GRAPEVINE, Texas — The launch of the first Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) spacecraft, once set to take place this month, has been delayed again because of technical issues, this time until no earlier than July.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spokesman John Leslie said Jan. 4 that the JPSS-1 launch, previously scheduled for March, has been delayed until the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2017, or July to September. That date had appeared in recent JPSS program schedules, although NOAA had made no formal statement of a delay.

In August, NOAA confirmed that the JPSS-1 launch, which had been scheduled for Jan. 20, would be delayed to March. The agency blamed problems with one of the spacecraft’s instruments as well as the JPSS ground system for that delay.

Similar problems have caused the latest delay. “The main factors delaying the JPSS-1 launch are technical issues discovered during environmental testing of the satellite and the Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS) instrument,” Leslie said in a statement. ATMS issues were also one of the reasons for the previous delay. In addition, he cited “challenges in the completion of the common ground system” that will be used for JPSS and other NOAA polar-orbiting weather satellites.

The latest decays prompted NOAA to seek financial relief for the program. A provision in the continuing resolution (CR) passed Dec. 9, which funds the federal government through late April at 2016 levels, gives NOAA the authority to spend at higher levels for the JPSS program.

NOAA requested that provision, known in budgetary parlance as an anomaly, to give it freedom to spend additional money to maintain its new schedule. “NOAA did request, and received funding authority during the CR to address these issues and to prepare the JPSS-1 satellite for the targeted [fourth quarter of fiscal year 2017] launch,” Leslie said.

Delays in the launch of JPSS-1 concern scientists because of the threat of a potential data gap. The ATMS instrument on the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership spacecraft is in danger of failing for reasons unrelated to the issue with the ATMS developed for JPSS-1, although the instrument, and the rest of the spacecraft, currently are in good health.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...