The NOAA weather satellite system will be going into partial shutdown about 2017. This is partly the result of incompetence with the design and cost of the replacement satellites (by NOAA and DoD). They've run very late, failing tests, and with large cost overruns. Congress has been cutting the budget for satellite development and procurement steadily. It is now running $700 million/yr less than the requested.
NPOESS (a joint DoD and NOAA project) was killed after many failures. DoD has resumed with its own program. NOAA is being told to fund their satellite out of existing funding for other projects. Total funding is being cut another $25 million this year.
Here we have a fundamental problem of management. Congress effectively mandates inaccurate wishful thinking for initial plans and budgets. The departmental management is whipsawed by a mix of changing congressional mandates, pork barrel requirements, inhouse wishful thinking, and bureaucratic empire building. Designing these satellites is hard under the best of circumstances, and NOAA has a tradition of poor management that is compensated for by innovative low level employees. That's not how to build satellites.
DoD satellite projects usually have good management, but are subject to all the other problems that NOAA has plus a stultifying bureaucracy. The NPOESS system seemed to have gotten the worst aspect of both groups. It's sad but it was necessary to kill it.
DoD's new satellite program looks likely to succeed, which leads to a couple likely future paths:
- DoD satellite launches before the current satellite fails. NOAA satellite launches a couple years after it is needed, leaving a couple years with no afternoon weather satellite pictures or data.
- DoD satellite launches before the current satellite fails. NOAA continues to flounder and fail. A second DoD satellite is ordered and launched. There is a longer 3-5 year period with no afternoon weather satellite pictures or data.
- DoD satellite launches before the current satellite fails. NOAA continues to flounder and fail. Other countries lose patience, abrogate current weather treaties, and launch their own satellite. US world standing continues to collapse. There is a period of a few years with no afteroon weather satellite pictures or data.
Current NOAA satellite plans are:
NPP is looking to launch late 2011 or early 012. Built on a Ball chassis. Various sensors. It's more a research satellite than operational. Estimated 5-yr life.
NESDIS is going to use NPP-like satellite for first launch. Estimated life 5-yrs. Open competition for second satellite.