GOA warns about critical coverage gap of polar weather satellites

An approaching gap in the coverage of aging weather satellites has been officially labeled a high risk issue by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GOA.)

U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro discussed the issue during a hearing with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. According to General Dodaro, aging weather satellites in polar orbits will suffer from gaps in coverage starting in 2014. These gaps can last as long as 53 months, which would be potential disastrous.

Satellites in polar orbit provide computer weather prediction models with early, midday, and afternoon warnings. They also generate 3-, 4- and 7-day weather forecasts. Thanks to these polar orbiting satellites, American meteorologists were able to anticipate Hurricane Sandy turning west into the U.S. coast and issue a warning that saved many lives.

According to GOA, the issue requires congressional oversight and the assistance of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA has been working on this problem for the past decade.

The aging polar satellites were supposed to be replaced by the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) formed in 2002 by the Department of Defense, NASA, and NOAA. However, the NPOESS program was disbanded in 2010 due to schedule delays and issues with the budget.

NOAA and NASA have already started working on the successor of the NPOESS, the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPPS) program. But the earliest that the new polar satellite can be deployed is 2017.

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