Commercial Providers Well Positioned to Support Next-Generation Weather Satellite Programs

The satellite constellations responsible for weather reporting are in need of replacement by next generation systems. Recent developments around two such efforts highlight the supporting role commercial providers could provide for federal agencies and the military.

Space News did some good reporting last month about the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), administered jointly by NOAA and NASA. An independent report has recommended that two important sensors be removed from JPSS for simplicity and budgetary reasons. It recommends either creating a new NOAA project or transferring these sensors to NASA.

Space News also recently reported on the Air Force’s plans for a next-generation weather satellite system. The project will not be funded in 2014, but the Air Force expects to begin work on it in 2015. The projected price tag is currently between $4.4 to $6.1 billion, and the Air Force “expects to spend the next year working on an analysis of alternatives for the next-generation system.”

Payloads that are currently waiting for space on current and future satellite programs will find willing partners in commercial providers. There are solid financial and speed-to-deployment reasons for doing so. As government agencies and the military look for alternatives, the proven hosted payload approach is ready to supplement the placement of government space assets.

Tough times can often mask great opportunity. The current budgetary climate is indeed a large challenge to designing the next-generation satellite architecture that will preserve this country’s advantage in space. But the budget crunch is also advancing a frank conversation about how best industry and government can work together towards a common goal.