Weather satellites should stay in orbit
The federal government is stuck in a morass of its own making: The government’s weather satellites are failing at an alarming rate. And this is an alarming problem for people along the East Coast who depend on accurate forecasting of hurricanes and tropical storms.
The government can’t seem to manage a replacement program very well. Indeed, the feds have known since the mid-1990s that the weather satellites were a problem.
Now the nation is going to have to accept less weather data from space because the same government that sent a man to the moon cannot replace its weather satellites in timely fashion.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the main U.S. weather satellite for the eastern United States has blinked out twice in 2013. The last malfunction was in May and it was repaired as soon as possible.
A weather satellite like that is of great importance. The weather data transmitted are vital — especially in hurricane season. The malfunction of the satellite was caused by a small space rock hitting the satellite, but the point is, there was no backup plan.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA and the Department of Defense are falling behind in keeping the satellites up to date. The Journal reports 14 of 23 satellites that NASA monitors are past due to be replaced. We just happen to be fortunate that they are still running.
More disturbing is the news reported by the Journal that the effort to replace satellites that orbit in a low polar position has been plagued by cost overruns and mismanagement. The effort is a joint task undertaken by three agencies. In this case, bigger is not better.
Since 1994, the federal government has failed to come up with a plan for new polar orbiters. A new polar orbiter won’t be launched until 2017.
The other type of weather satellite simply sits above us, moving in geo-synchronous orbit. It was that type that failed in May. Both programs are seeing billions of dollars come in but are both struggling to catch up.
Some data was lost in May but that’s nothing compared to what’s coming. Next year, loss of weather data from such satellites will start. Some gaps in data coverage will last between 17 and 53 months, the Journal reports.
That is unacceptable. With all the layoffs caused by the demise of the space shuttle program, government officials need to recommit themselves to the weather-satellite program and start planning ahead. An ongoing launch-maintenance program could help create jobs and keep a variety of space-technology manufacturing and launch skills up to date.
But the main reason to get the weather-satellite program back on schedule is that the nation needs weather data from space.
Few functions of the federal government are so important to public safety and science — and so important to the United States.
From the New Bern (North Carolina) Sun Journal
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