NOAA’s Newest Weather Satellite Ready for Launch – UPDATE 2

NOAA’s Newest Weather Satellite Ready for Launch – UPDATE 2

The first of a new generation of operational NOAA polar-orbiting weather satellites is scheduled for launch overnight from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA.  The launch at 1:47 am local time (4:47 am Eastern) will place the Joint Polar Satellite System-1 (JPSS-1) into orbit, joining a similar, but experimental, satellite launched for NASA in 2011.  It has a 66 second launch window.  The weather forecast is 70 percent “go.” [UPDATE, Nov. 14, 4:50 am ET – the launch was scrubbed due to two problems identified just as they were coming out of the planned T-4 minute hold.  UPDATE, Nov 15, 4:35 am ET — the launch was scrubbed today due to high winds aloft.] 

Artist’s illustration of the JPSS-1 satellite. Credit: NASA website.

JPSS-1 is the first of a planned four-satellite fleet of advanced polar-orbiting U.S. weather satellites.

NOAA operates two civil weather satellite constellations — one in polar orbit that circles around Earth’s poles and provides a view of all parts of the globe; and one in geostationary orbit  above the equator where the satellites are fixed in relation to the Earth’s surface, providing constant observations of the tropical regions where hurricanes form.  NOAA also has begun launching an advanced series of Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) weather satellites.  The first, now named GOES-16 (formerly GOES-R), was launched almost exactly one year ago.

The JPSS program evolved out of the cancellation of the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) program in 2010.  NPOESS sprang from the Clinton-Gore Administration’s effort to reduce the cost of government, in this case, by combining the weather satellite programs operated by NOAA for the civilian sector and DOD’s military weather satellites. After 16 years of cost overruns and schedule delays, the Obama White House terminated the program and directed NOAA and DOD to resume having separate systems.  NOAA’s is JPSS.

NASA was a partner in the NPOESS program.  Its role was to develop new technologies that were tested on what is now known as the Suomi-NPP spacecraft, launched in 2011.  As NPOESS slipped, however, Suomi-NPP was seconded into service as an operational, rather than an experimental, satellite.  It is now the primary polar-orbiting weather satellite that NOAA relies upon.

NOAA’s legacy polar-orbiting weather satellites are in the Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite (POES) series.  The last POES satellite was launched in 2009.  These satellites receive NOAA designations once they are in orbit.  POES-19 is now NOAA-19, and JPSS-1 will become NOAA-20.

JPSS-1 has significantly improved capabilities compared to NOAA-19.  However, it is very similar to Suomi-NPP, so once it is launched, NOAA will have a pair of the most advanced polar-orbiting weather satellites.  Suomi-NPP, as an experimental satellite, had a design life of only 3 years, which it has already exceeded.  JPSS-1 has a design life of 7 years.  The next in the series, JPSS-2, is scheduled for launch in 2021.  The goal is to have a steady cadence of launches in the JPSS series, so as one satellite ages, a new satellite is available to replace it.

That means there needs to be a JPSS-3 and -4.

NOAA describes the JPSS program as consisting of four satellites that will be in service through 2038.  However, NOAA split JPSS-1 and -2, and JPSS-3 and -4, into separate programs after Congress reacted negatively to the cost estimate of the JPSS program of $12.9 billion.

NOAA lowered the cost to $11.3 billion by moving JPSS-3 and -4 into a separate budget line item, now called Polar Follow On (PFO).  The Trump Administration requested much less than needed to proceed with PFO in FY2018.  The House Appropriations Committee approved even less.  The Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amount closer to what previously had been cited as necessary.  (See’s fact sheet on NOAA’s FY2018 budget request for details.)

As for the cost of JPSS-1 itself, NOAA asserts that it is $1.6 billion.

NOAA says that the $11.3 billion is comprised of $1.6 billion for  JPSS-1; $1.9 billion for JPSS-2; $3.6 billion for the ground segment; and $4.2 billion for JPSS program management, systems engineering, science and algorithms, development from 2010 through 2025, and the investments in NPOESS.

It does not include JPSS-3 and -4.

In any case, JPSS-1 is scheduled for launch in a few hours on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta II rocket.  Delta II was the workhorse of the U.S. space program for decades, but was supplanted by new models.   This is the next-to-last Delta II launch.  The final launch of the series will be NASA’s ICESat-2 next year.

NASA Live ( will cover the JPSS-1 launch beginning at 4:15 am ET.


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