Chaos in the US Weather Satellite Communities

The Pentagon has canceled the next-generation weather satellite program Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS), writes Space News. DWSS was to deliver weather and  environmental  mapping data to support the US military. DWSS was canceled following the Senate Appropriations Committee’s removal of funding in the 2012 budget.

DWSS was itself a successor to a canceled program, the National Polar-Orbiting Observing Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). NPOESS was to have amalgamated civil and military weather satellite programs in a single system (thus saving money). NPOESS, perhaps predictably, was shut down after large cost and time overruns. It obviously isn’t that easy to integrate civil and military systems and build all-encompassing satellites whilst developing wholly new instruments.  Defense Industry Daily have a thorough rundown of the NPOESS saga. Space Ref also has an article describing problems with NPOESS (from 2005!)

An interim mission, the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP), was launched in late 2011. Hailed as state of the art , even this mission couldn’t achieve it’s objectives without problems. One key instrument, a MODIS alternative the VIIRS, has a contaminated sensor and is not able to operate to specification.

On the civilian side the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) is on time though [more] budget uncertainty exists. Yet with four years to go there is still time for another cock-up. The whole sorry saga is a lesson in how not to do things. Politics does not make for stable long-term planning. Joint operations raise risks in a non-linear fashion. New instruments multiply those risks. The endless uncertainty, political oversight and changing demands do not support innovation and productivity. Contracting, particularly on the military side, clearly needs an overhaul in order to share cost overruns which today fall on government.

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