Costs on NASA’s Glory climate-monitoring satellite have climbed
so high over budget that the U.S. space agency has been forced to ask Congress for explicit authorization to continue with the project.
Congress has 18 months to weigh in on Glory’s future before a law passed in 2005 would force NASA to stop work on the satellite.
Glory will be in orbit by then if its current schedule holds
But that is a big if, NASA officials said.
Glory’s designers are having problems with its main instrument, a state-of-the-art aerosol polarimetery sensor designed to measure the different types of tiny particles in the atmosphere – such as smoke, dust, sand, smog, volcanic ash
and sea spray –
to help scientists determine their effect on climate. A second instrument on the spacecraft, a solar-irradiance monitor identical to one launched in 2003, should help scientists better understand how the interplay between aerosols and the sun’s natural variations affect
NASA Administrator Mike Griffin told the House Science and Technology Committee
that Glory had overrun its budget by more than 30 percent, triggering
congressional notifications required by
the NASA Authorization Act of 2005.
Griffin was only delivering in person news already reported in the detailed NASA budget request sent to
Capitol Hill two weeks earlier. That document shows that Glory’s development cost has risen to $221 million, an increase of $52 million in the past year alone. Glory’s launch readiness date has slipped from December to March 2009. A detailed review coming up in the weeks ahead will determine whether Glory remains on track for that revised launch date.
The NASA budget document said
the cause of Glory’s budget woes is
“poor performance” by the primary instrument contractor, Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems of El Segundo, Calif.
“The contactor on the polarimeter did not perform, or I should say, performed at a very low efficiency,” Alan Stern, NASA associate administrator for science, said
in a Feb. 21 interview. “They spent the money but did not produce the end result by the time we got to the end of the money. So we had to spend more money.”
Stern, a planetary scientist who took the helm of NASA’s
$5 billion science division last year, said Glory’s problems are not new. “I stepped into this mess in April and it is a mess.”
Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems officials declined to be interviewed for this story. In a statement,
Raytheon spokesman John Barksdale said:
“We recognize the importance
of the Glory mission to the scientific community and to the nation as a whole. Raytheon is committed to working with NASA to ensure that the Glory [advanced polarimetery] sensor meets the requirements for this critical climate mission.”
NASA announced in 2003 that it was undertaking the Glory mission
launch the nation’s first aerosol polarimeter in 2007 – several years before the sensor was slated to fly aboard
the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). To keep Glory’s cost to a minimum, NASA chose a satellite platform that
originally was ordered for the agency’s Vegetation Canopy Lidar mission, which was canceled in 2001 amid instrument development problems.
Within two years of announcing Glory as proof of the U.S.
commitment to studying climate change, NASA dropped the mission
budget plan. That
did not sit well with some U.S. lawmakers, including then-House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) and several from Virginia, home to Orbital Sciences Corp., the
contractor chosen to build Glory and launch it on one of its Taurus rockets.
Under pressure from Congress, NASA reinstated the mission
in mid-2005 and contracted with Raytheon the following December to build
the aerosol polarimeter. The original budget for the instrument was $46 million.
an atmospheric scientist working for Boehlert in 2005, recalled that Glory’s performance reviews “were actually pretty good” at the time.
“The decision to push for Glory was because all of NASA Earth S
cience was getting cut pretty bad … and things were starting to fall off,” Loschnigg wrote in an e-mail. “It appeared to any reasonable person that the Glory cancellation was just to save money – to make the Earth S
cience budget fit in a smaller box. Glory was the first outright cancellation, so that was kind of the ‘line in the sand,’ where Boehlert said that ‘you’re not going to cancel it’, and pressured NASA to reinstate it.”
Stern was not working for NASA in 2005, so he could not cite all the agency’s reasons for
dropping Glory from its budget only to reinstate it several months later. He also claimed no
first-hand insight into how Glory managed to get so far over budget.
“I can’t tell you what was going on years ago and why this problem wasn’t addressed earlier,” he said. “I can tell you the people who are there now understand the problem and are making much better progress. That doesn’t exonerate what happened before. I’m just telling you I think we are on a much better track and they are trying very hard and making progress. Now, you should take that with a grain of salt. I do. Until they deliver the instrument we are going to be watching very closely.”
Stern said he sends his senior managers to El Segundo twice a month to check on Raytheon’s progress.
“We have reviews. We’ve called the [chief executive]
into Griffin’s office a couple times. This is a pretty intensive we’re-all-over-it thing,” Stern said.
Raytheon’s difficulties with another climate sensor – the Visible/Infrared Imager/Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) – have been blamed for delaying NPOESS and its NASA-led predecessor, the NPOESS Preparatory Project.
Stern said “there very likely is” a
common thread between
Raytheon’s problems with VIIRS and its
with the aerosol polarimeter.
In written responses to questions
, Michael Freilich,
director of NASA’s Earth Science Division,
approved life cycle cost for Glory, which includes launch and at least three years of operations, is $313 million.
“However, NASA will not be able to complete the mission within that cost, due almost entirely to the extensive [aerosol polarimetry] instrument development problems and delays,” Freilich wrote, adding that a new mission plan and revised
price tag are being prepared
for a late March review.
said the Raytheon instrument is the lone trouble spot for the program. Orbital Sciences, he said, has completed Glory’s
spacecraft platform and
the Total Irradiance Monitor built by the University of Colorado Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics; and two Cloud Cameras built by Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp.
of Boulder, Colo. The Cloud Cameras are support instruments for the aerosol