NPOESS Restructuring One Year Later

NPOESS Restructuring One Year Later

The FY2012 budget requests for NOAA and DOD tell more of the story of the restructuring of the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) ordered last year by the White House.

The DOD budget request includes $445 million for its component of the restructured program, called the Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS). The budget is based on the assumption that DOD will get $352 million in FY2011, although Congress is still debating the FY2011 spending figures. In 2012, the department says that the $445 million will pay for Northrop Grumman to redesign the spacecraft that it was planning to build for NPOESS into a “smaller and lighter version.” It also will pay for development of two sensors that were originally planned for NPOESS (VIIRS and MIS), spacecraft and sensor subsystems and materials, algorithms, and DOD-specific elements of the common ground system. It is consolidating DWSS funds in its research and development (R&D) account instead of splitting it between R&D and procurement as in the past two years.

NOAA is requesting $1.07 billion for its Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS). That is an increase of $688 million above what the agency is assuming it will get for FY2011, the same as it had for FY2010 ($382 million). Its FY2011 request had included a steep increase for transitioning from NPOESS to JPSS, but NOAA is operating at its FY2010 level under the Continuing Resolution (CR). Thus the increase is pushed to FY2012. The request includes funds to acquire and process data from NASA’s NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) spacecraft. NPP was designed as a testbed for NPOESS, but with the restructuring now will be the first operational satellite in the new civil weather satellite system. It is scheduled for launch this year. The NOAA funds will also continue development of instruments and spacecraft for the first two JPSS satellites.

NOAA is in a more difficult situation than DOD. All of its polar orbiting weather satellites are already in orbit, while DOD has two of its older satellites still awaiting launch.

The NPOESS program was created during the Clinton Administration to reduce the costs associated with having separate military and civil weather satellite systems. After years of cost growth and schedule slips, however, the Obama Administration decided to split the program so that each sector will have its own system again. NPOESS was being procured through the Air Force, which is maintaining its contract with Northrop Grumman and rescoping it to reflect the change to the DWSS program. NOAA is using NASA as its acquisition agent for JPSS, as it does for its other satellites. The first JPSS satellite will use the same spacecraft bus as NPP, being built by Ball Aerospace.

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