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Space Watch

Management of Weather and Climate Satellites

The House Science, Space, & Technology Subcommittees on Oversight and on Environment held a joint hearing on Sept. 19, "Dysfunction in Management of Weather and Climate Satellites."

The hearing was called to update Congress on the progress that NOAA and NASA have made on the next generation geostationary and polar-orbiting satellites, Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R-Series (GOES-R) and Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS). Polar-orbiting satellites provide the data that is integrated into weather prediction models, a primary tool for forecasting weather. Geostationary satellites provide the entire Earth images used to identify current weather patterns and provide short-term warning.

NOAA and NASA witnesses testified that both JPSS and GOES-R continued to meet their key milestones, and were expected keep their currently planned launch dates. David Powner, director of information technology management issues from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), also testified on two recent reports GAO produced on the status of JPSS and GOES-R. While the GAO reports agreed that JPSS and GOES-R had made significant progress, GAO had concerns about aspects related to each program.

With regard to GOES-R, GAO was concerned about its 2016 launch date, which would leave the current GOES satellite without an operational backup satellite for about a year and a half.

As for JPSS, GAO noted that there would a 17 month gap between the end of NPP's design life and the launch and checkout of JPSS-1. GAO stated that NOAA's contingency plan options could minimize the gap, but would not eliminate the damage to weather forecast from the gap. Therefore, GAO suggested that the very best contingency options need to be selected.

The Space Foundation recently produced a white paper on weather satellites, Weather Satellites: Critical Technology in an Uncertain Environment, which addresses the future of United States weather satellites. That paper can be found here.

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