Europe's Successful Metop-B Weather Satellite Launch Good News for U.S., Too
Europe's Metop-B polar-orbiting weather satellite was successfully launched by Russia yesterday. Europe and the United States cooperate in providing weather data from polar-orbiting satellites so the successful launch is good news for both.
In 1998, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) signed an agreement to fly sensors on each other's polar orbiting satellites, which circle the globe at different times of the day, and share data from them. Europe's are in the mid-morning orbit, while NOAA's are in the afternoon orbit. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) also has polar-orbiting weather satellites in the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) series that fly in a third, complementary early morning orbit.
Metop-B includes five NOAA-provided instruments. Mary Kicza, head of NOAA's Satellite and Information Service called the launch "another milestone in a partnership that continues our wide-ranging ability to detect the early signs of severe weather, climate shifts and distress signals from emergency beacons in the U.S., Europe and around the world."
The future of the U.S. polar-orbiting weather satellite program has been clouded by the programmatic failure of the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), which was to combine the NOAA and DOD polar-orbiting weather satellites programs. After years of overruns and schedule delays, the Obama Administration decided to return to separate systems in February 2010. The White House directed NOAA to build a system for the afternoon orbit and DOD to build a system for the early morning orbit, with the assumption that Europe would continue to provide satellites in the mid-morning orbit.
Europe is holding up its end of the bargain, though the replacement U.S. systems are still finding their footing. NOAA has been struggling to obtain requisite funds for its successor program, the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), amid the current deficit-cutting currents in Washington and residual skepticism about its program management capabilities in the wake of the NPOESS situation. The first JPSS will not be ready for launch until 2016 under the current schedule, so NOAA seconded a NASA research satellite -- NPP Suomi -- to serve as an operational weather satellite in the interim. It was launched last year. DOD remains undecided on what to do about its own future polar-orbiting weather satellite program. It still has two legacy DMSP satellites ready for launch when needed and apparently will wait till some indefinite time in the future to decide what comes next.
NOAA and EUMETSAT also operate weather satellites in geostationary orbit and are cooperating in the Jason-3 ocean altimetry mission.
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