JPSS Satellites Will Gather Climate Measurements After All

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WASHINGTON — Climate measurements stripped out of the budget for the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) program in 2014 will be gathered by JPSS satellites after all, according to the plan put together by NASA, the new bill-payer for climate research formerly funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

JPSS-1 is set to launch in 2017. It will carry five instruments, including two that will make the sort of climate measurements that Congress, at the White House’s request, gave NASA responsibility for as part of the $1.1 trillion Consolidated Appropriations Act for 2014 (H.R. 3547), signed in January to fund federal spending through September. NOAA operates U.S. civilian weather satellites, but pays NASA to oversee spacecraft design and development.

After JPSS-1, the climate measurements gathered by that satellite via its Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite and the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System become NASA’s financial responsibility. NASA plans to fulfill this responsibility by flying three instruments, including two notionally manifested for launch with JPSS-2 in 2021, and one that would be delivered to a commercial satellite company in 2019 to fly as a hosted payload in geostationary orbit.

The three instruments are the Radiation Budget Instrument, to be adapted from the design for the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System; the Limb Profiler, one of three instruments that make up the Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite; and the Total Solar Irradiance Sensor. The first two are bound for JPSS-2, the third for a commercial host, under NASA’s plan. NASA manages development of these three instruments under an Earth Science budget line called Radiation Ozone Atmospheric Measurements, or ROAM, for which the agency is seeking $240 million from Congress during the next five years. 

These instruments, or instruments like them, were originally part of the joint civil-military National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System that was canceled in 2010 and sparked the creation of the JPSS program. NOAA planned to launch the orphaned instruments in 2016 aboard a satellite called Polar Free Flyer, but that plan was effectively canceled by the 2014 spending bill that transferred responsibility for polar-orbiting climate measurements to NASA.

Before spending a cent on instrument development, however, NASA has to provide lawmakers with “a notional budget and schedule profile covering the budget runout period as well as a description of the effect this funding will have on the achievement of existing NASA priorities as recommended in the 2007 Earth Science decadal survey,” according to a report that accompanied the 2014 omnibus spending bill.

NASA spokesman Stephen Cole said April 25 that NASA delivered the report to Congress in early April but that there has been “no decision yet from the Hill.” 

NASA’s plan to slap a pair of climate instruments on JPSS-2, coupled with NOAA’s March 28 announcement that it will bulk-order copies of JPSS instruments for the third and fourth satellites in the constellation, means the instrument manifest for the JPSS constellation is beginning to gel.

JPSS-1 and JPSS-2 would be virtual copies of the Suomi NPP testbed that launched in October 2011 and was pressed into an operational role as the first satellite in the JPSS constellation. 

JPSS-3 and JPSS-4 would have similar instruments. NOAA’s March 28 procurement note shows the agency plans to equip each satellite, as expected, with an Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder from Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems; a Cross-Track Infrared Sounder from Exelis Geospatial Systems; a Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite instrument from Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems; and an Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite instrument from Ball Aerospace & Technologies.

NOAA will also order extra copies of the Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder and the Cross-Track Infrared Sounder. The extras keep NOAA’s bases covered if one of the JPSS satellites should fail sooner than expected, or if the agency decides to build the two-instrument, mini-polar-orbiter endorsed in 2013 by an independent review panel led by former Lockheed Martin executive A. Thomas Young.

The Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder and the Cross-Track Infrared Sounder feed the day-to-day weather forecasting models the White House and Congress aimed to protect when they relieved NOAA of financial responsibility for polar-orbiting climate measurements in the JPSS program. 

Asked via email whether the weather agency planned to save the two instruments for a smaller polar orbiter, Mary Kicza, outgoing NOAA assistant administrator for satellite and information services, said only that “our plan is to be prepared for the possibility.”

 

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