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JPSS and GOES-R Fare Well in FY2014 Omnibus, But Not All NOAA Satellite Programs

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Jan-2014
Updated: 14-Jan-2014 07:44 PM

Most NOAA satellite programs fared pretty well in the FY2014 Omnibus Appropriations bill released yesterday by House and Senate appropriators, but two weren't so lucky -- Jason-3 and Polar Free Flyer.

NOAA's two main weather satellite programs -- Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R series (GOES-R) and Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) received their full requests of.$954.8 million and $824 million respectively.   The report on the bill noted the warning issued by an Independent Review Team (IRT) headed by Tom Young that favorably reviewed NOAA's response to earlier recommendations on how to fix the GOES-R and JPSS programs, but raised warning flags about the future.  The Young report warned that JPSS is fragile and needs to be made more robust, and that a gap in JPSS data in the latter part of this decade is a strong possibility.  Appropriators directed NOAA to present a strategy on how to deal with those issues along with its FY2015 budget request: "Such a strategy shall examine the proposed polar free flyer mission, which the [Omnibus] agreement does not fund due to fiscal constraints."

GOES-R and JPSS are follow-ons to the existing GOES-N and Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite (POES) series, which are funded slightly under their requested levels.. 

NOAA has several other satellite programs as well:  Jason-3 for ocean altimetry (joint with Europe); DSCOVR for space weather (joint with NASA and the Air Force); COSMIC 2, a proposed constellation of small satellites using GPS radio occultation for atmospheric and ionospheric observations (joint with Taiwan, NASA and the Air Force); and a Polar Free Flyer that originally was part of the JPSS program.

The House Appropriations Committee recommended zero funding for these programs when it marked up the CJS bill earlier this year, saying only that they were focusing scare resources on GOES-R and JPSS.  The Senate Appropriations Committee recommended the full request of $37 million for Jason-3, the full $23.7 million for DSCOVR, $24.6 million instead of the $62 million requested for the Polar Free Flyer, and an addition of $4 million for COSMIC-2, for which NOAA requested no funding in FY2014.

In the final compromise reflected in the Omnibus Appropriations bill,  DSCOVR is funded at its requested level of $23.7 million and COSMIC-2 received $2 million. 

Jason-3 was one of the two NOAA satellite programs that did not fare well.   It received $18.5 million, essentially half of its request, a middle ground between the two committees and essentially level-funded with FY2013.   Jason-3 is a joint mission between NOAA, Europe's EUMETSAT organization, and the French space agency CNES.  CNES and Eumetsat are providing the spacecraft, altimeter, precision orbit components, ground system and operations.   NOAA is providing other instruments and launch (acquired through NASA).  NOAA said in its budget request that the increase was needed "to meet its international obligation for this mission and reduce the strain on the international partnership."   The first two Jason spacecraft were research satellites funded jointly by NASA and CNES.  Jason-1 was itself a follow-on to the NASA-CNES Topex-Poseidon mission launched in 1992.

Still, Jason-3 fared better than the Polar Free Flyer, which received no funding in the Omnibus, with the Senate yielding to the House position.  No explanation was provided other than fiscal constraints.   NOAA separated the Polar Free Flyer from the rest of JPSS to reduce program costs.  The agency was heavily criticized for cost growth in JPSS especially after the problems encountered with its predecessor program the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS).  As cost estimates for JPSS grew, Congress became concerned that it was headed into the same thicket.   NOAA's response was to restructure the program so not all program costs now are in the JPSS budget line and to shift responsibility for some of the sensors to NASA.  While that reduced the cost for what is now designated as JPSS, it did not reduce the cost for the capabilities needed.  The question now is how to get the money for the Polar Free Flyer, not to mention other capabilities strongly recommended by Tom Young's IRT.  As the report accompanying the Omnibus states, it wants NOAA to present a strategy to deal with these issues as part of its FY2015 budget request.


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