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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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  • Re:Subcontract (Score:4, Interesting)

    by lennier1 ( 264730 ) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @12:51PM (#41789819)

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

  • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @12:53PM (#41789843) Journal

    Ah yes. A fine representative from the Grand Old Sociopath Party.

  • Re:Subcontract (Score:2, Interesting)

    by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @01:08PM (#41789941)

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

  • Re:Next generation? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cvtan ( 752695 ) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @01:09PM (#41789947)
    I'll bet any amount that the people that designed and built the old satellites are not around anymore. "Next generation" is industry speak for "We have to start all over again.". Of course, I have no facts to back this up.
  • Re:Next generation? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @01:23PM (#41790027) Homepage

    Perhaps not but the US Department of Defense seems to toss up satellites with cameras on a regular basis. I'm at a bit of a loss to understand why this is so hard. The basic sensing suite should be well established by now. Satellite technology is well established. Certainly there is room for research - better sensors, more communications and whatnot but getting a garden variety weather satellite out just ought not to be so hard.

    Maybe give it to the pros (DOD) or JPL or maybe even Elon Musk. Further, I have to believe with all the money we've spent on military satellites, they don't have spare weather sats sitting in a warehouse someone....

  • by spd_rcr ( 537511 ) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @01:56PM (#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. []

  • by swillden ( 191260 ) <> on Saturday October 27, 2012 @03:45PM (#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 digitalaudiorock ( 1130835 ) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @04:28PM (#41791433)

    I'll probably get some troll points for this, but after watching the recent Frontline titled Climate of Doubt [], 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 we're getting closer and closer to witch burning every day...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 27, 2012 @04:35PM (#41791483)

    Your politics aren't even interesting. When Romney guts wherever you or your family works and you all lose your jobs you may appreciate having the health benefits Obama wants to give you. Unless you live in MA and already enjoy what Romney gave you.

  • Re:Next generation? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Rockoon ( 1252108 ) on Saturday October 27, 2012 @05:12PM (#41791749)
    Feel free to compare NASA's budget 2 decades ago with todays budget. Its about the same. Somehow the technology in the space sector has gotten more expensive over time, unlike the cell phones that you are talking about.

    The space shuttle only cost $1.7 billion per craft and only $450 million per launch.. thats the fucking space shuttle!! Now a few weather satellites cost $13 billion to make and deploy? These is corporations gorging themselves at the trough of runaway government deficits.

APL hackers do it in the quad.