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Raytheon Exec Warns of “Catastrophic” Consequences if JPSS Program Does Not Get Necessary Funding

By | May 19, 2011
      [Satellite News 05-19-11] The consequences of the U.S. Congress not providing adequate funding for the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) program could be “catastrophic” in the long-term. This is the view of William Sullivan, JPSS Program Manager at Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems. With budgets being squeezed, the JPSS program is only slated to get around $400 million a year for funding, rather than the $1 billion that is being requested to build and operate state-of-the-art weather forecasting and climate monitoring satellites.
           Sullivan told Satellite News thatwiththe launch of the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) weather satellite later this year, the short-term impact of such funding cuts will be minimal, but longer-term, the budget cuts will be keenly felt. “The NPP satellite will be launched and will provide data, and have coverage in the near-term,” he says. “In the long-term, it has the potential to be catastrophic. If the program is only funded at the $382 million level, or even cancelled or completely restructured in 2012, we are not going to get a JPSS spacecraft up there at the end of 2016. The NPP spacecraft will only last so long in orbit, and if there is not another satellite ready to launch, we are going to lose our ability to do proper forecasting, and it is going to be a step back for the country. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) approach is trying to educate Congress on this impact.”
           According to Sullivan, there is a massive funding gap potentially putting the whole program at risk. “The program does become in serious jeopardy because of the lack of funding. To quote some numbers, the amount of money that JPSS received this year in FY 2011 was $382 million. The request by the President for the 2011 budget was $1 billion. The request for next year is $1.1 billion. So, it will cost roughly $1 billion a year to get this system built and deployed. The view is that with cutting funding across the board, it is a very political issue. There is a lot of politics involved when it comes to cutting spending. I like to think of weather as apolitical,” he says.
           With the JPSS-1 satellite not set to be launched until 2016, the onus will be on the NPP satellite to take up the slack. A lack of funding could see an operational gap appear between the NPP and the JPSS satellites. Sullivan says, “That satellite (NPP) has a design life of five years. The issue going forward is with the limited funding that has come back from Congress.  The next projected launch (JPSS-1) is not until November 2016, so it is five years and a month after the NPP satellite. So, you will hear about this concept of an operational data gap. So, if the NPP satellite goes up and stays only for a couple of years, the government would not have a satellite ready until 2016 to be launched. Therefore, we would lose huge amounts of weather data, which would have huge ramifications, not only to weather forecasting, but also for climate modelling. So, our ability to forecast climate change would be severely diminished for the long-term.”
           The ability to predict natural disasters could be severely impacted if the satellites are not in place to provide this intelligence. “What we have been trying to do with Congress is talk about the impact and our ability to forecast weather for things like hurricane protection, tornado protection. These things happen on an annual basis. So, we think it is crucially important to fund this program at the appropriate levels so that we don’t lose the ability to forecast the way we do today. That is the core issue. If we are to continue at that $380 million to $400 million level for the next couple of years, it will be a skeleton program,” says Sullivan. 
           Sullivan admits NOAA has its work cut out to come up with a workable solution this year to get the money they need to avoid this becoming a “skeleton” program. “NOAA is doing two things. Firstly, they are saying if we only get $400 million a year, what can we do? All they can do is beef up the system that is currently deployed and extend the NPP satellite’s life to the maximum extent possible. In addition, they would use some of the money to buy long lead items associated with the JPSS spacecraft to try and keep it on some semblance of a schedule. The second thing NOAA is doing is that they are working on scenarios where they can get somewhere in between $400 million and $1.1 billion in funding. I think they are trying to determine what kind of system they can put together with that money, and when the next satellite could be launched. They would have to determine whether there would be a gap in the country’s ability to do climate forecasting.”
           In terms of a potential timeline and when decisions might be made, Sullivan says, “The next budget has to be in place at the beginning of October, at the beginning of the fiscal year. It is unlikely that Congress will agree to a budget on October 1. NOAA is planning on a three-month continuing resolution for FY12 through to the end of the 2011 calendar year. I think they are trying to get a budget approved by January 2012. What NOAA is doing internally is do a risk assessment associated with that scenario, and their fall back position on funding this summer. So, when it gets to the hill later this summer, they will be ready for it.”
           For Raytheon, which has the contract to supply the ground system infrastructure for this program, a lack of funding could have a severe impact. “From a mission perspective, because of the delays in the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPEOSS) program (the precursor to the JPSS program), most of the hardware that we have procured and deployed for the NPP satellite was bought in 2005 and deployed at the end of 2005. So, that hardware is about five years old. If the program was to be significantly reconstructed, our ability to refresh that hardware in the next couple of years would be severely limited. The operating systems we bought on behalf of the government need to be updated. We need new hardware, new operating systems. It has been our plan to update that hardware in the 2012-2013 timeframe. If the money gets restricted, that is going to be at risk.”

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