February 23, 2011

Final Frontier Week Part 2: The President’s Budget and Earth Observation Satellites

Christine discussed
in three
posts last week
, the president’s
budget showed
much hope for those of us interested in natural security
issues. One category particularly near and dear to the CNAS natural security
team is earth observation capabilities, and especially the satellite systems
that are critical for producing better projections of the effects of climate change.
Today, as we are celebrating what
we hope will be a successful launch of Glory
, we thought we’d look back at
several related earth monitoring satellite missions, and examine what might be
in store to keep Glory company if the Obama administration’s budget finds
Congressional support for these capabilities.

One beneficiary of the administration’s focus on earth
observation capabilities is the Landsat program, co-led by the U.S.
Geographical Survey (USGS) and NASA. Since the early 1970’s, the Landsat
program has used remote sensing to understand how Earth is changing. Landsat
was not always popular, and indeed it had to overcome a number of obstacles in
its quest for funding. The Bureau of the Budget and the Department of Defense,
for example, initially were against using satellites
for such civilian purposes
. Then, in 1984, Congress pushed through
legislation that privatized their operation. In practice, privatization worked
out so poorly
that NOAA had to order the company to turn off its
satellites. After some in Congress began putting pressure on then-President George
H.W. Bush, the president agreed to renew funding for the Landsat program.

To better integrate the interagency Landsat program, the
Obama administration’s new budget would create a new account for it, and it requests
$99.8 million
dollars for FY 2012
– a noticeable increase from the $59.6 million Landsat is slated to receive this year. In
addition to maintaining the two current satellites, Landsat-5 and Landsat-7, this funding increase will help ensure the viability of
the Landsat program in the years to come. For instance, the administration is
requesting $13.4 million towards operations for Landsat-8, a mission that is
set to launch in December 2012, as well $48 million for planning the Landsat-9
mission. The Landsat
Data Continuity Mission (LDCM)
, which Landsat-8
and Landsat-9 are together called, will replace the current satellites in
providing continuous earth imagery.

Beyond Landsat, the
administration’s proposed budget also supports NOAA’s earth monitoring role.
Specifically, it proposes renaming the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and
Information Service
as the National Environmental
Satellite Service (NESS) – and the NESS fares
well in the president’s budget request
. The NESS’s
role in the earth observation process is to analyze the data the satellites
collect, which is then often used for meteorological, environmental and
agricultural ends. The president’s new budget requests over $2 billion for NESS for FY 2012, an increase of nearly $728 million above the FY
2010 level.

Why devote so much funding to
this program? The money goes to both maintaining the current operations and
investing in the future. The largest increase is the $687.8 million in
additional funding for the NOAA-NASA Joint Polar Satellite System
which collects earth data for both
civilian and defense purposes. In total, the budget requests $1.07 billion for
JPSS. The president’s budget also requests money for NESS’s future
capabilities.  One example is the
$30.4 million the budget requests to develop new climate sensors; another is
the $53 million for
the Jason-3 mission
, which is expected to launch
in 2013 and will monitor the effects the oceans have on climate and weather.  

It wasn’t good news for all of
NOAA’s programs however. The Geostationary Operational Environmental
Satellites (GOES-R)
, for instance, saw cuts of
$50.1 million to its budget. In addition, the Polar Operational Environmental
Satellite Systems’ (POES)
$34.8 million budget
request represents a decrease of $8.3 million from last year’s request.

The budget also requests more
money for NASA’s Earth
Science Division
, which manages many of NASA’s
earth observation duties and houses NASA’s Applied Sciences Program, which
Christine profiled in a recent post
. Overall, the
requested funding for NASA’s budget
is $5.016
billion, a considerable increase from the $4.497 billion it received in FY
2010, and the $4.469 billion it is expected to receive this year. The Earth
Science Division in particular will receive $1.653 billion in FY 2012, which is
an increase of $200 million over FY2010 levels. Furthermore, the budget
projects that funding for the Earth Science Division will continue to increase,
eventually reaching $1.727 billion in FY 2016. 

As we prepare for the launch of the Glory satellite today, the earth
observation community has much to look forward to in the future if these areas
of the Obama administration’s budget are kept relatively intact by Congress. We
know all of these capabilities will be critical to increasing understanding of
environmental change, which we surely need for analyzing potential security