Earth science data systems.

Standards Process Phases

The ESDIS standards process can be separated into three major phases: document submission, initial screening, and community review. Each phase is meant to be carried out as a partnership between the document submitters and ESCO. There are no specific time limits for each phase. However, with a willing, eager team of authors and a motivated set of community reviewers, the entire process could take as little as 2-3 months.

Document Submission

The first step is to identify a currently used standard, convention, or common practice that could be of benefit to NASA's ESDS. An ESDS standard must be supported by at least two representative implementations and there must be evidence of significant operational experience before it can be approved.

Then contact ESCO at and explain the potential submission. ESCO can provide guidance on how relevant the proposed standard may be to ESDS and on the type and amount of information needed to document it in a submission to the standards process.

Documents submitted for consideration under the Standards Process are called Request for Comment (RFC) documents.

Initial Screening

The completed draft RFC is reviewed by ESCO staff to ensure that it conforms to the needs of ESDIS and the requirements set forth in the Instructions to Authors. ESCO staff will help the authors with necessary revisions.

ESCO then recruits a 3-4 member Technical Working Group (TWG), including an ESCO staff person that will identify a pool of potential reviewers and carry out the rest of the process. Members of the TWG should be knowledgeable in the technology area covered by the RFC. Members are recruited from the Earth science data systems community at large. The leader of the TWG is usually assigned the role of RFC Editor and acts as the liaison between the TWG and the authors.

The TWG reviews the RFC for completeness and to ensure the RFC is ready to be reviewed more broadly. This review could lead to more revisions. If Evidence of Use is required, it must be submitted before the process continues.

Once the RFC is considered ready and there is sufficient Evidence of Use the process moves to the next phase.

Community Review

Community reviews can cover one or both of the following areas: technical content and operational readiness. Technical content reviews are required only for specifications that were developed outside of a standards organization. These reviews are meant to address whether the specification is well-documented and is technically implementable. Operational readiness reviews address whether the standard or convention is suitable for operational use and how organizations that have already implemented it have benefited from it.

Based on the review strategy the TWG develops a set of questions meant to discover the strengths, weaknesses, applicability and limitations of the contents of the RFC for each of the areas as needed.

The review questions are sent to the potential reviewers, who are asked to provide timely answers. During this phase, comments received are shared with the RFC authors who are then given the opportunity make clarifications and correct any errors found. The TWG analyzes the responses and makes a recommendation to ESDIS whether to approve the RFC.

If the recommendation of the TWG to ESDIS is positive, and if ESDIS concurs, then the RFC is approved and is posted in the list of Standards and Practices in the ESCO section of the Earthdata website.

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