NOAA contends critical report exaggerated

NOAA contends critical report exaggerated

By Tony Lee Orr

GCN Staff

APRIL 3—National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials maintain that the General Accounting Office overstated its recent finding that NOAA's weather satellite program is in jeopardy.

The GAO report, issued March 29, said the agency's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite program has severe technical problems, cost overruns and dangerous schedule delays with the five satellites in the current series. Of the two now in orbit, one is already working beyond its life expectancy by means of numerous backup systems and is due for replacement, the report said.

To ensure adequate coverage, NOAA buys several similar satellites at a time and schedules launches for before the old units reach the end of their life expectancy. The next launch had been scheduled for March 1999 but failed because of engine problems and is now slated for next month. The last satellite in the current series is to launch in July 2001.

Even if the launch planned for next month fails and one of the units now in service goes on the blink, the agency has other options, NOAA spokeswoman Patricia Viets said.

Under a 1993 agreement with the European Organization for Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, the agency could borrow a satellite as it has done in the past, Viets said. If no satellite is available from the European agency, NOAA could reposition its remaining unit to a central location to cover both the Atlantic and Pacific regions. One satellite is now stationed to cover the Atlantic and the other to cover the Pacific.

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