NOAA's Mary Kicza stressed today that the NPP satellite being readied for shipment to Vandenberg Air Force Base for an October launch is "not just another satellite."
Kicza spoke at a press conference at Ball Aerospace in Boulder, CO, prime contractor for the satellite. She focused on NPP's new role as part of the NOAA's operational weather satellite system following the dissolution of the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) program. NPP - the NPOESS Preparatory Project - is a NASA satellite that was NASA's contribution to the NPOESS program. Its purpose was to reduce technical risk by flying advanced sensors that would later be used on NPOESS, not to be part of NOAA's operational satellite series.
Representatives of NASA, NOAA, and Ball Aerospace and its industry partners provided details on the advanced capabilities of the NPP instruments compared to their predecessors that have flown on a variety of satellite platforms over the years. The bottom line is that weather forecasts will be quicker and more accurate once the NPP data are available. NPP also will provide data for climate studies, its original focus. NASA's Chief Scientist, Waleed Abdalati, spoke about the value of knowing "what tomorrow will bring" whether it is tomorrow's weather or the future of Earth's environment in the decades to come. The value is economic, military, humanitarian, and societal, he said, philosophizing about the relationship between humans and the Earth's environmental system and the need to "optimize that relationship."
Kicza called NPP a "bridge" between NOAA's current polar orbiting weather satellites and the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) that is off to a slow start because of lower than requested funding from Congress. The NPOESS program, intended to serve both the civil and military communities, was replaced by NOAA's JPSS for civil users and DOD's Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS) for the national security sector.
NOAA received only about one-third of the funding it requested for JPSS in FY2011 because it was held to its previous year's funding level, before NPOESS was dissolved. The agency has reprogrammed money from other sources into JPSS for FY2011, but still has less than half of what it planned. Its FY2012 request is $1.07 billion. The House Appropriations Committee approved a cut of $169 million. The full House and the Senate have not acted yet.
The last of NOAA's polar orbiting weather satellites, NOAA-19, was launched in 2009. NPP now will be its successor instead of an NPOESS satellite. Kicza said that satellites like NOAA-19 and NPP have a typical lifetime of 5 years, so the agency needs its first JPSS satellite ready for launch by 2016 or 2017. NOAA officials have repeatedly warned Congress than a data gap of as many as 18 months could occur if JPSS is not adequately funded to meet that launch timeframe.
Meanwhile, everyone's fingers are crossed that the NPP launch will be successful. The launch vehicle for NPP is the very reliable Delta II. Two of NASA's last three Earth science satellites, OCO and GLORY, were lost in launch vehicle failures of a different rocket, the Taurus XL. A third satellite, Aquarius, was successfully launched in June on a Delta II.
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