Third Report in Three Weeks Critiques NOAA Satellite Management

Third Report in Three Weeks Critiques NOAA Satellite Management

UPDATE:   The final SATTF report was released in December 2012.

ORIGINAL STORY, October 10, 2012:  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is inviting public comment on the draft report of the Satellite Task Force (SATTF) established by the NOAA Science Advisory Board (SAB) last year.  This is the third report in three weeks critiquing how NOAA manages and executes its satellite programs.

SATTF was created by NOAA’s SAB in September 2011 and chaired by Robert Winokur.  Winokur is Deputy and Technical Director, Oceanography, Space and Maritime Domain Awareness, in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations; he also is currently the Acting Oceanographer of the Navy.  The task force was created to provide advice to the SAB “to recommend a way forward for NOAA’s satellite program, starting with initial NESDIS recommendations and seeking a more affordable, flexible and robust satellite and services architecture….”    NESDIS is NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service, which manages NOAA’s satellite programs.  NOAA is part of the Department of Commerce.

The report offers a lengthy list of findings and observations that begin with the usual concerns about budgets.  It concludes, for example, that “NOAA’s budget for currently planned space systems appears to be unsustainable.”  The report goes on to call attention to the need for an integrated approach to NOAA’s satellite programs, recommending that NOAA create a “Chief Systems Engineering function within NESDIS,” and develop an “integrated master schedule.”  In particular, it tells NOAA that it needs an “integrated and comprehensive systems engineering approach … within NESDIS to transition from the current segment-centric engineering approach” to an integrated approach.

The SATTF wants NOAA to look at options for a future distributed systems architecture instead of today’s consolidated architecture.  As an example, NOAA’s geostationary weather satellite system today relies on two operational multi-sensor GOES satellites in the East and West positions.   Instead, NOAA should consider single instruments on a larger number of separate satellites (perhaps as hosted payloads). the SATTF suggests.  The Department of Defense’s Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) effort is offered as a model for “rapid response, lower capability alternatives.” 

This is the third report in three weeks criticizing NOAA’s execution of its satellite programs.   An Independent Review Team (IRT) headed by Tom Young that looked at how NOAA and its parent, the Department of Commerce, oversee the management of satellite programs was released on September 21.  It called the system “dysfunctional.”  A week later, the Inspector General (IG) of the Department of Commerce issued a report focused just on NOAA’s polar orbiting weather satellites.  It warns of a potential 10-16 month data gap before the first Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS-1) satellite is operational and makes nine recommendations on how to ensure the JPSS program succeeds. 

The SATTF draft report posted today is open for public comment until November 9, 2012.   Instructions on how to comment are available on the NOAA SAB website

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