Budget Deal Compromises Critical Weather Satellite

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The head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) warned lawmakers April 13 that the budget compromise they were poised to pass would delay launch of the first satellite in the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) from 2014 to 2016, making it all but certain the United States will experience at least an 18-month gap in the collection of certain weather and storm-tracking data.

The spending bill the House and Senate approved April 14 to fund the federal government for the final five months of the 2011 budget year holds spending on the new civil polar-orbiting weather satellite system to its 2010 level of $382 million, or nearly $700 million short of what the White House and NOAA had originally sought, according to industry sources.

NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco told the Senate Commerce oceans, atmosphere and fisheries subcommittee on the eve of the bill’s passage that denying the additional JPSS funding would prevent the first satellite from launching in 2014 as planned. Lubchenco said the earliest the satellite known as JPSS-1 could launch is September 2016, a date that assumes Congress approves the $1.07 billion NOAA requested for the program for 2012.

“There is great uncertainty now with respect to what the fiscal future of this program is, so we’re still in the process of doing planning to try to figure out how we can minimize the damage,” Lubchenco said. “But I think it’s safe to say that there will almost certainly be a gap in coverage that at this point looks like it may be at least 18 months based on the fact that the launch date will now slip at least 18 months.”

The limited amount of funding provided this year for JPSS will result in certain contracts being canceled and highly skilled workers being laid off, she said. The total program cost will also rise, she said.

“I can tell you now that for every dollar that we didn’t spend this year on JPSS we will need to spend $3 to $5 down the road,” Lubchenco said.

 

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