Deadline Looms for Earth-Sensing Satellites Report

As part of a 2010 spending bill passed in December, lawmakers set today as the deadline for the three federal agencies which manage the $15 billion National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) to file a report to Congress laying out "an immediate and out-of-the-box solution" to the troubled program, which has suffered extensive delays, technical problems, and a skyrocketing budget. Two separate reports in June suggested the program faced "almost certain failure," as Space News put it. By 4:45pm today, neither NOAA nor the White House would say whether they were going to file the report on time. (NOAA, the Pentagon, and NASA jointly manage NPOESS.)

As part of the effort to fix NPOESS, which would involve three school bus sized satellites with dozens of environmental sensors apiece, Congress included language that removed a long-standing arrangement in which the Pentagon and NOAA both had to contribute the same amount of money to the program each year. (NASA provides technical expertise but not money.)  "By removing this barrier, the agencies should have more flexibility," said a congressional aide. More tomorrow on what this might mean for the future of the program.

(See here for some useful reporting on the internal politics over NPOESS for the 2011 budget, where the Obama Administration will have its first chance to radically reshape the program's future.)