NOAA Budget Passback Includes Additional Money for Satellites

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WASHINGTON — The White House’s budget office has added $87 million to the $428.8 million the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) planned to request for the troubled National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) for 2011.

The NPOESS weather satellite program has encountered massive cost growth and schedule slips in recent years, and an independent review panel concluded in the spring that the program is hobbled by ineffective management structure and needs a near-term infusion of cash to succeed. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy assembled a task force in the summer to make changes to get the program back on track.

The White House task force recognizes the need for additional funding for NPOESS, but it has not yet determined the exact amount required for 2011, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget’s Nov. 30 revision of the Department of Commerce’s 2011 budget proposal, commonly referred to as the passback. A copy of the document was obtained by Space News.

“We are concerned that options may be recommended by NOAA that could add billions of dollars to the NPOESS program lifecycle baseline due to unsatisfactory progress in the program to date,” the White House budget office wrote. “We urge the Department to take a hard look at whether the necessary capabilities can be delivered within the large baseline already provided to this program. In addition, we request analysis, no later than Dec. 10, of what the Department believes can be delivered within the current baseline, if further increases are not provided.”

NPOESS is being built to satisfy both military and civilian weather forecasting requirements. It is managed by a joint program office with U.S Air Force, NOAA and NASA personnel. The Air Force is obligated to match the $515.8 million that NOAA plans to request for NPOESS in 2011.

The Office of Management and Budget also added $3.7 million to NOAA’s request to start a program to obtain space-based environmental data with a technique called GPS radio occultation. NOAA currently uses this type of data from the Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate mission, a joint project with Taiwan that is designed to last through 2011. The agency previously planned to help fund a follow-on to the constellation but did not request any money to do so in 2011.

The White House budget office directed NOAA to study options for obtaining GPS radio occultation data, which could be either building a follow-on constellation or buying the data from a commercial provider. Two companies are known to be interested in selling this data to NOAA: GeoOptics LLC of Pasadena, Calif., intends to build and launch a constellation of six of satellites for this purpose in late 2011, and Iridium Communications LLC of Bethesda, Md., is interested in hosting government payloads on its next-generation constellation of low Earth orbiting communications satellites.

The White House budget office accepted NOAA’s $730 million request for the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R series and its $50 million request for the Jason-3 ocean altimetry satellite.

The 2011 passback includes a total of $1.64 billion for NOAA’s satellite shop, the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, which is $75 million more than the agency planned on requesting.

White House budget officials elected to add money to satellite programs despite trimming $170 million from the overall $4.9 billion NOAA budget request for 2011.

NOAA was given until Dec. 3 to appeal changes to the spending proposal. The White House annual budget request normally is delivered to Congress in early February.

NOAA’s 2010 budget is still not set as the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have yet to reconcile differences in their respective Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bills.