FY2011 Funding Quagmire Could Delay JPSS

FY2011 Funding Quagmire Could Delay JPSS

Launch of the first two of NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) satellites could be delayed by a year if the FY2011 funding situation is not resolved soon, Space News reports.

Like most other government agencies, NOAA is operating at its FY2010 level under the current Continuing Resolution (CR) that lasts until March 4. Congress must pass another CR or some other type of appropriations by then or the government will have to shut down.

At its FY2010 funding level, NOAA has $382 million, instead of the $1.06 billion requested for FY2011, to spend on polar orbiting environmental satellites, according to the report. Citing NOAA spokesman John Leslie, Space News says that progress on JPSS has been slower than planned because of the funding uncertainty and could mean a one-year slip for the first two satellites. The original plan was for JPSS-1 to launch in 2014 and JPSS-2 in 2018. However, Leslie also told Space News that with the outcome of the FY2011 appropriations still in doubt, “it is not practical to speculate what the exact launch dates will be.”

Senate appropriators expressed skepticism about the JPSS program in their report (S. Rept. 111-229) on the FY2011 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill. That bill never became law, but does convey congressional concerns about the viability of the program overall. JPSS is NOAA’s part of the restructured DOD-NOAA-NASA National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) that was split apart by the White House in the FY2011 budget request after repeated overruns and schedule slips. NOAA is now in charge of the civilian part of the program, with NASA acting as its acquisition agent. The Department of Defense is in charge of the military component of the program, the Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS). Senate appropriators also expressed reservations about the DWSS program.

NOAA’s situation is more urgent, since all of its polar orbiting environmental satellites already are in orbit. A NASA spacecraft built to demonstrate new technologies for the NPOESS Program, the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) satellite, is expected to be launched this fall and will be used as an operational satellite instead of a technology demonstrator. After that, there are no other U.S. civil weather satellites. Thus, there is pressure to build JPSS-1 to ensure that the nation continues to have a fully functioning polar orbiting weather satellite system. By contrast, DOD has two of its legacy Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satellite awaiting launch, so resolving the future of the DWSS program is less critical.

The need for weather satellites is rarely questioned, but at a time when a large number of new members have just been sworn into office, some may need to be briefed on the origin of the data that they see displayed on television and the Internet. The story of the new congressman many years ago who said “I don’t need NOAA. I have got weather on my TV” has been recounted many times.

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