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Earth Space Science

Our Weather Satellites Are Dying 193

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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  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @12:46PM (#41789795)

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

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 27, 2012 @12:49PM (#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 fustakrakich ( 1673220 ) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @01:02PM (#41789901) Journal

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

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 27, 2012 @01:32PM (#41790093)

    Nice strawman. I agree that the first post was bullshit but these satellites are needed and aren't an example of excessive government spending. The excellent storm forecasts we've had over the past decade came about due to these satellites. Lives and property have been saved. When there is a satellite gap, people who are used to knowing if a hurricane or a derecho is going to hit them 3 days in advance will be surprised when they have almost no notice. People who are used to knowing if the next winter storm is going to be an icestorm will be surprised when they get 2 inches of ice instead of 2 ft of snow.

  • by vikingpower ( 768921 ) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @01:36PM (#41790107) Homepage Journal
    ...when you over-spend on military interventions and bullying the world, and under-spend on useful tech.
  • by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @01:50PM (#41790199) Journal

    Why do we need "next generation" satellites? Why not build more of the same, which apparently have worked adequately for quite a while?

    Car Analogy Warning: When fuel is your biggest cost, the price difference between launching a Model-T into orbit isn't really that relevant compared to launching a ferrari.

    There's also the whole "technology improving" thing.
    Imagine the current state of science if we were only using microscopes that "have worked adequately for quite a while" []
    Heck, feel free to compare and contrast a 1999 cell phone with one made in 2010.

  • by jhoegl ( 638955 ) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @01:58PM (#41790261)
    I agree... we should let corporations tell us when weather is bad.
    Because paying for information to be told a tornado is coming is a good idea.
    Paying to be told a hurricane is coming is a good idea.
    Preventing loss of life should be secondary to profits.
    Also, none of that is bribing to save lives, its just good business.

    If only we were less short sighted than profits and more caring about people. But fuck it, PROFITS!
  • by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @02:01PM (#41790283)

    "...when you over-spend on military interventions and bullying the world, and under-spend on useful tech."

    Where do you think SATELLITE technology and the ability to LAUNCH them came from? The Peaceful Space Tech Fairie?

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @02:11PM (#41790343) Homepage Journal

    Why would they? When they can get the government to do it.

    Why would they launch their own satellites if the government did NOT do it for them? Look, they've done well repackaging the text data you've always been able to get from NOAA. They take the raw imagery, doll it up and spin it around in various eye-watering, stomach-churning ways. They're in the data presentation business, not the data production business.

    Sure, being the only organization that can fill in the data gap would be a competitive advantage, but that requires investment, and in general the investment in substance by information-media has dropped through the floor. News outfits cutting back on things like foreign bureaues and local reporters and shifting their content to opinion; and you expect them to pick up the 655 million dollars it takes to field the JPSS-1 and the 12.6 *billion* of the entire program?

    What the American government really seems to do is funnel tax payers money into companies.

    Well, sure. If you're going to have a space program, it's either funnel taxpayers' money into companies or into programs staffed by government workers. The question shouldn't be where the money ends up, it should be value for money. A decade of accurate storm tracking is easily worth 12 billion bucks to America as a whole; it's just not worth 12 billion to any single private entity.

  • by Rockoon ( 1252108 ) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @04:51PM (#41791589)

    Why would it take that news outfit $12 billion? Just because it costs government a lot, doesn't mean that it should cost a private entity the same.

    I would hope that if it costs $13 billion for some weather satellites, that nobody is foolish enough to pay it. Well, of course the government was that foolish.. but hey.

    This works out to a years income for 288,888 people at the median ($45K) level. No, not the taxes they pay.. THEIR ENTIRE INCOME.

    Or, with that kind of money you can order the production a whopping 260,000 commercial drones at $50,000 per unit. You can *lose* 71 commercial drones per day for 10 years and still not match the cost of these new weather satellites.

    I am amazed at how often the cost that these projects consume doesnt greatly offend peoples senses. $10 billion costs $77 per household. Money like that adds up quickly.. a couple hundred projects like that and you've got the american government in a nutshell.

  • by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @05:27PM (#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 craigminah ( 1885846 ) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @05:42PM (#41791975)
    Corporations have incentive to provide timely, accurate information as long as there's competition. The government, on the other hand, don't give a crap about efficiency they only care about effectiveness. Much more bang for your buck with commercial launch and with commercial satellites. Weather satellites are a national defense issue but this could be farmed out to companies...the launch business is mostly companies the government contracts out to so why not weather satellites? Ask yourself, when's the last time the government did something and you were amazed at how little it cost.

    Or have we reached you too late after you've drank the liberal Kool-Aid? Think for yourself and stop regurgitating the lies. Repeat after me (in a non-zombie-like voice), "companies not inherently bad...government not inherently hot..."
  • by Iamthecheese ( 1264298 ) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @07:44PM (#41792803)
    It's a brilliant example of one category of tragedy of the commons. The dollars spent are easily seen and tracked. The dollars saved are invisible.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 27, 2012 @07:52PM (#41792883)

    My assumption, possibly poor, is that this includes designing, building, launching, maintaining, and monitoring the satellite for a decade or more.

"The way of the world is to praise dead saints and prosecute live ones." -- Nathaniel Howe