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Earth Space Science

Our Weather Satellites Are Dying 193

Posted by Soulskill
from the think-of-it-as-future-space-junk dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times reports that some experts say it is almost certain that the U.S. will soon face a year or more without crucial weather satellites that provide invaluable data for predicting storm tracks. This is because the existing polar satellites are nearing or beyond their life expectancies, and the launching of the next replacement, known as JPSS-1, has slipped until early 2017. Polar satellites provide 84 percent of the data used in the main American computer model tracking the course of Hurricane Sandy, which at first was expected to amble away harmlessly, but now appears poised to strike the mid-Atlantic states. The mismanagement of the $13 billion program to build the next generation weather satellites was recently described as a 'national embarrassment' by a top official of the Commerce Department. A launch mishap or early on-orbit failure of JPSS 1 could lead to a data gap of more than 5 years. The second JPSS satellite — JPSS 2 — is not scheduled for launch until 2022. 'There is no more critical strategic issue for our weather satellite programs than the risk of gaps in satellite coverage,' writes Jane Lubchenco, the under-secretary responsible for the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency. 'This dysfunctional program that had become a national embarrassment due to chronic management problems.' As a aside, I know from personal experience that this isn't the first time NOAA has been in this situation. 'In 1992 NOAA's GOES weather satellites were at the end of their useful lives and could have failed at any time,' I wrote as a project manager for AlliedSignal at that time. 'So NOAA made an agreement with the government of Germany to borrow a Meteosat Weather Satellite as a backup and drift it over from Europe to provide weather coverage for the US's Eastern seaboard in the event of an early GOES failure.'"
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Our Weather Satellites Are Dying

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  • Why not lease or buy the data from the Russians & the Chinese while we're getting the new ones into orbit... Cheaper and would get the job, or at least some of it, done. 2c
    • Probably because the measurement data from Russia or China would not be too useful. Note the following bit from the summary (emphasis by me): "So NOAA made an agreement with the government of Germany to borrow a Meteosat Weather Satellite as a backup and drift it over from Europe to provide weather coverage for the US's Eastern seaboard in the event of an early GOES failure."

      • From TFA:

        The mismanagement of the $13 billion program to build the next generation weather satellites ...

        Would someone please provide a link to the above quote?

        And can someone please explain to us why is there no one has been punished for the $13 Billion loss due to mismanagement ??

        • Where did you get $13 billion loss from? It is a $13 billion program that has been poorly managed so the replacement satellite is behind schedule, that does not mean the $13 billion ia a loss. Let me guess you do Romney's books too.

    • Re:Subcontract (Score:4, Interesting)

      by lennier1 (264730) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @11:51AM (#41789819)

      They probably still have a shitload of high-resolution equipment above the US anyway. Might as well get some money out of it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by NotQuiteReal (608241)
      Because the data would be in funny characters and the units would be in metric units and Americans would not understand it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by couchslug (175151)

      Better yet, sub it all out to Germany. We need data, not to own satellites.

  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @11:46AM (#41789795)

    NBC / weather channel / comcast has deep pockets may they can pay for one.

    • by fustakrakich (1673220) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @12:02PM (#41789901) Journal

      Yeah, and put all the data behind a paywall... Not a good idea.

      • Sounds like a great idea. I'd pay 10 cents a day for a good weather service, especially one without management problems like the governments' weather program. SpaceX might make this tech affordable now. Maybe this gap will provide the impetus needed to get a better weather prediction system going.

    • by timeOday (582209)

      NBC / weather channel / comcast has deep pockets may they can pay for one.

      No they wouldn't, because there's no way to exclusively capture the value created by the investment.

      Insurance companies, at least, have a direct financial stake in this information. But since there's no way to warn their own customers without also warning the other insurance company's customers, so all companies end up benefitting equally - again, no incentive to invest.

      Just because everybody would clearly benefit from doing

      • by GNious (953874)

        I smell an amendment to copyright law...

      • by amck (34780)

        Wrong way round, folks.

        Guess who lobbied to ensure the US weather data was made "public" (ie. available to Accuweather, local TV networks, etc.)?

        There is a nice little story in Ireland about the wren being the king of birds. All the birds got together and had a competition to see who was best.
        They decided the matter by a seeing who could fly the highest. The Eagle thought it would win easily, but when it got as high as it could, the little wren, which had been sitting on the eagles shoulder, jumped a foot h

    • With federal budget cuts we knew stuff like this was going happen down the road.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 27, 2012 @11:49AM (#41789807)

    There are so many "checks and balances" in the system, and so much risk aversion, that the system can not perform. No program manager is ever rewarded for taking a risk, or succeeding, so the best ones are the ones who can redirect blame and reduce risk. Same with the contracting and finance people, and to no small extent, the government engineers. Worse, those who are competent flee the government, leaving us with a population that's not good or representative of their fields at large. I wasn't given the option to enter it (military orders) but I'm leaving as soon as I can, because it's a dead end, morally, emotionally and professionally.

    • by spd_rcr (537511) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @12:56PM (#41790245) Homepage

      We had a guest speaker at an ASME meeting a month and a half ago talking about this very issue, Dr. Bonnie Dunbar. She was speaking about her talks with congress about the importance of replacing these weather satellites and the response she got from the representatives was "why do we need satellites, can't we just get our weather from the internet".
      A republic only works if you send your best and brightest off to handle the day-to-day decisions.Representatives that got their job via a popularity contest are usually no more fit make technical decisions than guys and gals who won the homecoming king & queen positions. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xrrj9Wc2L84 [youtube.com]

      • by Dyinobal (1427207)
        ugg that makes me feel sick. Anyone else feel sick?
      • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Saturday October 27, 2012 @02:45PM (#41791097) Homepage Journal

        why do we need satellites, can't we just get our weather from the internet

        Obviously ridiculous, but I do have to point out that at least for weather data from populated areas, the Internet is potentially a very useful tool. Scattering large numbers of inexpensive, land-based, Internet-connected weather stations could be done for a tiny fraction of the cost of a satellite launch. I'd be thrilled to install one at my house, for example.

        Of course, those sorts of stations wouldn't provide coverage of un-populated areas, water-covered areas, etc., and wouldn't provide the same sort of information, so they're not a replacement. Seems like they would be useful, though.

        • by grumling (94709)

          Citizen Weather Observer Program:

          http://www.wxqa.com/index.html [wxqa.com]

          And to quell the alarm from the AC below:
          http://www.wxqa.com/aprswxnetqc.html [wxqa.com] talks about the accuracy of the data and feedback to the user, along with a lot of good info about siting your station.

        • Of course, those sorts of stations wouldn't provide coverage of un-populated areas, water-covered areas, etc., and wouldn't provide the same sort of information, so they're not a replacement. Seems like they would be useful, though.

          They really wouldn't be all that useful, because they don't provide any information other than what's happening locally at ground level - a very detailed 2D look at a tiny slice of a 3D system.

          • by swillden (191260)

            Of course, those sorts of stations wouldn't provide coverage of un-populated areas, water-covered areas, etc., and wouldn't provide the same sort of information, so they're not a replacement. Seems like they would be useful, though.

            They really wouldn't be all that useful, because they don't provide any information other than what's happening locally at ground level - a very detailed 2D look at a tiny slice of a 3D system.

            Certainly it wouldn't do away with the need for weather balloons and satellites. My friends at NCAR disagree that it wouldn't be useful.

            • NCAR of course isn't in the business of weather forecasting... which renders their opinion irrelevant to some degree. Useful for research isn't the same thing as useful for operations.

              • by swillden (191260)

                NCAR of course isn't in the business of weather forecasting... which renders their opinion irrelevant to some degree. Useful for research isn't the same thing as useful for operations.

                Because research has no effect on operations. Right.

                • I didn't say that. I just pointed out that the topic at hand is operations, not research. Reading comprehension is your friend.

                  • by swillden (191260)

                    I didn't say that. I just pointed out that the topic at hand is operations, not research. Reading comprehension is your friend.

                    Is it really? Satellites are only used for operations, not research?

                    Obviously, operations and research go hand in hand; both use the same data sources, experience from operational weather prediction provides input for research and research provides new tools for operations. I don't think you can divide them quite so neatly. My friends at NCAR would agree, and so would the folks who operate MADIS -- which in fact integrates data of exactly the sort I suggest in to the data sets used for operational weat

      • by nurb432 (527695) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @04:27PM (#41791885) Homepage Journal

        Or at least ones that know their limitations and have good advisors to turn to when they hit those limits so they can make informed decisions.

        Not eveyone knows everything.

    • by JWW (79176)

      If ever there were a post that should be allowed to be +10 insightful, this is it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 27, 2012 @12:20PM (#41790017)

    are on the one side glad to support our allies on our axis, but must decline the shipment of data that might harm the religious feelings of many american citizens.

    Weather is made by god, man shall not try to understand gods ways, because this would make man a god. Thus weather shall not be understood by the god fearing american people that replace a theory like evolution or the big bang theory by simpler means; creative design and the not so "creative beginning".

    A just kidding, take as much data as you need, because if you fear for your life you also sell your soul, aren't you ?

    • Usually I don't reply to ACs. This is an exception. As an Austrian resident ( and an atheist pig, to top it off ) I can not but wholeheartedly concur. Where are my mod points ??
    • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @03:19PM (#41791373)

      Although German engineers excel at terrestrial technology, like BMW and Porsche, their space technology has not been nurtured. After the war, the Russians took their German scientists, to build their Russian space program, and the US took their German scientists, to build their US space program. Anyone who was left over in Germany was like the nerdy kid to get picked last for a team in school sports.

      In fact, the last German weather satellite was a total failure. It was called Satelliten Chefkoch Hauptleitungsabzweigklemme Überwachungstechnik Leitungsschutzschalter Teleauskunft Zeitverschiebung, or SCHULTZ for short. When queried about the weather, it simply replied:

      "I see NOTHING . . . NOTHING!"

  • by Dan East (318230) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @12:22PM (#41790023) Homepage Journal

    Yes, but are they scared or sad that they are dying?

    • by Idbar (1034346)
      Honestly, the supporting argument gives me the impression that it's sadness, but hidden in fear. Seems to me that better, newer satellites won't help without proper models. The summary makes me think that the importance of the satellites is not as critical as improving weather modeling.
  • by GiantRobotMonster (1159813) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @12:28PM (#41790067)

    A proper weather satellite would control the weather, rather than simply observe it.
    Then I could write my name in snow, across an entire continent.
    Muhahahaha.

  • ...when you over-spend on military interventions and bullying the world, and under-spend on useful tech.
  • by sunami (751539) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @12:42PM (#41790141)

    Why are we building meteorological satellites when we have the Weather Channel?

  • by digitalaudiorock (1130835) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @03:28PM (#41791433)

    I'll probably get some troll points for this, but after watching the recent Frontline titled Climate of Doubt [pbs.org], I wonder if there aren't some pretty powerful forces out there that just plain don't want weather/climate data all that much. The interviews in that show seem to indicate that the big money behind that effort (which over the last four years has somehow convinced half of the U.S. population that man made climate change is a myth, while science has gone in the opposite direction), is way more about Ayn Randian ideology than science.

    All pretty scary if you ask me...like we're getting closer and closer to witch burning every day...

  • by ColaMan (37550) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @07:30PM (#41793173) Homepage Journal

    The polar orbiting satellites are the quiet achievers of weather forecasting. Everyone sees the geostationary sat images on TV and think that's it, but there's a lot more going on with the polar sats.

    They orbit north/south over the poles at about 800km. They are sun-synchronous (so the sun is always behind them illuminating the earth on their daylight run) and they do an orbit about every 90 minutes or so. The earth turns underneath them as they orbit, so they cover the entire globe. The current POES status is here [noaa.gov]

    They transmit a heap of data - the data I receive here in Australia is the APT transmissions, which is 4 x 4 km per pixel resolution images in the visible and IR wavelength, which run constantly. As the satellite clears the horizon, you pick up the signal at two lines per second and about 15 minutes later on a directly overhead pass it sets again and you've got a nice, 2000km x 4000km image of your immediate area, just like if it came off a fax machine. The two wavelengths offered in the analog mode give you a visible image and allow you to read temperatures, so you can find thunderheads and cold fronts, for example. The APT transmissions just require a 137Mhz FM receiver and a simple antenna to pick up, so it's easy to get images.

    They also have a digital mode - HRPT - with the entire range of 6 imaging sensors onboard and 1x1km per pixel resolution and you can do a lot with that - highlight vegetation, measure and and sea surface temps, locate and track fires and such.

    Onboard there are also charge sensors for measuring auroral densities, and you can visit a webpage [noaa.gov] that shows the current auroral activity. The satellites can also receive, process and retransmit data from Search and Rescue beacon transmitters, and automatic data collection platforms on land, ocean buoys, or aboard free-floating balloons, as well as detect and map the ozone holes that appear yearly over the poles.

    Their capabilities completely outclass the geosynchronous satellites and I hope that NOAA gets their act together and back on track with the launches.

    • by chebucto (992517) *

      Very interesting - thanks for posting. I had no idea that sun-syncronous orbits existed, let alone how they worked (wiki helped with that). It sounds like it would be a great orbit to be in if you were a space tourist - the view you'd get riding the terminator would be very dramatic.

      Re: the weather satellites, if things get really bad, maybe NOAA can take over that spy sat that DOD donated to NASA (as I heard it, NASA got a late-model spy sat to use for astronomy but doesn't have the cash to launch it). (re [space.com]

  • Our elected representatives (I don't care which party you support) have:
    - refused to BALANCE THE BUDGET, ie their main job
    - chosen superficial feel-good measures ahead of everything else
    - continue to rabidly borrow for everything
    - cut all long term investment in favor of more bread, more circuses
    - for the last 30 years they've passed measures that cut taxes or raise spending today, with 'promised cuts' or 'promised revenues' later that never seem to arrive.

    We don't have enough $$ coming in to pay our commit

  • You silly class warfare people. How many times fo I have to tell you that the stockholders need that money!
  • I presume that someone is already 'guilty' of not getting this right ('this' being "able to see into the future" and predicting the need for weather satellites) so, the person(s) need to be charged, found giulty, and incarcerated. After all, that will always make a positive impression on scientists and engineers, as it did recently in Italy [cosmosmagazine.com]. This also applies to those responsible for the launcher, and the weather forecasters who clear the launch window, the space-junk trackers who clear the window, and so
  • The crowd that insists that government is the problem, and we shouldn't be spending money on anything that is only understood by an educated elite, and sending things into space is a waste (as if we grind up the money and throw it up there), has kept un-funding things. Oddly enough a lot of them come from farming and natural-resource states where whether predictions can make a huge difference.

    OTOH corporate interests should be enticed, by allowing them to advertise support. Get the people making cameras
  • NOAA & NASA funds were cut to the bone by a 3 out past four congresses that disliked climate change. This alone doesnt explain the who situation. Articles say that NOAA project management has not been that good.

"Bureaucracy is the enemy of innovation." -- Mark Shepherd, former President and CEO of Texas Instruments

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