Report: Scale Back JPSS Satellite Effort

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) should delete some climate sensors from its next-generation polar-orbiting weather satellite program and streamline its management to save money, an independent report said.

The report, delivered to NOAA July 21 and made public Sept. 21, said the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) should not be responsible for flying two climate-change instruments that are now part of the program: the Clouds and Earth’s Radiant Energy System sensor and the Total Solar Irradiance Sensor. The energy system sensor is aboard the first JPSS spacecraft, launched last October, and slated for inclusion on the second satellite, dubbed JPSS-1; the solar irradiance sensor is supposed to fly on a so-called Free Flyer satellite in 2016.

The report, chaired by former Lockheed Martin executive A. Thomas Young, said these two sensors should be part of a separate NOAA program or, better yet, be transferred to NASA.

In addition, the report said NOAA should explore replacing the JPSS’s Visible and Infrared Imager Suite, which had a troubled development history, with a legacy alternative from an earlier generation of civilian polar-orbiting weather satellites.

Retired U.S. Navy Rear Adm. David Titley, NOAA’s deputy undersecretary for operations, said the agency was giving these suggestions serious consideration. “We are looking at if we simplify the JPSS program to be a basically a weather-only mission,” he said in a Sept. 21 interview.

Titley identified the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer, which flew aboard NOAA’s earlier-generation weather satellites, as a possible replacement for the Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite.

The report largely gave the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-R program a pass, saying it is going “reasonably well” and has a less complicated management structure than the JPSS program. That first of those satellites is scheduled for a 2015 launch, although the report put the chances of meeting that timetable at 48 percent.

The JPSS joint NOAA-NASA management structure, on the other hand, “unnecessarily increases management costs and decreases the probability of mission success,” according to the report.