WASHINGTON — A top National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) official praised a National Research Council report recommending ways to recover climate measurements that are no longer in the plans for the next-generation U.S. polar and geostationary weather satellites now in development.
Mary Kicza, NOAA assistant administrator for satellite and information services, said the report released July 10 will help NOAA and its partner agencies decide what satellites and sensors to build and which international partnerships to pursue in order to give climate researchers all the measurements they need.
“The report offers very good recommendations on what more we need to focus on,” Kicza said in a July 11 interview. “I, in particular, really appreciate the effort that has gone into this and think we will find it very valuable.”
Kicza manages a $1 billion program at NOAA that oversees the development and operation of the nation’s weather satellites, including the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R (GOES- R) series the agency plans to buy and the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) now in development as part of a NOAA partnership with the U.S. Air Force and NASA.
In 2000, the NPOESS program expected to buy six satellites for $6.5 billion with the first launching in 2008. By late 2005, however, it had become clear that NPOESS would exceed its cost estimate by more than 25 percent, triggering a mandatory Nunn-McCurdy review of the cost breach. The restructured NPOESS program announced in June 2006 featured four satellites instead of six, delayed the launch of the first spacecraft to 2013, and canceled or scaled back several planned sensors.
NOAA’s ambitions for its next generation of geostationary operational weather satellites, dubbed GOES, similarly were scaled back in 2006 amid projections showing the pricetag had doubled to more than $10 billion. The original plan, which included four satellites – GOES-R through GOES-U – was scaled back to two guaranteed satellites and a key climate instrument, the Hyperspectral Environmental Suite, was canceled.
The National Research Council report, “Ensuring the Climate Record from the NPOESS and GOES-R Spacecraft,” was requested by NOAA and NASA following a 2007 workshop on options for recovering lost capabilities. The 200-page report prioritizes the lost capabilities and makes recommendations for getting them back.
The report applauds actions NOAA and NASA have already pledged to take, such as adding a solar irradiance sensor back to NPOESS C1 and restoring an ozone mapping instrument to the upcoming NPOESS Preparatory Project satellite mission due to launch in 2010.
But it also says there is more the agencies can do to deliver on longstanding promises of robust climate monitoring capabilities.
Topping the list of priorities is restoring microwave radiometry capabilities dropped from NPOESS when the Conical Scanning Microwave Imager/Sounder was canceled and replaced with a less capable sensor scientists worried would lack sounding channels needed for measuring global sea surface temperatures and soil moisture.
The report notes that NOAA and its partners have since made clear the replacement sensor would include the desired channel. However, the report said postponing the flight of the sounder until NPOESS C2 launches in 2016 heightens the risk that scientists will lose key measurements for an extended period.
The report urges NOAA and NASA to build a new microwave sounder designed for climate monitoring and fly it on a dedicated satellite or a flight of opportunity. The sensor should be designed to supplement the microwave radiometer slated to fly aboard ‘s Global Change Observation Mission-Water launching around 2012.
Coming in at No. 2 is a long-term commitment to flying precision radar altimeters of the sort the French-U.S. Jason missions are using to measure sea level heights. While NPOESS had included such an altimeter prior to its restructuring, the report says NPOESS’s sun-synchronous orbit would have rendered the instrument useless for climate studies, a position that Kicza said NOAA has held for the last few years.
The report urges the U.S to commit to flying a follow-on to the Jason-2 mission launched in June followed by a series of precision altimetry freeflyers.
The final recommendation included in the report’s top tier is that NASA and NOAA stick with the plan to fly the Clouds and Earth’s Radiant Energy System sensor on the NPOESS Preparatory Project and to commit to flying similar sensors on future satellites. The so-called CERES instrument, which will help determine the influence of clouds on the Earth’s temperature, is intended as a temporary replacement for a similar sensor dropped from NPOESS.
The report ranks several other lost or scaled-back capabilities as lesser priorities, among them recovering the advance geostationary hyperspectral sounder dropped from the GOES-R series slated to launch starting in 2015. The report recommends immediately flight demonstrating such an instrument and committing to flying operational versions on future satellites, starting with no later than GOES-T.