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NASA Earth Space Science

U.S. In Danger of Losing Earth-Observing Satellite Capability 258

New submitter crazyjj writes "As reported in Wired, a recent National Research Council report indicates a growing concern for NASA, the NOAA, and USGS. While there are currently 22 Earth-observing satellites in orbit, this number is expected to drop to as low as six by the year 2020. The U.S. relies on this network of satellites for weather forecasting, climate change data, and important geologic and oceanographic information. As with most things space and NASA these days, the root cause is funding cuts. The program to maintain this network was funded at $2 billion as recently as 2002, but has since been scaled back to a current funding level of $1.3 billion, with only two replacement satellites having definite launch dates."
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U.S. In Danger of Losing Earth-Observing Satellite Capability

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  • A perfect example (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ThatsNotPudding ( 1045640 ) on Monday May 07, 2012 @01:55PM (#39917551)
    of Short-Sightedness.

    The anti-science crowd will soon be racking up an impressive body count - including their own voting-against-their-own-interest constituencies in hurricane and tornado country.
    • by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Monday May 07, 2012 @02:48PM (#39918123) Journal

      A perfect example of Short-Sightedness.

      No doubt the free market will step in and launch satellites that are better, faster, and cheaper.
      But you'll have to pay for it.

      But there's a silver lining to this cloud!.
      At least people will stop blaming the government for not predicting hurricanes and tornados!

    • by necro81 ( 917438 )

      A perfect example of Short-Sightedness

      Well, if you lose your observational capacity, it's a perfect example of non-sightedness.

  • Correction.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Monday May 07, 2012 @01:55PM (#39917553) Homepage

    Public and Scientific earth viewing satellites are dwindling. The military has plenty of money to launch all they need.

    • It's still worrying that civilian instruments in space are dwindling. Sure, the military-industrial complex has Congress in their pocket, but science is not a top priority for military satellites.

      • Re:Correction.... (Score:5, Informative)

        by chill ( 34294 ) on Monday May 07, 2012 @02:03PM (#39917647) Journal

        You must've missed the article the other day where the Secretary of Defense called Climate Change a threat to national security.

        http://www.rttnews.com/1877434/climate-change-a-threat-to-national-security-panetta.aspx?type=usp [rttnews.com]

        • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

          You must've missed the article the other day where the Secretary of Defense called Climate Change a threat to national security.

          Which is true because you'll have nations fighting over resources, especially water.

          Thing is though, it's the secretary of defense - so this would be a call for increased military spending. Climate change is real, the only debate is how much of an effect humans are causing (from none to a lot). Climate change deniers are simply stating it's changing not because of human activity, s

      • Re:Correction.... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Monday May 07, 2012 @02:08PM (#39917699) Journal

        It's even more worrying that civilian instruments are declining with respect to militarism. If it were just cutbacks across the board that caused this, it would be unfortunate. But what we actually see indicates a (continuing) shift in priorities. Military spending is more important to the powers that run the US than scientific spending. Notably, supremacy of the military and disdain for intellectuals are both defining characteristics of fascist states [secularhumanism.org].

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by ArhcAngel ( 247594 )

        civilian instruments in space are dwindling

        Are you sure [techcrunch.com] about [makezine.com] that? [oreilly.com]

        • Re:Correction.... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by dave420 ( 699308 ) on Monday May 07, 2012 @03:02PM (#39918297)
          Yes. There's a massive difference between actual long-term science projects (such as weather monitoring, climate recording, etc., which cost many millions to get into space) and some hobbyist PCB in a rapidly-decaying orbit with relatively-useless instrumentation. Please don't confuse the two.
        • by necro81 ( 917438 )
          I'm enthusiastic about kicksat, but you are entirely naive if you think that a bunch of kicksats will replace the capabilities of a $1bn Earth-observing platform. It's not just about having something in orbit; it's about the quality of the instruments. The cameras, spectrometers, etc. in the Earth-orbiting fleet are all multi-million dollar, one-off, high-precision instruments. Amateurs can't duplicate that capability.
    • Re:Correction.... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by IDtheTarget ( 1055608 ) on Monday May 07, 2012 @02:13PM (#39917757)

      Public and Scientific earth viewing satellites are dwindling. The military has plenty of money to launch all they need.

      Actually, that's incorrect. We (I'm a Signal Officer in the Army National Guard that just returned from a deployment to Afghanistan) have several communications systems that use civilian satellites.

      So your statement would more correctly read: The military has plenty of money to rent time on civilian satellites.

      To head off the inevitable "it's not secure!", we use NSA-provided end-to-end encryption for all of our tactical communications, especially those going over civilian networks. Including satellites.

  • No Problem (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anne_Nonymous ( 313852 ) on Monday May 07, 2012 @01:55PM (#39917555) Homepage Journal

    We'll just outsource it all to India and China.

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      Nah. "We" don't have to do anything. If monitoring climate change is important, the free market will do a better job at it than government.

  • by wcrowe ( 94389 ) on Monday May 07, 2012 @01:58PM (#39917575)

    This is a simple problem to solve. All they have to do is label the satellites as "anti-terrorist", or something like that, and they'll get all the funding they need.

    • by crazyjj ( 2598719 ) * on Monday May 07, 2012 @02:08PM (#39917701)

      Congressman: So this satellite...

      NASA: The "A-TOP" Anti-Terrorist Observation Platform, sir.

      Congressman: It says it's for observing terrorists, but it looks like it's for monitoring the weather...

      NASA: It's for monitoring terrorist efforts to use the weather as a weapon, sir.

      Congressman: They can do that?!?

      NASA: They're very clever, sir.

  • A perfect storm! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Jhon ( 241832 ) on Monday May 07, 2012 @01:59PM (#39917591) Homepage Journal

    This is the perfect tin-foil-hat scenario!

    The "Global Warming Alarmists" will say it's a plot to prevent the study of of anthropogenic climate change by the "Deniers" and prove just how bad it is.

    And the "Deniers" will say it's a plot to keep the "Alarmists" evil lie from coming to light.

    Pass the popcorn!

    • The "Global Warming Alarmists" will say it's a plot to prevent the study of of anthropogenic climate change by the "Deniers" and prove just how bad it is.

      No, I don't think they will. It might be a side-effect of anti-science zealotry in general, but I don't think there's a compelling need to allege a conspiracy to explain this happening.
      The argument you present from the other side also seems implausible, as the satellite data has been some of the most damning. On the other hand, who am I to guess at the m

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 07, 2012 @02:00PM (#39917607)

    1. Cut Taxes
    2. ????
    3. Jesus Comes

  • by msobkow ( 48369 ) on Monday May 07, 2012 @02:03PM (#39917643) Homepage Journal

    After all, the money to pay for F-22s that have never flown a combat mission and cost a year's salary to fly for an hour was FAR more important than trivial things like weather forecasting.

    But just you wait and see what gets cut to pay for the F-35s!

  • short on detail (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I wouldn't be surprised if 6 new sats designed and launched between now and then could actually do the job of the 18 mission the TFA mentions . TFA was long on hype and short on details.


    • I wouldn't be surprised if 6 new sats designed and launched between now and then could actually do the job of the 18 mission the TFA mentions .

      The number of satellites required is more a function of geometry than technology: In close, there's only so much surface visible and only so much area covered per day. Farther out, there's more area covered (albeit at lower resolution) but less per day goes under the eye.

      Barring SF-novel grade technology that can count pubic hairs from the orbit of Uranus, there's only so much that you can do to counter those constraints.

  • It's only natural that as regulations, unnecessary wars, and spending for giveaways rise, less money is available for other purposes.
    It's only natural that as repeatedly denied, government funded science scandals occur, the public loses faith in government funded science
    It's only natural that as government spying increases, people lose interesting funding anything global with surveillence.

    Basically, we're f&*$#d.
  • While I've heard a lot about how NASA is undergoing drastic spending cuts, I haven't found any hard numbers for it. In fact, a cursory look at wikipedia and NASA's own published budget shows the opposite; NASA's current budget is actually historically above average. It is certainly higher then it was for most of the 1990s and 1980s. In fact according to wikipedia the average budget of NASA has been 15 billion, and yet it sits at around 17 billion today, actually increasing from 15 billion to 17 billion i
    • The problem isn't the NASA budget as a whole, which as you point out is doing all right by historical standards, particularly given the larger budget situation within the government. The talk of cuts has more to do with allocations within NASA.

      Specifically, SLS (the new heavy-lift to nowhere rocket) and James Webb Space Telescope are eating everyone else's lunch. Planetary Science and Commercial Cargo/Crew development, along with Earth Science, are the programs suffering from this.

      SLS is the real tragedy,

      • In general, the 'we're going to the Moon, and then to Mars' was the start of it ... Added the stuff that NASA had to do, but no money to pay for it, so other departments got canibalized.

        There was a lot of press about the folks in Florida who lost their jobs after the last shuttle lanuch ... but nothing about the people who were let go years before because their discipline had cuts so that the shuttle could continue going up past its planned life without any funding to pay for it.

        And for JWST, there was a b

  • The U.S. relies on this network of satellites for ...climate change data

    'Nuff said.

  • It's been demonstrated that the cost of launching small shiny objects into space has dropped drastically. The Mars rovers (Opportunity and Spirit) continued operational cost has cost under a billion dollars total (and that's including the projected 5th mission for them).

    Yet, they were launched in 2003 - before Xprize, before UAVs and the many long-run high altitude planes/UAVs, and a myriad of other advancements. They weren't just a payload and delivery system, they were multiple payloads with multiple deli

    • YOU aren't Boeing / Lockheed / Northrup-Grumman , et. al.

      THEY need lots of money for this sort of thing. Government regulations, security, terrorism and all that.

      YOU shut the fuck up. THEY will protect America!

    • by JWW ( 79176 )

      Ironically, UAV's are another option for Earth Observation.

      The only problem is the (well deserved) very bad rap they get for being used for surveillance. i.e. how do you tell a climate monitoring drone from a big brother drone?

      But, they can pair up quite nicely with satellite's to enhance our gathering of Earth Science data.

    • by necro81 ( 917438 )

      Considering an amateur can go from nothing to a satellite in space for a fairly paltry sum (under $100k), and you can build some fairly impressive optics and com gear for a lot less than you could 10 years ago. There is absolutely no reason it should cost as much today to do the same thing we were doing 10 years ago. Moores Law applies here too

      Moore's law applies to integrated circuits. Although satellites use plenty of chips, the cost of ICs isn't the major driver of something like an observation platfo

  • Maybe if NASA said they can use them to track terrorists, they could divert some funding from the DoD.

    • In all seriousness, Paul Krugman among others have theorized that a credible threat of extra-terrestrial invasion would in fact do wonders for the world:
      1. We'd stop focusing on hating other people, and start focusing on hating those evil aliens. It would go a long way towards making peace on earth possible.
      2. World governments which are currently acting mostly as a brake on the economy would start employing absolutely everybody to design and build new weapons designed to stop the invasion. Think along the

  • We can just install WeatherPro on the iPhone! Right?
  • Those are just the U.S. Government satellites. They're ignoring WorldView-1, WorldView-2, GeoEye-1, RapidEye 1 through 5, Spot 2,4, and 5, EROS A and B... This is an area in which the private sector is doing quite well.

    • by Xeth ( 614132 )
      No, it's not. Every single one of those satellites is visible, maybe with some near IR. I couldn't see a single one that can observe wavelengths longer than 1 um. That makes sense for commercial satellites, but it's not even close to sufficient for climate science.
  • Reading the comments:

    Obama proposes budget.
    Nasa takes a hit.

    Fault = republicans?

  • ...they let them slip on the floor [spaceref.com]. If only they could be a little more careful...
  • Hey America! So Sorry!!! Nobody had the heart to say... the money is all gone. We print more, but now it doesn't mean anything any more. The several hundred people at the top of the economic pyramid own everything, have all the money, and are now confronted with how to keep the whole damn thing going without actually putting any real amount of wealth back in the system. So until they all get together this summer in the Hamptons, and figure out what they're willing to fund, new satellites are not on the menu

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.