WASHINGTON — Managers of the U.S. government’s next-generation geostationary weather satellite system remain hopeful of meeting a targeted 2015 initial launch date despite an uncertain 2009 budget and its potential impact on two major contract awards, the manager of the program said Sept. 23.

Officials with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have said they need $477 million in 2009 – a $242.5 million increase from 2008 – for the Geostationary-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite-R, or GOES-R, system. Plans call for awarding contracts for the space and ground segments of the system in early 2009, said Greg Mandt, NOAA’s GOES-R program director.

But NOAA’s plans could be challenged if, as seems likely, Congress freezes most federal budgets at 2008 levels until March. A massive spending package -known as a continuing resolution – approved by the House Sept. 24, and which was awaiting Senate approval at press time, would do just that.

“Right now we are evaluating our options,” Mandt said after a Sept. 23 presentation to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable in
“We’re trying to work out internally how to manage it. But everyone has said they support me on this.”

The $7.6 billion GOES-R program includes two satellites, with an option to buy two more. Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of Seal Beach, Calif., Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., and Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif., submitted bids in March to build the satellites. In July, Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., and Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Mass., submitted bids for the ground-based data processing system.

In keeping with past practice, NASA will be responsible for managing the procurement and launch of the satellites on behalf of NOAA. NOAA, however, will procure the ground system.

NOAA officials have for months been preparing for the likelihood of entering the 2009 budget year, which begins Oct. 1, at 2008 funding levels. NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher told members of Congress May 6 that holding the agency at 2008 levels throughout 2009 could add one year to the GOES-R development schedule. NOAA spokesman Anson Franklin said Sept. 25 that it was too soon to determine the impact of a six-month continuing resolution.

Budget concerns have impacted the program schedule before. In unveiling its 2008 budget request in February 2007, NOAA officials said they had pushed the first GOES-R launch out by two years, to 2014. That schedule has since been revised to 2015. The announcement of the two-year delay came six months after the elimination of the Hyperspectral Environmental Suite, an advanced set of sensors including a sounder for measuring atmospheric humidity, from GOES-R after program costs swelled from $6.2 billion to $11 billion.

At the time, NOAA officials said performance of existing GOES satellites allowed for the launch slippage. The agency launched the first of its prior-generation GOES-N weather satellites in May 2006. Two others are slated for launch in 2009.

GOES-R would replace the GOES-N series with instruments capable of scanning the
United States
every five minutes, enhancing weather forecasting and climate change measurements. The Advanced Baseline Imager, built by White Plains, N.Y.-based ITT Corp., will offer improved resolution in more spectral bands than the current generation of GOES satellites.

said GOES-R’s instrument will allow greater precision in monitoring severe weather, sea surface temperatures, aerosols and dust, volcanic ash plumes and lightning.

GOES-R data also will be used for monitoring forest fires and tracking crop growth.

“This is a vital observation system for the nation and we’ve got to continue its operations,” Mandt said.