The Obama Administration has decided to leave a critical sunlight sensor off the first of a series of environmental satellites that have been plagued with technical problems, cost overruns, and poor management.
The $14 billion program formerly known as NPOESS has been split into two new programs. Responsibility for its myriad climate sensors now falls to the Joint Polar Satellite System, to be run jointly by NOAA and NASA. (The other program, run by the Pentagon and focused entirely on weather, is called DMSP.) But the Total Solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS) appears to have lost out in the reorganization. NOAA official Mary Kicza told reporters yesterday that the JPSS-1 satellite, set to launch in 2014, will not include TSIS. She said the decision was an attempt "to reduce risk."
At stake is a data record measuring the total amount of radiation striking Earth from the sun that goes back to 1978. That record, maintained by a series of satellites, is crucial to making accurate planetary energy budgets and measuring global warming as the intensity of sunlight fluctuates. Gaps in the record could be devastating to climate science because researchers require overlapping missions so as to calibrate each sensor to one another.
The previous versions of the solar sensor currently in orbit have an expected life of 30 months, and four satellites that have TSIS-like sensors that measure total solar radiation aboard are well beyond their design life. Virgo, for example, was launched in 1995, and SORCE was put into orbit in 2003.