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Military / National Security News

House and Senate Budget Conferees Reach a Deal, a Few Days Early

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Dec-2013 (Updated: 11-Dec-2013 12:08 AM)

House and Senate budget conferees tasked with reaching a budget deal by December 13 surprised many not only by reaching agreement at all, but a few days early.

House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Committee chairman Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) announced today a two-year (FY2014-2015)  budget agreement that replaces the sequester and sets government spending approximately mid-way between the amounts earlier approved separately by the House and Senate. The total amount of government spending recommended for FY2014 in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 is $1.012 trillion.  The House had approved $967 billion while the Senate approved $1.058 trillion.

How those figures filter down to the 12 appropriations subcommittees and the individual agencies -- like DOD, NASA and NOAA -- they fund remains to be seen, but the fact that agreement was reached at all is a positive sign.   Senate Appropriations Committee chair Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) lauded the agreement, saying it means "we can meet national security needs while meeting compelling human needs like education, health and housing."  Mikulski's House counterpart, Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY), similarly praised the deal, saying it took "courage and resolve."

The budget conferees had a December 13 deadline based on the agreement that reopened government in October.   Few expected they would meet that deadline, much less beat it.  The House and Senate still must agree to its recommendations.   Then the House and Senate appropriations committees must agree on how to allocate those funds and get the approval of their respective chambers.  That step must happen before January 15, 2014 when the current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires.

While the agreement is good news on gridlocked Capitol Hill, it is only for two years rather than 10, does not raise the debt limit (the current agreement on that expires on February 7), and does not reform either entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid or the tax code.  If approved by the House and Senate, however, it should avoid another government shutdown and provide a framework for the appropriations committees to make funding decisions for two fiscal years.

House and Senate Committees Reach Compromise on 2014 Defense Authorization Bill

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Dec-2013 (Updated: 09-Dec-2013 06:59 PM)

The chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees announced today that their committees, at least, have reached compromise on the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  The House passed its version in June, but the Senate version got stuck in partisan debate over amendments when it was brought to the floor for a vote just before Thanksgiving.

Republican House Armed Services Committees (HASC) chairman Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-CA) and Democratic Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) held a press conference today and released a fact sheet spelling out key aspects of the agreement.  While it is only between the committees at this point and does not ensure the bill will clear Congress by the end of this week, it could speed the process along.  The House currently plans to adjourn for the rest of the year on Friday.

The annual defense authorization bill is one of the few authorization bills that always clears Congress despite the depth of political gridlock.   It enjoys a 51-year record of success because members of both parties on both sides of Capitol Hill consider defense issues to be such a high priority.  Nonetheless, with the clock ticking, concern has been growing that this year might be the exception.

The plan apparently is for the House to pass the compromise bill this week before it leaves town and the Senate to pass it next week.  However, that would mean no changes could be made in the Senate since the House no longer will be in session to approve a revised version.  That could be a risky strategy since many Senators had amendments they wanted to offer to the SASC version of the bill.  That was the main obstacle in getting it through the Senate last month.  Still, if enough people want a bill, even one that is far from perfect, it could work.  Or if there were relatively minor changes, it is conceivable that the House could reconvene to consider an amended version, perhaps hoping to pass it by voice vote so not all members would need to return to town.

In any case, the nine page fact sheet makes several statements about certain national security space issues, but provides little other detail.  Under the heading Accountability for Vital Strategic Programs and Assets, it says: 

  • "The NDAA also reforms DOD's business process with commercial satellite companies ensuring that strategic competitors do not gain inadvertent access to vital systems or information."
  • "Additionally, the NDAA requires the DOD to develop a strategy to lower the cost, thorough [sic] through multi-year procurement, of commercial satellite services."
  • "In order to protect national security, the NDAA prohibits the President from approving the installation of Russian satellite ground stations in the United States that pose a threat to U.S. national security."
  • "Additionally, the NDAA supports key national security space activities, including an emphasis on space protection and Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) programs in light of increasing foreign threats, as well as support for fair competition on the evolved expendable launch vehicle program."

Although the fact sheet does not provide details, the third bullet probably refers to the debate over whether monitor stations for Russia's GLONASS navigation satellite system should be placed in the United States as proposed by the State Department but opposed by DOD and CIA.

The bill would fund DOD at $552.1 billion for FY2014, plus another $80.7 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (e.g. the war in Afghanistan).

Space Policy Events for the Week of December 9-13, 2013 - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Dec-2013 (Updated: 09-Dec-2013 03:21 PM)

The following events may be of interest in the week ahead.  The House and Senate both are in session. 

During the Week

The House is scheduled to adjourn for the year on Friday; the Senate plans to be here one more week after that.  If those schedules hold, this is the last week in 2013 that they both will be in session and thus able to get legislation passed and to the White House.   Many Senators say that of all the pending legislation, they really want to get the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed, but they didn't make much progress before the Thanksgiving break because of partisan disputes over amendments.  The House passed its version in June.  This is the one authorization bill that always gets through no matter how tough the political times -- a 51-year record.  Will this year be the exception? 

Friday, December 13, is not only the last scheduled day for the House to meet this year, but is also the deadline for the budget conference committee to reach agreement on federal funding for FY2014, at least.   The conference committee was created as part of the deal to reopen the government in October and even at the time few were optimistic it would meet that deadline.   Nothing has changed.  

Lots of interesting events this week, including a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on "weather readiness" that includes Tom Young reporting on his Independent Review Team that is watching over NOAA's weather satellite programs.  That's on Thursday at 10:30 am.  Note that It's not in the committee's regular hearing room in the Russell Building, but in G-50 Dirksen.  The previous day, a House subcommittee will hold a hearing on "A Factual Look at the Relationship Between Climate and Weather."   The witnesses have not been announced yet, so it's not clear how much if any of that deals with satellite issues.

Separately, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee may resume its markup of the bill that affects how NASA handles termination liability for its major human spaceflight programs (SLS, Orion and ISS).  The committee approved three bills on Thursday, but when it came to this one, chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) said more time was needed for Republicans and Democrats to work out their differences so the bill has bipartisan support.  He tentatively set Tuesday at 2:00 pm EST to resume the markup, but it is not definite.  At stake is how $507 million in the hands of contractors will be spent -- to execute the programs or held in reserve in case the government terminates the contracts.

Across the country in San Francisco all week, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) annual meeting is certain to be chock full of fascinating scientific findings.   Many press conferences are scheduled and will be livestreamed.   We created a list of those that are probably most interesting to the space community, but the full list is on the AGU website, so you can pick your own.  That website has a tab labeled "Webstreaming."  Click on that to listen in.

Meanwhile, the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) and several of its committees are meeting down in Florida, at Kennedy Space Center.  NASA is restructuring NAC, getting rid of three committees and merging a fourth (Commercial Space) into one of the remaining committees.   The way NASA and NAC chairman Steve Squyres describe the situation it's a done deal, but there might be some discussion of why the decision was made and its implications.   NAC itself meets on Wednesday and Thursday.   The NAC meeting and most NAC committee meetings are available via WebEx and telecom.  See our calendar entries for instructions on how to tune in.  NASA has not posted an agenda for the NAC meeting yet.  Hopefully it will before the meeting takes place.  If so, it should be posted on the NAC website.

Those and many more meetings of interest are in the list below.  These are the ones we know of as of Sunday morning.  We're posting this a bit early today because there's a nasty ice storm coming this afternoon and there's a chance of losing power, so we wanted to get this up on the website before anything bad happens.

Monday, December 9

Monday-Tuesday, December 9-10

Monday-Friday, December 9-13

  • American Geophysical Union (AGU) annual meeting, San Francisco, CA.  Note there are press conferences each day that will be webcast.  Here are three examples that may be of interest:    
    • Monday -- Update from Gale Crater:  Results from the Mars Curiosity Rover, 9:00-10:00 am PST (12:00-1:00 pm EST)
    • Tuesday -- Science from Juno's Earth Flyby, 10:30 - 11:30 am PST (1:30-2:30 pm EST)
    • Thursday -- Titan as You've Never Seen it Before:  New Results from the Cassini Mission to Saturn, 11:30-12:30 pm PST (2:30-3:30 pm EST)

Tuesday, December 10

Tuesday-Wednesday, December 10-11

Wednesday, December 11

Wednesday-Thursday, December 11-12

Thursday, December 12

Friday, December 13

Space Policy Events for the Week of December 2-6, 2013

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 01-Dec-2013 (Updated: 03-Dec-2013 02:55 PM)

This article has been corrected since its original publication.  See note at end.

The following events may be of interest in the week ahead.  The House is in session.  The Senate is in recess, scheduled to return next week.

During the Week

Tomorrow (Monday), the House is scheduled to vote on the bill (H.R. 3547) to extend third party liability indemnification for one year.  It is the first of three bills to be considered under suspension of the rules.  The House meets at 2:00 pm ET, but votes are postponed until 6:00 pm.

Also tomorrow, SpaceX may try again to launch the SES-8 communications satellite.   Three attempts on Monday, November 25,  and two on Thursday (Thanksgiving Day) didn't succeed for various reasons.   The company has not officially announced a new launch date and time, saying only that Monday is the earliest it will go.   The launch window is open from 5:41 - 7:07 pm ET if they are, indeed, ready to try again.  A lot is riding on the success of this launch.

Also during the week, hopefully members of the budget conference committee will be trying to find a solution to the nation's deficit situation so the FY2014 budget, at least, can be finalized even if they cannot reach agreement on a long term solution.   Whatever hope there was -- and it wasn't much -- is fading, however, as the committee's December 13 deadline nears.  December 13 is also the last day the House is scheduled to be in session for this year.   Since the Senate does not return until December 9, there is little time for anything to happen.  The current Continuing Resolution expires on January 15, 2014, the day that another round of sequester cuts takes effect if Congress does not act to stop it.   The story hasn't changed -- no one likes the sequester, but no agreement appears achievable on an alternative because Democrats want to reduce the deficit through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases while Republicans want only spending cuts. 

Many House committees are holding hearings on Obamacare this week, but the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will have one on a more uplifting subject -- astrobiology -- on Wednesday.

Those and other events we know of as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.

Monday, December 2

Tuesday, December 3

Tuesday-Wednesday, December 3-4

  • NAC Science Committee, NASA HQ, Washington, DC
    • December 3, 8:30 am - 4:00 pm ET
    • December 4, 8:30 am - 3:00 pm ET

Wednesday, December 4

Wednesday-Thursday, December 4-5

Thursday, December 5

Friday, December 6

 CORRECTION:  In an earlier version, we mistakenly listed the WSBR luncheon with Stephane Israel for December 4.  Instead it was December 3.  Our apologies.

White House Releases Updated Space Transportation Policy

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-Nov-2013 (Updated: 21-Nov-2013 05:41 PM)

The Obama White House released today the long awaited update of the National Space Transportation Policy.

The President produced a National Space Policy in 2010, just 17 months after taking office, but updates of other national space policies promulgated by previous administrations have languished.  Rumors were rampant just about one year ago that this policy was about to be released.  The reasons for the delay until now are unclear and may be as simple as a lack of priority and/or interest at the White House.

In any case, the updated policy is now out, along with a fact sheet, on the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy's website.  NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden called it a "bold vision for space" on his blog.

Spectacular View of ORS-3 at Sunset Awaiting Launch Tonight - UPDATE 3

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Nov-2013 (Updated: 19-Nov-2013 08:22 PM)

UPDATE 3, 8:23 pm ET:   Launch went off as (re)scheduled at 8:15 pm ET.

UPDATE 2, 7:19 pm ET:   They've picked up the count.   Launch will be about 8:15 pm ET.

UPDATE, 7:05 pm ET:  The launch has been delayed while they work an issue with one of the tracking stations in North Carolina.  The station is part of the range safety system, so must be working for the launch to take place.  The problem reportedly has been resolved and verification testing is underway.  The launch window is open until 9:15 pm tonight.  Weather is 100 percent favorable for launch.  Follow us on Twitter @SpcPlcyOnline to keep up to date.

Orbital Sciences Corporation is getting ready to launch the Air Force's ORS-3 mission at 7:30 pm ET from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia, which should be viewable along the East Coast.   NASA just tweeted a totally awesome photo of the rocket on the pad at sunset.

Now THAT's a photo-op!

 Photo credit:  NASA

The Minotaur I rocket will loft 29 satellites into orbit at once.   The launch window is open from 7:30 - 9:15 pm ET.  Maps showing where to look to see the launch are on Orbital's website.  Weather permitting, it could be visible from northern Florida to southern Canada, and as far west as Indiana.

Next Up: Launch of 29 Satellites on One Rocket from Wallops Tomorrow

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Nov-2013 (Updated: 18-Nov-2013 08:20 PM)

With the MAVEN mission safely on its way to Mars, attention can now turn to another interesting launch coming up tomorrow.  This one will give people along the East Coast another chance to see an orbital launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the coast of Virginia and this one will put 29 satellites into orbit at once.

The primary purpose is to launch an Air Force Space Test Program satellite (STPSat3) as part of the Pentagon's Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) program. STPSat3 is a technology demonstration mission. The ORS program is intended to demonstrate the ability to build and launch satellites to meet specific needs in less time than traditional satellites.  This is third in the series and the overall mission is designated ORS-3.

Weather permitting, the launch at 7:30 pm Eastern Standard Time (EST) should be visible along a wide swath of the East Coast from northern Florida to southern Canada and as far west as Indiana.   Orbital Sciences Corporation has posted several maps on its website showing the areas where it will be visible if the weather cooperates.

Source:  Orbital Sciences Corporation website

Orbital provides the Minotaur rockets, which use refurbished Minuteman II motors for the first and second stages.  Several versions of Minotaur are available.  The one being launched tomorrow is a Minotaur I, which has two additional commercially-provided motors.  Minotaur I is  a relatively small space launch vehicle that can put just 580 kilograms (about 1,300 pounds) into low Earth orbit, but in an era of tiny "cubesats," it can launch quite a few at a time.  Tomorrow's launch will take 28 cubesats into space along with STPSat3.   A standard cubesat is 10 x 10 x 10 centimeters (designated as 1U for 1 unit), and several can be grouped together to provide more volume. 1U, 2U and 3U cubesats are common. 

Bob Christy at zarya.info has a list of them.   Some are military, some are from NASA, some are from universities (many built through NASA's ELaNa program), and one is from the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia, reportedly the first cubesat built by high school students.  Orbital partnered with the high school to build the satellite and describes it as a phonetic voice synthesizer that can convert text to voice and transmit the voice back to Earth over amateur radio frequencies.

The launch window is open from 7:30 - 9:15 pm EST (though some of the NASA webpages say 9:30 instead of 9:15).   Wallops will provide launch coverage beginning at 6:30 pm EST via Ustream.   Launch opportunities are available through November 26 if needed.

Space Policy Events for the Week of November 18-22, 2013

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Nov-2013 (Updated: 17-Nov-2013 03:54 PM)

The following events may be of interest in the week ahead.  The House and Senate are in session.

During the Week

NASA's launch of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission on Monday at 1:28 pm ET should start the week off on a high note.  Weather permitting, that is.  The forecast is for a 60 percent chance of favorable conditions.  The odds get worse on Tuesday and all fingers are crossed that the Atlas V will lift off sometime during the 2-hour launch window tomorrow (until 3:28 pm ET) and MAVEN will start the 10-month journey to Mars on time.  NASA TV begins launch coverage at 11:00 am ET.  A post-launch press conference is scheduled for approximately 2.5 hours after launch.

Also on Monday, the Senate is scheduled to try to begin debate on its version of the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  The bill, S. 1197, was approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) on June 14.

The American Astronautical Society is hosting a panel discussion on international cooperation in space featuring officials from NASA and the Japanese, Canadian and European space agencies.  The meeting is on Tuesday in 2325 Rayburn from 11:30 am - 1:30 pm.

The next day and just down the hall in 2318 Rayburn, the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on commercial space, with witnesses from the Satellite Industry Association and the Mojave Air and Space Port, but the appearances of House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Dennis Tito, often called the first space tourist and now the man behind the Inspiration Mars concept of sending two people on a slingshot trajectory to Mars in 2018, are likely to draw the most attention.  McCarthy's district includes Mojave.

Also on Wednesday, NASA is set to resume the Asteroid Initiative workshop that was interrupted on September 30 because of the government shut-down.  It is scheduled for Wednesday-Friday back at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.

Here's the full list of events we know about as of Sunday afternoon, November 17.

Monday, November 18

Monday-Wednesday, November 18-20

Monday-Friday, November 18-22

Tuesday, November 19

Tuesday-Wednesday, November 19-20

  • NOAA Science Advisory Board, Beacon Hotel, Washington, DC  [NOAA's response to the Satellite Task Force report is currently scheduled for November 19 at 2:00 pm ET, but check the Board's website for possible changes)

Tuesday-Thursday, November 19-21

Wednesday, November 20

Wednesday-Friday, November 20-22

Should Russia be Allowed to Install GLONASS Monitor Stations on U.S. Soil?

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Nov-2013 (Updated: 17-Nov-2013 02:42 PM)

The New York Times (NYT) carries an interesting story today about an ongoing debate within U.S. policy circles about whether to allow Russia to install monitor stations for its GLONASS navigation satellite system on U.S. soil to improve its accuracy.  The debate pits the State Department, which reportedly wants to say yes, against the U.S. defense and intelligence communities, which object to the idea.  A government advisory board on U.S. and foreign navigation satellite systems was briefed on this topic in May and no questions appear to have been raised.

GLONASS is the Russian equivalent to the U.S. GPS system.  The use of GPS is pervasive not only in the United States, but around the world and other countries are building their own systems.  GPS and GLONASS are formally called positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) satellites.   When fully operational, each system consists of a constellation of 24 satellites that provide three-dimensional (latitude, longitude, altitude) data anywhere on Earth as well as very precise timing signals.  The term Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) is used to refer to these systems generically.  In addition to the U.S. GPS and Russia's GLONASS, two other GNSS systems are under development -- China's Beidou and Europe's Galileo.  Japan and India are developing regional systems (QZSS and IRNSS, respectively).

The gist of the debate reported by the NYT is that the accuracy of GNSS systems depends on reference stations around the globe that detect even slight changes in each satellite's orbit so data can be corrected and measurements kept extremely accurate.  Russia wants to emplace some of these reference, or monitor, stations on U.S. territory.  The NYT story says the State Department wants to permit Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, to build monitor stations here to "help mend the Obama administration's relationship with the government of President Vladimir V. Putin, now at a nadir" after Russia gave asylum to Edward Snowden.  The story continues that the CIA and the Defense Department "are waging a campaign" to stop it for fear it will give Russia "a foothold on American territory that would sharpen the accuracy of Moscow's satellite-steered weapons" and "give the Russians an opening to snoop on the United States within its borders."   It quotes the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), as wondering "why the United States would be interested in enabling a GPS competitor, like Russian Glonass [sic], when the world's reliance on GPS is a clear advantage to the United States on multiple levels."

The NYT says Russian and American negotiators last met on April 25. 

A SpacePolicyOnline.com review of the minutes of the most recent (May 7-8, 2013) meeting of the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Advisory Board, which provides independent advice to the government about GPS/GNSS issues, found many discussions of GLONASS in a variety of contexts.   Among them was a briefing by Dave Turner, Deputy Director of the State Department's Office of Space and Advanced Technology.  One of his slides clearly states that U.S. objectives in working with other countries' systems is to "ensure compatibility," "achieve interoperability," and "promote fair competition in the global marketplace."  Those objectives will be pursued through "bilateral and multilateral cooperation."  According to the minutes, he told the Board that discussions with Russia on those topics "began in 1996 and currently involve the potential of hosting of GLONASS ground monitoring and laser tracking stations on U.S. territory."  The minutes, which appear to be quite detailed, indicate no questions from or comments by Board members on that point.

The Board is chaired by James Schlesinger, who has held many high-level government jobs including Secretary of Defense and Director of the CIA and is now chairman of the MITRE Corporation.  The Board's Vice Chair is Stanford's Brad Parkinson, who is considered the "father" of GPS.    Its next meeting is scheduled for December 4-5, 2013 in Washington, DC.

 

Tom Young IRT Report to NOAA: Urgent Need for JPSS Gap-Filler

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Nov-2013 (Updated: 14-Nov-2013 01:19 PM)

An Independent Review Team (IRT) chaired by Tom Young today issued an urgent call to build a "gap-filler" for NOAA's polar orbiting weather satellite program and make the system robust.  The IRT is keeping an eye on NOAA's new weather satellite programs: the polar-orbiting Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-R series.

Last year, the IRT issued a withering report that called the Department of Commerce's (DOC's) oversight of the weather satellite programs "dysfunctional."   DOC is NOAA's parent.  In its updated report released today (dated November 8), the IRT said that those problems have been largely resolved and, overall, gave NOAA and DOC good grades on implementing its 23 recommendations from 2012.   The IRT assessed 20 as "green" or "yellow" meaning that the issue had received a positive response or that it received a positive response but continued action is required. 

Two of the three labeled red -- meaning "inadequate response" -- concern a potential gap in polar orbiting weather data because the JPSS system is not "robust."  The third item with a red flag is understanding and communicating why programs cost so much.

During a telecon today, Young, IRT member Berrien Moore III, and Mary Kicza, NOAA Assistant Administrator for Satellite and Information Services, focused on the potential gap in acquiring weather data from NOAA's polar orbiting weather satellites as JPSS comes on line, and what the IRT sees as a lack of robustness in the JPSS program.   Young is a retired industry executive and former Director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center who is often called upon to lead reviews of space programs that go awry.  Moore is Vice President of Weather and Climate Programs at the University of Oklahoma and Director of the National Weather Center located there.

Over the past several years, NOAA officials and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) have offered various assessments of the likelihood that a gap may develop in providing polar-orbiting weather data before JPSS-1 is operational.  At a recent hearing, when asked what the likelihood was on a scale of 1-10, GAO's David Powner said 10.   Kicza said 5, however, a surprise considering previous NOAA statements indicating a much higher possibility.  Kicza explained that the situation had improved now that the NASA/NOAA Suomi-NPP (S-NPP) satellite is operational and took less time than expected to commission.

At today's briefing, Kizca, Young and Moore avoided using numbers entirely and focused less on the time period between now and the launch of JPSS-1 in 2017 and more on the period after that.  Young said that whatever the number may be, it is too high.  The IRT's judgment, Young said, is that "there is an unacceptably high probability of a gap" and is "a circumstance that, given the criticality of the data, that the United States should not agree to ... put itself in."

Right now, there are several polar-orbiting satellites of various ages providing weather data.  Young said there are three NOAA satellites that are 12, 8 and 4.5 years old respectively plus S-NPP, launched in 2011.  He added NASA's 11-year-old Aqua satellite as important to weather forecasting, which all together yields a set of satellites that is "reasonably robust."  The IRT also found that the GOES system, including the GOES-R series that will begin to launch in 2016, is in good shape.

By contrast, the JPSS system is "fragile" and must be made robust lilke its predecessors and GOES, the IRT concluded.   Only two JPSS satellites are planned and the second is not scheduled for launch until 2022.  That is a long period of time especially if JPSS-1 is lost in a launch failure or fails prematurely on-orbit.   

The IRT wants a gap-filler satellite that would carry the two most critically needed instruments -- the Advanced Technology Microwave Sensor (ATMS) and the Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS).   It calls for NOAA to contract immediately to buy a minimum of three of each of those sensors from the current developers, with the first units available by 2017.  They could be placed aboard a comparatively small spacecraft that could be built in just 2-3 years, the report says, adding:  "Ideally, a gap filler would be available to launch before S-NPP reached the end of its mission life and would cover a potential gap from a JPSS-1 launch or early spacecraft failure."

A gap filler is just a "band aid," Young said, arguing that a longer term solution is needed to make the system robust.  Specifically, the IRT wants the next three JPSS satellites, JPSS-2, JPSS-3 and JPSS-4, to be put under contract together as "an integrated program."  Buying them one-at-a-time as currently planned is "inefficient, expensive and not consistent with a robust program," according to the report.   The IRT defines a "robust" system as one where it takes "two failures to have a gap."

Getting a gap-filler underway and changing the JPSS procurement strategy to multiple satellites are both "urgent," Young said today, adding that the IRT understands there are many steps that must be taken, but "we are saying it's urgent and all elements of the decision process should treat it as urgent."  Moore said that the gap-filler is "not a very challenging spacecraft to build.  We just need to get the two instruments under contract and ... put them on a free-flyer."