WASHINGTON — The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) intends to delay by two years the initial launch of its next generation of geostationary-orbiting weather satellites, the agency disclosed in unveiling its budget request for 2008.
The White House’s $3.8 billion request for NOAA next year includes $279 million for the new series of Geostationary-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) platforms, dubbed GOES-R. That figure is $53 million less than the project is expected to receive this year and reflects a decision to launch the first GOES-R satellite in 2014 rather than 2012 as previously planned.
Dave Miller, a NOAA spokesman, said in a Feb. 8 telephone interview that the health and performance of the existing GOES satellites enabled the agency to slip the next-generation system without putting U.S. weather forecasting capabilities at risk. NOAA in May launched the first of its current-generation geostationary satellites, GOES-N, and has two more either in storage or under construction.
The GOES-R satellites are expected to be far more capable than the GOES-N craft, but the development program has encountered technical problems. NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher told Congress in September that the projected GOES-R price tag had nearly doubled, from $6.2 billion to $11 billion. The problems prompted NOAA to drop a key sensor from the program, the Hyperspectral Environmental Suite.
Meanwhile, Miller said, GOES-R and NOAA’s other major satellite development program, the civil-military National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), will not be adversely affected by the congressional budget resolution that will hold most U.S. agencies to their 2006 funding levels this year. That resolution passed the House Jan. 31 and is due for a Senate vote by Feb. 15.
NOAA received more money in 2006 than it requested in 2007, and in any case the budget resolution does not specify how the agency should allocate funding among its programs. That gives the agency the flexibility to fund the GOES-R and NPOESS at or near the requested levels for 2007, Miller said.
“That’s the beauty of the continuing resolution; we do have flexibility,” Miller said. “We’ll address our priorities, and satellite continuity is one of them. If the [continuing resolution] is approved at its current level, we will have no issues with satellite delays.”
NOAA’s $331 million request for NPOESS in 2008, meanwhile, closely mirrors that of the U.S. Air Force. The program, which was restructured last year, is on target for a first launch in 2013, Lautenbacher said in a Feb. 5 conference call to discuss the 2008 budget plan.