Budget Holdup Will Delay NOAA Weather Satellites

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WASHINGTON — Congress’s inability to pass any full-year spending bills for 2011 will likely delay the launch of two civilian weather satellites by more than a year, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) spokesman said Jan. 7.

With so much budget uncertainty, development of NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) has proceeded over the last three months at a much slower pace than planned, agency spokesman John Leslie said in an e-mailed response to questions.

The JPSS program was established after the White House dismantled the joint civil-military National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) in February. NASA was directed to build JPSS on behalf of NOAA, while the U.S. Air Force is pursuing a military system separately.

The U.S. government has been operating since the new fiscal year began Oct. 1 under a series of short-term funding measures passed by Congress known as continuing resolutions.

The most recent continuing resolution, which expires March 4, funds most U.S. government agencies at their 2010 spending levels.

For NOAA, that has meant holding annual spending on the JPSS program to $382 million instead of the $1.06 billion it had sought for the program for 2011.

NOAA planned to launch the first two JPSS satellites in 2014 and 2018, but the budget situation will likely delay both satellites by more than a year, Leslie said.

“Funding limitations as a result of the current continuing resolution will delay launch of JPSS-1 and JPSS-2 from what was originally presented in the [2011 budget request],” he said.

“Without knowing what the final budget for JPSS will be in 2011, it is not practical to speculate what exact launch dates will be.”

With whatever money is provided for JPSS this year, the agency’s highest priorities will be to complete the ground system and operational support necessary to launch a JPSS precursor satellite, known at the NPOESS Preparatory Project, in October, Leslie said. He could not say what JPSS work would have to be deferred in light of the program’s budget situation.

The White House asked Congress in December to add money for JPSS in the continuing resolution lawmakers were drafting at the time. While the House of Representatives included $910 million for JPSS in a full-year continuing resolution it approved Dec. 8, Congress ultimately opted for a shorter-term bill with no new money for the program.

“[T]he administration is very supportive of the JPSS program and it is hoped that increased funding for the JPSS program will occur in the final appropriations for 2011 expected to be passed by Congress in early March,” Leslie said.