NOAA Seeks $1 Billion To Minimize Weather Satellite Delays

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SAN FRANCISCO — The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is requesting $1.07 billion for the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) in its 2012 budget request to Congress. If approved, that money would help program officials trim some, but not all, of what is projected to be a 12- to 14-month delay in the production of the first two weather satellites, which agency officials originally planned to launch in 2014 and 2018, NOAA officials said.

That delay is the result of an anticipated lack of funding for JPSS in 2011. The White House requested $1.06 billion for JPSS in 2011 after halting work on the joint civil-military weather satellite, the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System. The 2011 JPSS money was not provided, however, because the U.S. government has been operating under a series of continuing resolutions, short-term funding measures that freeze spending for most programs at 2010 levels. In the continuing resolutions passed to date, NOAA’s 2011 budget for JPSS has been capped at $382 million.

“We have requested the full amount necessary to try to make up some of this time lost,” Maureen Wylie, NOAA chief financial officer, said Feb. 14 in a conference call with reporters. “But in a complex satellite acquisition such as this, we would not be able to buy back all of the effort lost if we are not funded in fiscal year 2011.”

As White House and NOAA officials press for their 2012 budget request for JPSS, they also will continue to ask Congress to provide additional JPSS funding in 2011. “We continue to articulate a need for that [request],” Wylie said. If additional money is provided in 2011, some of the delay could be eliminated, she added.

If JPSS funding remains at 2010 levels, the 2011 program will be focused largely on completing the ground system needed to obtain data from a JPSS precursor satellite, the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project (NPP). “We are focusing our resources on preparing the ground systems,” Wylie said. “When NPP is ready to launch in October of this year, our ground systems will be checked out and ready to go so we can actually begin to take those observations and use them.”

The JPSS satellite, which NASA was directed to build, is NOAA’s “highest priority,” Wylie said. “This next generation polar-orbiting satellite will provide 98 percent of the information that goes into our weather models. It is absolutely critical to providing safe and accurate forecasts.”

NOAA’s overall budget request for 2012 was $5.5 billion, or $749 million more than the 2010 budget level, which the agency is working under as a result of the continuing resolutions, said Monica Medina, NOAA’s principal deputy undersecretary for oceans and atmosphere. The funding levels included in the 2012 NOAA request are based on the assumption that Congress will not revisit 2011 budget levels and the continuing resolution will continue throughout the year, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said Feb. 16 during a budget briefing.

The 2012 NOAA budget also includes $53 million to continue development of the Jason-3 satellite, a joint effort with Europe’s meteorological satellite agency, Eumetsat, to measure sea surface height and ocean weather. If approved, the 2012 money would allow NOAA and Eumetsat to launch Jason-3 in 2014, Lubchenco said.

NOAA plans to provide the spacecraft’s microwave radiometer, precision navigation components, launch services and engineering services for Jason-3, according to documents published Feb. 14 by the White House Office of Management and Budget. Eumetsat and the French space agency, CNES, are expected to provide the Jason-3 spacecraft, altimeter, precision orbit components, ground system and operations.

The NOAA budget also includes $34 million for the Geostationary Orbiting Environmental Satellite (GOES)-N and $617.4 million for satellite engineering development and production activities for GOES-R and GOES-S. The proposed 2012 budget for the GOES program is $50 million lower than the 2010 budget level. That reduction reflects improved efficiency in project management and will not delay the scheduled 2015 launch of GOES-R, Wylie said.

NOAA’s budget proposes spending $11.3 million on a collaborative effort with the Taiwan National Space Organization to support the launch of 12 satellites that will use GPS radio occultation to measure atmospheric temperature and moisture. The effort, known as Constellation Observing System for Meteorology Ionosphere and Climate-2, or COSMIC-2, follows a joint U.S.-Taiwanese initiative, known as COSMIC, which demonstrated the utility of GPS radio occultation with a constellation of six satellites launched in 2006. The COSMIC program “is a very cost-effective means of obtaining global atmospheric temperature profiles,” Lubchenco said. The data have been shown to make a significant improvement in NOAA’s ability to produce timely weather forecasts, she added.

In support of the COSMIC-2 program, NOAA plans to provide 12 radio occultation sensors, offer ground station support and augment tracking station capabilities. Taiwan will provide the spacecraft and integrate the sensors, according to White House budget documents.

NOAA’s 2012 budget includes $47.3 million to refurbish the Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite to obtain solar wind data that are used to provide warning of geomagnetic storms. If provided by Congress, that funding would support refurbishment of the satellite — originally built for the canceled Triana Earth observation mission — and development of an instrument designed to detect solar winds, according to White House budget documents.

“It is anticipated that NOAA will lose two critical observational data sources for solar storm warnings when NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer and Solar and Heliospheric Observatory stop working,” Lubchenco said. Since both spacecraft have exceeded their expected lifetime, NOAA needs funding to launch its own solar wind mission “to continue to receive vital data to help anticipate and mitigate space weather damage,” she added.

Launched in 1995, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory was scheduled to perform a two-year mission. The Advanced Composition Explorer, launched in 1997, had a life expectancy of five years.