Budget Impasse Delays Key Environment Satellite

Eli is a contributing correspondent for Science magazine.

As Congress dithered last year on the 2011 federal budget—agencies are still bound by last year's budgets under an agreement called a continuing resolution—earth science done via satellite took a step backward. The top manager for the Joint Polar Satellite System told Spaceflight Now this week that the delays have pushed the launch of the key weather and climate satellite's launch back 2 years. JPSS-1 was supposed to fly in 2014:

The continuing resolution has so far cut this year's expected JPSS budget in half. The launch of NOAA's first next-generation weather satellite has already slipped nearly 24 months in the past year.

"That's pushed us well into 2016," Burch said in an interview with Spaceflight Now. "It remains to be seen what happens in March. If, in March, we can get back to full funding, we'll be looking at ways to pull that launch date back, and hopefully we'll be able to launch in 2015."

Burch has ordered the program to focus initial work on the JPSS ground system, which needs to be up and running before the launch of the stopgap NPOESS Preparatory Project weather satellite in October. But the near-term priority comes at the expense of work on follow-on JPSS missions.

"Unfortunately, our funding level at the moment has our instrument development contracts running at less than 50 percent of where they need to be to support a launch in early 2015," Burch said.

Meanwhile, the long-awaiting NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) mission, originally planned for orbit in 2006, has moved beyond final testing and is now set for an October launch.

That satellite is the template for the first JPSS satellite, which will be a clone of NPP. Scientists had hoped to have additional sensors on JPSS, but officials chose to put the same hardware up to save time, money, and reduce the risk of adding new equipment.

Posted in Funding, Climate