Report: Chinese Weather Sats Could Fill U.S. Gap

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If the United States cannot launch new polar-orbiting weather satellites in time to prevent a gap in coverage, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) should consider plugging data from Chinese satellites into U.S. weather forecasting models, according to a report prepared for, but not widely released by, the agency.

NOAA is racing to get the next-generation, civilian-operated U.S. polar orbiting weather satellite, the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS)-1, into orbit by late 2017 or early 2018. A testbed satellite with many of the same instruments, Suomi NPP, was launched in 2011. It is not certain that JPSS-1 will make it to orbit and begin observations before NPP — which was designed to last five years — fails.

Meanwhile, China’s Feng Yun-3C and -3D satellites are scheduled to launch in 2013 and 2014, according the JPSS Gap Mitigation Analysis of Alternatives report, which was prepared for NOAA in February by Riverside Technology of Fort Collins, Colo. NOAA did not release the report but provided SpaceNews with a copy Aug. 19 upon request.

The Chinese spacecraft will “provide nominally the same information and will reside in approximately the same orbit as will JPSS-1, and new satellites will be launched well before the projected gap in NOAA polar satellite coverage,” the report said.

Collaboration with the Chinese is “a silver bullet” for the potential gap the U.S. faces, the Riverside team said.

JPSS-1 is one of three satellites NOAA plans to launch under the approximately $11 billion JPSS program, which is aimed at preserving U.S. polar satellite coverage through 2028.