February 15, 2012

Earth Monitoring Systems in the FY 2013 Budget

The U.S. government’s fleet of Earth monitoring satellite systems
is something that is near and dear to our hearts here in the natural security
program. President Obama’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 budget request to Congress
seems to reflect the continued interest in Earth observation satellite systems,
which we have argued are crucial for U.S.
national security planners trying to understand the pace and manifestation of
environmental and climate change

The president’s FY 2013 NASA budget includes a $24.3 million
dollar increase in Earth sciences over the FY 2012 estimate, totaling about
$1.8 billion. The NASA justification notes why the Earth sciences program is
important, explaining that “From
space, NASA satellites can view Earth as a planet and enable its study as a
complex, dynamic system with diverse components: the oceans, atmosphere,
continents, ice sheets, and life itself
.” Among the systems expected to be
funded include the Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat), which will
see an additional $36.7 million in funding, totaling $157.2 million. ICESat is
particularly useful for taking
measurements of ice sheet mass, including of the Antarctic and Greenland ice

The Obama administration has requested funds to support the
Landsat Data Continuity Mission, which is slated to continue the Landsat
program that has for four decades provided information on topics from land use
change to urbanization used by planners from USAID to the Defense Department. Although
the Landsat Data Continuity Mission reflects a decrease in funding between FY
2012 and FY 2013, from $159.3 million to $54.7 million, the reduced funding I
suspect reflects the launch of the satellite system into orbit in January 2013,
with smaller operational costs thereafter.

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 (OCO-2) system, which
monitors global carbon dioxide levels, will see its budget shrink from $98.4
million in FY 2012 to $57.9 million in FY 2013. The change in funding reflects
challenges with the launch vehicle which has forced NASA to review the cost and
schedule for OCO-2 system. The original launch vehicle, the Taurus XL rocket,
has had issues in recent years, including failing to launch into orbit NASA’s Orbiting
Carbon Observatory in February 2009
, and its Glory
satellite in March 2011
. The smaller program costs reflect that the “the
OCO-2 project will complete observatory integration and testing, and deliver
the craft to environmentally controlled stable storage in early FY 2013
awaiting a new launch date that is projected to take place in FY 2015.

The Department of Commerce budget also includes additional
funding for satellites operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA). According to the Department of Commerce budget overview,
FY 2013 Budget invests $1.8 billion in NOAA satellites, including $916 million
for the NOAA Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS)
.” The JPESS, for those who
are interested, substitutes NOAA’s effort to support the National
Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), an
interagency system for DOD, NASA and NOAA that, after long delays, cost
overruns and inadequate coordination among the three agencies, was split into two
separate civilian and defense programs; the civilian program is now being led by
NASA, named the Suomi National Polar orbiting Partnership. That system was
launched in October 2011.

Additionally, NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Date
and Information Service (NESDIS) will receive about $2.04 billion to support “the
procurement, launch, and operation of the Nation’s civil operational
environmental satellites
.” Those costs break down to include requests
of approximately $123.2 million for Environmental Satellite Observing Systems
(which includes $505,000 for the Group on Earth Observations). The budget also
requests about $1.8 billion funding for NESDIS Systems Acquisitions, including
$802 million for the Geostationary Systems – R (GOES-R), which is scheduled for
launch on 2015 and will “provide
continuous imagery and atmospheric measurements of Earth’s Western Hemisphere
and space weather monitoring

Like yesterday’s post on funding for cyber security and the
electric grid, this is just a cursory look at the FY 2013 budget request for
Earth observation systems. The budget is rich with details about specific
satellite programs that we’ve looked at in our work before, including the Polar
Orbiting System and the Jason-3 satellite, which will replace the Jason-2 in
2014 in order to sustain accurate data of ocean topography, including sea-level
rise.  The funding requests do not
necessarily mean greater investment in new systems – although some systems will
be replaced in the next several years. Many of the costs are associated with
continuing missions using platforms that are beyond their design life, which
are more cost-effective than replacing them altogether, according to NASA.

NASA noted in its budget review that of the 11 operating
missions under the Earth Systematic Missions program, 10 systems are beyond
their design life. While NASA conducted a Senior Review in 2011 that
recommended continuation of all missions, policymakers will need to be watchful
of degrading instrument capability and other functions that could affect the
mission without necessarily impacting the satellite system’s longevity.