NEWTOWN, Conn. --- NOAA plans to deploy four Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) spacecraft that will provide the U.S. with satellite meteorological data through 2032. The satellites will be based on the Suomi NPP, a polar- orbiting weather satellite developed as part of the terminated NPOESS program.
The first satellite, JPSS-1, will is being built by Ball Aerospace. However, in an upset, Orbital ATK was awarded a contract to build three additional satellites. With the contract to build the first satellite in hand, Ball Aerospace was expected to produce all four spacecraft in the series. However, Orbital ATK submitted a competitive bid and, in an upset, won the contract to build the three additional satellites. Ball even lodged an official protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which was denied in July 2015.
U.S. weather satellite development has been beset by controversy since the cancellation of the NPOESS program in 2009. In February 2013, the GAO estimated there could be a gap in NOAA's polar satellite coverage lasting between 17 and 53 months. The GAO has since revised that estimate, reducing it to 11 months, at the most. By July 2016, the GAO revised the estimate down to eight months. NOAA has also challenged that estimate, but still admits that there is about a 50 percent chance that a gap in coverage will emerge as older satellites are retired before new satellites can be launched.
Despite the threat of coverage gaps, Congress continues to debate spending money on the program, expressing frustration over. Congress is upset by years of cost overruns. The latest threat came when the House of Representatives Appropriations bill did not provide funding for NOAA's efforts to begin early construction efforts for JPSS-3 and -4.
The FY16 Omnibus spending bill ultimately did provide $370 million for the effort, which will increase the chance that the third and fourth satellites will be delivered on schedule. NOAA is requesting nearly $400 million for the program in FY17.
The JPSS program continues to make slow but steady progress. JPSS-1 will launch in early 2017. A contract has already been signed for JPSS-2, and options are available for the third and fourth satellite. NASA has also awarded contracts to build the instruments for JPSS-2. At this time, Orbital ATK is expected to build three JPSS satellites, to launch in the 2020s and early 2030s.