Early Friday morning, NASA successfully launched the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project – or NPP – from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The NPP is a stopgap solution to NASA’s ailing Earth monitoring satellite program. Popular Mechanics reported on the launch and what it means for bridging the U.S. climate science gap: “As NASA’s three current polar orbiters—Terra, Aqua, and Aura—near the end of their operational lifetimes, the experimental NPP satellite is thrust into the role of providing data critical to both short-term weather forecasting and long-term climate science.”
The NPP’s successful launch on Friday is a positive step forward in the still long road to developing a more robust satellite-based Earth and climate monitoring program. Christine Parthemore and I wrote about this issue in a policy brief released in August, Blinded: The Decline of U.S. Earth Monitoring Capabilities and Its Consequences for National Security. In our policy brief, we noted that the NPP’s predecessor program, the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), was symbolic of the challenges compounding this gap in Earth and climate monitoring satellites:
One recent interagency effort to close such gaps has fallen short. The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) was designed to translate climate and environmental data (including data from extensive existing databases) into products and analysis for DOD, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). However, after long delays, cost overruns and inadequate coordination among the partners in the interagency working group, the project was split into two components (as an alternative to being cancelled completely)…
NPP is NASA’s and NOAA’s component project; DOD is currently working on its own.
The NPP of course is not without its own set of challenges. As Christine and I wrote back in August:
Although NASA is on track to launch the NPP in October 2011, a recent report from NASA’s Office of the Inspector General found that key instruments aboard the NPP are projected to have a much shorter lifespan than the planned mission. Those instruments include crucial infrared capabilities that will provide data on wildfires, ice cover in the Arctic, ocean temperatures and atmospheric conditions – valuable information that will allow security practitioners and other policymakers to make informed decisions about issues ranging from the Arctic to treaty verification.
It is unclear how many of these instrument deficiencies the
program’s designers corrected before sending the NPP into orbit. NPP program
manager Ken Schwer told Popular Mechanics
about NPP is new. The instruments are new, the spacecraft is new." Popular Mechanics added that “the
NPP satellite will also be able to provide better data because of its more
advanced array of equipment. NPP carries five new observational tools to
monitor the planet’s moisture, air, and sea temperatures, take images in both
the visual and infrared spectrums, and monitor the ever-fluctuating ozone hole
over the Antarctic. Those instruments all image in higher resolution than the
ones on board the old EOS satellites.”
Whatever the case, the NPP will provide significant value to NASA’s ailing Earth monitoring program. Popular Mechanics reports that, “NPP’s biggest contribution might be in improving climate and weather prediction algorithms. Like the previous Earth observing satellites, NPP will carry the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) to track the heat retention in our atmosphere. That, along with NPP’s new tools and its continuation of NASA’s effort to collect long-term climate data, means the new satellite will help to provide an ever-clearer picture of the planet’s changing climate.” So even if the NPP is a stopgap solution, it is a welcome addition to the climate research field. But it certainly should not be the last effort.
This Week’s Events
Today at 9 AM, head to Carnegie for a discussion on California’s Performance-Based Policy Model for Transportation, Energy, and Climate: Lessons Learned. Also at 9 AM, Brookings will host The Role of Distributed Power Systems in the U.S. Electricity Sector. At 1:30 PM, head to George Mason University for The Battle Over Climate Change Policies. At 5:45 PM, the Austrian Embassy will host a discussion on Global Energy Perspectives - Decarbonization and Efficiency Revolution.
On Tuesday at 8:30 AM, head to the Center for Global Development for a primer on Climate Treaties and Approaching Catastrophes. At 12:15 PM, the University of Maryland will host an event on Floating in Oil and Natural Gas: The New Energy Abundance and Implications for U.S. Energy Policy. At 2:15 PM, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on China’s Role In Africa: Implications.
On Wednesday at 12:00 PM, the Environmental Law Institute will discuss Managing Threatened and Endangered Marine Species in the Face of Climate Change.
On Thursday at 9 AM, The Washington Post will hold a discussion on Smart Energy. At 12:15 PM, head over to the University of Maryland for Water is Rising: Climate Change and Culture in the South Pacific and Chesapeake Bay. At 4 PM, the World Resources Institute will host Climate Change, Transparency & Accountability: Launch and Discussion of the "2011 Global Corruption Report". Head to Georgetown University at 6 PM for Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil.
Finally, on Friday at 8:30 AM, head to the Foreign Policy Research Institute for Contested Terrain: China's Periphery and International Relations in Asia. At 12:30 PM, SAIS will host Energy and Security in South Asia: Cooperation or Conflict?