NOAA Budget Proposal Includes Boost for Satellite Programs

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SAN FRANCISCO — Although the proposed 2013 budget for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) includes an increase of only 3 percent in overall funding, spending on the agency’s satellite initiatives would jump 8.7 percent.

In a budget plan sent Feb. 13 to Congress, President Barack Obama is asking for $5.06 billion to fund NOAA’s work in 2013. Congress appropriated $4.9 billion for the agency in 2012. In contrast, money for NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service would rise to $2.04 billion in 2013 from $1.88 billion in 2012.

“The imperative to fund both the polar-orbiting and geostationary satellites in 2013 imposed serious constraints on the rest of NOAA’s budget,” NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said Feb. 16 during a public briefing. “NOAA fully recognizes the magnitude of the requested investments for these satellites. However, we believe that in view of the important impact of weather on society and the nation’s economy these investments really must be a top priority.”

In the 2013 budget, NOAA is requesting $916.4 million for the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), a new generation of civil polar-orbiting weather satellites. JPSS and the agency’s next generation of Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES-R) “are two of NOAA’s highest priorities,” Lubchenco said.

The JPSS budget would support continued development of the mission’s climate sensors and keep the program on schedule to launch the first satellite in early 2017, Mary Kicza, NOAA assistant administrator for satellite and information services, wrote in a message posted on the agency’s website.

Lawmakers appropriated $924 million for JPSS in 2012, but the program remains behind schedule as a result of a funding shortfall in 2011. NOAA officials “expect a gap in polar-orbiting weather satellite coverage in about five years,” Lubchenco said.

JPSS is designed to succeed the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite launched in October. NOAA officials said that satellite, which was conceived as a research mission, is likely to provide observations for approximately five years. Because NOAA officials do not know exactly how long Suomi NPP will last, they remain concerned that it will stop gathering data before JPSS-1 is ready to perform its operational mission.

“We are looking at a possible data gap on the order of 20 to 24 months depending on when NPP actually fails and how long it actually takes us to commission JPSS so its data are calibrated and well validated, and all the software for weather models are up and running,” Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA deputy administrator, said during the briefing.

NOAA is seeking “stable funding for the JPSS program for the next five years,” Lubchenco said.

The NOAA budget requests $802 million for the GOES-R program in 2013, up from $615.6 million in 2012. That money would enable the agency to continue to develop flight systems and the terrestrial network needed to support GOES-R. The first GOES-R satellite is scheduled for launch in October 2015, Kicza said.

The Defense Department’s 2013 budget plan, which eliminates the Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS), creates another hurdle for NOAA officials seeking to extend weather and climate data records. The Pentagon’s new weather satellites were scheduled to carry into orbit some of the instruments originally slated to fly on the canceled civil-military National Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite System.

Without DWSS, the Total Solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS), Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking, and Advanced Data Collection System would not have a ride into orbit. Sullivan said NOAA plans to continue to provide funding for TSIS and to work with NASA to find space transportation for the sensor.

“We don’t care to close the door on TSIS,” Sullivan said. “The continuous record of solar irradiance is already broken unfortunately with the loss of the Glory satellite.” NASA’s Glory climate monitoring spacecraft, which was destroyed in a March 2011 launch failure, carried the Total Irradiance Monitor, an instrument designed to measure the sun’s energy in Earth’s atmosphere.

The NOAA budget request also seeks $30 million in 2013 for the Jason-3 satellite, a joint effort with Europe’s meteorological satellite agency to measure sea surface height and ocean weather, and $22.9 million to refurbish the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite to obtain solar wind data and help the agency monitor geomagnetic storms. Congress appropriated $30.1 million in NOAA’s 2012 budget to resurrect the DSCOVR program. The 2012 budget also includes money to enable the U.S. Air Force to begin seeking a launch vehicle to carry the 750-kilogram DSCOVR spacecraft in 2014 to the L1 Lagrange point between the Earth and the sun.

NOAA officials said funding for satellite programs will remain high in the coming years. “It’s safe to assume satellites will continue to loom large in our budget,” Lubchenco said.