NOAA Takes Over Operation of Suomi NPP Satellite

NOAA Takes Over Operation of Suomi NPP Satellite

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) took over operation of the Suomi NPP satellite on February 22 according to press releases today from NOAA and NASA.  The satellite was built and launched by NASA as a technology testbed, but delays in NOAA’s polar orbiting weather satellite program resulted in it becoming part of NOAA’s operational environmental satellite constellation.

The “NPP” part of its name originally was a reference to its origin as the NPOESS Preparatory Project, a spacecraft to test new technologies for the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS).  After that program was terminated by the White House following years of delays and overruns, NOAA embarked upon a revised Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) of polar orbiting satellites.  The first JPSS satellite is planned for launch in 2017.   Suomi NPP therefore was redesignated as a bridge between NOAA’s older polar orbiting satellites and JPSS.

NASA launched what was simply called NPP on October 28, 2011.   It was renamed Suomi NPP several months later.  Suomi is in honor of the late Verner E. Suomi, considered the father of satellite meteorology.  NPP now stands for National Polar-orbiting Partnership, a reference to the partnership between NASA and NOAA.

Acting NOAA Administrator Kathy Sullivan said today than transferring operations of the satellite to NOAA “marks the dawn of the JPSS era.”  Mike Freilich, Director of NASA’s Earth Science Division, said “As a true collaboration in which all partners benefit, Suomi NPP measurements are supporting researchers and weather forecasters alike.”   Generally speaking, NASA programs in this field are designed to advance earth science research, while NOAA programs are operational, using data in weather and climate forecasting, for example.

As a research satellite and technology test-bed, Suomi NPP was designed for only three years of life.  Satellites often exceed their design life and the agencies are hoping that will be true for this one.   The first JPSS satellite is not scheduled for launch until the spring of 2017 and it will take months thereafter before it is calibrated and validated.   NOAA and several independent reviews have been warning for two years about a potential gap between when Suomi NPP stops functioning and JPSS-1 is operational.  The Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) estimated last year that if Suomi NPP operates for five years instead of three, a 17-month data gap is a “best case scenario.”

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