Another Reason Obama Must Go: Weather Satellite Crisis Puts The Nation At Risk
September 26, 2011 • 8:29AM

The continuing saga of the danger that the sabotage of our polar-orbiting weather satellite programs pose, was reviewed at a joint hearing of the Investigations and Oversight, and Energy and Environment subcommittees of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology on September 23rd. There have been numerous warnings that if there is not a ramp-up in funding, and a serious and sustained effort, we could face a gap in crucial polar weather data in the next few years.

In 2010, at the same time that NASA's Constellation program was cancelled, the White House also cancelled the NOAA/DoD National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), because it was greatly over budget and behind schedule. The program was then split into a NASA/NOAA Joint Polar Satellite System, (JPSS) and the Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS) for the DoD.

Because the JPSS satellite will not be ready for launch least until 2017, it was decided to use the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) test satellite, which will launch next month, as an operational asset, to provide less capable but needed weather and climate data until JPSS flies. Experts are not certain, however, whether the NPP satellite will operate long enough to overlap with the next-generation JPSS. Hence, the possible gap in data. And when the follow-on satellites will fly, either defense or civilian, or whether they will, is up for grabs.

Testifying at the hearing, Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, Deputy Administrator of NOAA, stated unequivocally (despite badgering from Members) that the projected gap in data "is due to the lack of adequate, timely, and stable appropriated funds to develop and launch the JPSS satellite by mid-2016, before NPP has reached the end of its projected life."

The DoD's program is faring even worse than budget cuts. On Sept. 15th, the Senate Approprations Committee voted to CANCEL the DWSS program altogether, eliminating the $400 million in the FY12 budget for the satellite, and putting in $150 million to shut the program down.

As Dr. Sullivan pointed out, the year 2011 "has already established itself in the record books as a[n] historic year for weather-related disasters." Does it really matter how much over budget these satellites are, or how much they will cost? What is the cost, in human life and economic infrastructure of not having timely warnings of extreme weather?