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Air Force Moves Out on New Weather Satellite

In the Nineties it was decided that the U.S. military and the Department of Commerce would work jointly on a new weather satellite constellation to orbit near the Poles. Previously the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as part of Commerce developed and operated civil weather satellites. This decision led to the National Polar-orbiting Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) which would deploy six systems to conduct data gathering in support of weather forecasting and earth science.

The program suffered various schedule and cost challenges which led to a Nunn-McCurdy breach and a major restructuring of the program in 2005. Major portions of the program were deleted and only four systems would be built. In 2010 as part of their budget the Obama Administration changed the program again with NOAA taking over management of one part of the program and DoD the other.

Photo from wharman’s flickr photostream.

In the summer of 2010 the Air Force proposed the establishment of the Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS) which will be their part of the new NPOESS program. Northrop Grumman (NOC) was the prime contractor on NPOESS and will continue to support both Commerce and the Air Force.

This week Northrop announced that they had received authorization from the Air Force to begin work on the DWSS. This means that they begin the transition from the old contract and start the DWSS work.

The U.S. has seen several satellite programs started to replace aging Cold War era ones suffer from cost and schedule delays. Now many are starting to get on their feet and begin to make solid progress. DWSS will be one of those programs and illustrates again the difficulties of conducting joint programs between different services and parts of the government.

Photo from wharman’s flickr photostream.

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