NOAA Caps JPSS Cost at $12.9 Billion Through 2028

NOAA Caps JPSS Cost at $12.9 Billion Through 2028

Mary Kicza, who heads the part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that is responsible for weather satellites, said yesterday that NOAA has agreed to a life-cycle cost cap of $12.9 billion for the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS). 

That may seem like quite a steep price for two satellites, but Kicza explained that the JPSS program pays for more than two JPSS spacecraft, their instruments, launch and operations.   The program also includes costs associated with completing the Total Solar and Spectral Irradiance Sensor (TSIS) that was to have flown on the since-cancelled National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS).  The JPSS-1 satellite cannot accommodate the TSIS instrument, and although NOAA currently has no plans to launch it, the agency is trying to find such an opportunity.   JPSS costs also include building and launching separate spacecraft for search and rescue transponders used to locate and rescue people in distress as part of the international COSPAS-SARSAT system, and the Advanced Data Collection System (A-DCS) to collect data from ocean buoys.  Both of those also could not be accommodated on the JPSS-1 satellite.   NOAA had planned to launch them on the Department of Defense’s (DOD’s) new weather satellites, the Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS), but that program has just been terminated.

Additionally, the JPSS cap covers operating the satellites through the year 2028.

The first JPSS is expected to be launched in early calendar year (CY) 2017 (which is the second quarter of FY2017).  NOAA’s FY2013 request for JPSS is $916.4 million, slightly less than the $924 million it received from Congress for FY2012.  Kicza said the Administration plans to keep the program funded at approximately $900 million per year for the next several years.

The NOAA cap is more than what Senate appropriators wanted in their version of the FY2012 appropriations bill that includes NOAA (P.L. 112-55).  They wanted to impose a cap of $9.43 billion through 2024 (S. Rept. 112-78), but it was not adopted in the conference report (H. Rept. 112-284).  NOAA said in its briefing slides that the $12.9 billion life cycle cost estimate through 2028 is an increase over its previous estimate of $11.9 billion through 2024 reflecting “an extended estimate of satellite performance.”

JPSS is NOAA’s polar-orbiting weather satellite program that replaces its part of NPOESS.   NOAA also operates a companion system in geostationary orbit, Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES), and is in the process of building a new version of those as well.  Called GOES-R, it would get a significant “planned” increase in FY2013:  $802.0 million compared to $615.6 million in FY2012.   GOES-R has had its share of overruns and delays, but NOAA has agreed to a $10.9 billion cap on that program.   That pays for four GOES-R satellites, their instruments, launches and operations through the year 2036.  The first launch is scheduled for late CY2015 (first quarter FY2016).

Kicza, assistant administrator for NOAA’s ‘s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS), made the remarks at a briefing on the FY2013 budget request for NESDIS.    Echoing comments by NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco during her budget briefing last week, Kicza seemed apologetic that the satellite systems are consuming such a large part of the NOAA budget.   Kicza reminded the audience that 20 NOAA programs were being terminated while the satellite budget is going up 8.8 percent.  It represents 40 percent of the total NOAA request of $5.1 billion, she said.

She lauded the successful launch and initial operations of NASA’s Suomi NPP satellite last fall, which will serve as a bridge between NOAA’s current generation of polar orbiting weather satelites and JPSS.   The last of NOAA’s polar orbiting satellites was launched in 2009.  NOAA officials have been warning Congress for the past two years that because Congress appropriated less funding than requested for JPSS in FY2011 and FY2012 that a data gap is very likely if the satellites meet, but do not exceed, their design lifetimes. 

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