NPOESS Management Decisions Coming Soon

by

A White House panel assembled to make recommendations for getting a troubled U.S. weather satellite program back on track has reported its findings to the president’s top science adviser and expects major decisions to be made in the next few weeks.

The panel will meet this week with principals at the three agencies that manage the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) to discuss possible changes, according to Sherburne Abbott, who is leading the panel as associate director for environment and energy at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). She spoke with reporters Nov. 17 in Washington at a meeting of the Group on Earth Observations.

The NPOESS program is jointly managed by the Defense Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with NASA as a junior partner. Originally planned for launch in 2009, the first NPOESS satellite is now scheduled to fly in 2014.

A precursor satellite dubbed the NPOESS Preparatory Project, now scheduled for launch in 2011, was supposed to serve as a test bed for the primary NPOESS sensors, but will now be thrust into an operational role because of the delays. The current lifecycle cost of NPOESS is $14 billion.

NPOESS suffers from a management gridlock and has little chance to succeed without major program changes and a near-term infusion of cash, an independent review team led by former Martin Marietta Chief Executive A. Thomas Young reported in March. Among the options offered by the Young team was giving NASA the lead management role on the program.

Abbott’s panel has briefed OSTP Director John Holdren on its findings, but she would not reveal those findings or say whether she would recommend adding more money to the NPOESS budget.