WASHINGTON — A major funding shortfall is forcing NASA to defer detailed planning for phasing in the ground segment of its next-generation polar-orbiting weather satellite system in order to concentrate on making sure the basic operating system is ready in time for the launch of the first satellite late this year, an agency official said.

David Schurr, deputy director of the Joint Agency Satellite Division within NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said the 2011 budget for the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) is insufficient to cover the engineering work that is necessary to map out the incremental upgrades the system will need to fly multiple satellites based on two different platforms. All available resources for the ground segment, he said, are being focused on testing and other activities that must precede launch of the NPOESS Preparatory Project satellite, now scheduled for Oct. 25, he said.

The 2011 U.S. federal spending bill signed into law April 15 provides $382 million for JPSS, which NASA is procuring on behalf of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The White House and NOAA had said at least $910 million was needed to keep the program on track and minimize a looming gap in coverage. The system’s second satellite, JPSS-1, had been scheduled to launch in late 2014 but now is not expected to fly before 2016, according to NOAA and NASA officials.

The civilian JPSS program was hatched last year upon the termination of the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), an attempt to merge similar weather satellite systems operated by NOAA and the U.S. Department of Defense. The Pentagon is now pursuing the Defense Weather Satellite System separately, with a first launch tentatively scheduled for 2018.

NPOESS was dissolved due to massive cost overruns and delays attributed in part to a dysfunctional tri-agency management office led by NOAA and the Air Force, with NASA as a junior partner. The White House elected to continue work on the ground segment as originally planned, however.

Under NPOESS, Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems of Aurora, Colo., was responsible for the ground segment as a subcontractor to prime contractor Northrop Grumman Aerospace of Los Angeles. NASA in September 2010 awarded Raytheon an eight-year $1.4 billion contract to deploy and operate the JPSS Common Ground System.

In an April 19 interview, Schurr said the NASA contract covers the same basic work as Raytheon’s NPOESS subcontract including flying the NPOESS Preparatory Project satellite along with the first two NPOESS spacecraft, and deploying a network of remote data reception stations known as the Distributed Receptor Network. In the coming months the contract will have to be modified to accommodate the changes made following the NPOESS cancellation, he said.

Schurr said these changes include: beefing up the system’s information technology security; enabling it to fly JPSS and Defense Weather Satellite System spacecraft; supporting more than two operational satellites simultaneously; and installing a backup to the Suitland, Md.-based NOAA Satellite Operations Facility. The modification also will cover work to make the system more operationally robust for the NPOESS Preparatory Project satellite, which originally was intended as a research and test platform but was thrust into an operational role due to the NPOESS program delays, he said.

NASA is replanning the JPSS Common Ground System work in light of the 2011 budget allocation and it is not clear how much of the work will be covered in the initial contract modification, Schurr said. NASA does not have an estimate for when the modification might be completed, he said.

William J. Sullivan, director of the JPSS Common Ground System at Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems, said some of the hardware already deployed for the system is becoming obsolete and will have to be replaced. For example, some of the components are designed for the Windows 2000 operating system, he said.

In an interview April 13 at the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo., Sullivan said NASA and NOAA have not settled on the location of the backup satellite operations facility. Options that have been discussed include Aurora, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and a NOAA facility in West Virginia.

One of the unique features of the JPSS Common Ground System is the Distributed Receptor Network, which is designed to get weather data into the hands of users quickly. NPOESS had a requirement that 77 percent of the data be processed and made available to users within 15 minutes of collection; at 28.5 minutes that requirement climbs to 95 percent. This requirement applies to the JPSS Common Ground System as well.

The Distributed Receptor Network will consist of 15 remotely operated 4-meter Ka-band antennas located across the globe. These antennas will be able to receive JPSS and Defense Weather Satellite System data as it is collected or shortly thereafter if a downlink opportunity at one site is missed, Sullivan said.

To date, one such antenna has been deployed, at the U.S. National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station in Antarctica, and will begin receiving data from a Defense Meteorological Satellite Program satellite in February 2012, said Paul Koster, Raytheon’s deputy program manager for the JPSS Common Ground System. Once downlinked, that data will be transmitted via microwave link to a site on nearby Black Island and then relayed via the Optus D1 commercial telecommunications satellite to Belrose, Australia. From there the data will be fed via fiber optic cable into the Defense Department distribution network, he said. Optus D1, owned by SingTel Optus of Australia and Singapore, includes a dedicated transponder beam for the service under a commercial arrangement negotiated by Raytheon.

Sullivan and Koster emphasized that the Distributed Receptor Network will handle data from both civil and military satellites.

Koster said a second antenna will be installed at McMurdo, to be followed by deployment of the remainder of the network on a schedule that is to be determined. Original plans called for having the entire Distributed Receptor Network in place by 2018, but that schedule is up in the air due to the lower-than-expected 2011 budget for JPSS and the fact that the Defense Weather Satellite System requirements have yet to be incorporated into Raytheon’s contract, he said.

Five of the remaining 14 Distributed Receptor Network sites will be located on U.S. soil, Koster said. The other planned sites are in: Australia, Brazil, Chile, India, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa and Spain. Agreements to host the stations have been concluded with seven of those countries, the exceptions being Spain and Brazil, Koster said.

Warren Ferster is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews and is responsible for all the news and editorial coverage in the weekly newspaper, the spacenews.com Web site and variety of specialty publications such as show dailies. He manages a staff of seven reporters...