WASHINGTON — U.S. and European officials have begun discussions on future joint weather satellite work that could lead to better measurements and more timely delivery of data from European spacecraft.

The discussions started during a visit to Europe in July by Greg Withee, assistant administrator for satellites and information services at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Withee spoke to Eumetsat officials during the celebration they held to commemorate Eumetsat’s 20th anniversary.

Withee said in an Aug. 4 interview that he has been pleased by the current level of cooperation between Eumetsat and NOAA, which includes U.S. instruments aboard the Metop weather satellites. Withee said he used his time in Europe to suggest several areas for further collaboration.

With those discussions just beginning, issues such as how to pay for the joint work have yet to be decided, Withee said.

One of the areas is an advanced imager for the Metop satellites beginning around 2020, Withee said.

The Metop satellites are currently designed to use an Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) built by ITT’s Space Systems Division of Rochester, N.Y. An AVHRR instrument also flies on the current generation of NOAA’s polar-orbiting satellites.

The AVHRR is scheduled to be replaced by the Visible Infrared Imager/Radiometer Suite, which is being built by Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems of El Segundo, Calif., for the next generation of U.S. government polar-orbiting weather satellites known as the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). That program, which is jointly funded by NOAA and the U.S. Air Force, and is expected to replace separate constellations of weather satellites operated today by the two agencies, has run into significant technical difficulty.

Adding a new imager to the satellites scheduled to be launched starting around 2020 would require setting a firm plan by 2010 or 2011, Withee said. Between now and 2010, he said, NOAA and Eumetsat will likely spend a significant amount of time discussing the issue and awarding study contracts for companies to begin coming up with designs.

Another possible area for collaboration is placing a space weather sensor currently hosted on NOAA’s polar fleet and planned for the first two Metop satellites, on the Metop satellites that follow as well, Withee said.

NOAA had planned to use a Space Environment Sensor Suite on NPOESS, but the Pentagon scrapped plans for that sensor as well as a variety of others as it restructured the program to contain cost growth.

In its place, NPOESS will feature the same Space Environment Monitor, built by Assurance Technology Corp., used on the current NOAA polar satellites and the first two Metop spacecraft. While the heritage sensor is less capable than the Space Environment Sensor Suite, it remains valuable, Withee said.

NOAA plans to cover the cost of the Space Environment Monitor, and will discuss with Eumetsat who covers the expense of integrating the instruments onto the Metop satellites, Withee said.

Also on the table for future collaboration is the possibility of an additional ground station to receive data from the Metop satellites, Withee said.

Users have access to Metop data roughly every 100 minutes, and adding a ground station in a region like the Antarctic could help them cut that time by half or more, Withee said.

More frequent updates of weather data can help users react more quickly to emerging storms, Withee said. With military users, timeliness can be especially critical as commanders seek to avoid sandstorms that could make a mission more difficult, or ocean conditions that could harm a ship, he said.

Eumetsat spokeswoman LiviaBriese said the 20-nation organization favorably reacted to Withee’s proposals and will also study the possible additions of a more-advanced imager for Metop and a space environment sensor.

Briese said Darmstadt, Germany-based Eumetsat is likely to decide in 2007 whether to add, at NOAA’s request, a Metop ground station in Antarctica or some other region to permit Metop data to be delivered more rapidly.

Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.