Document Name: Department of Commerce
Owner: National Performance Review
Department of Commerce
of the National Performance Review
Office of the Vice President
DOC12: Establish a Single Civilian Operational
Environmental Polar Satellite Program
The United States is committed to an operational environmental polar
satellite program because of the critical value of the data the
satellites collect.(1) Polar satellites collect temperature and
moisture measurements (key inputs to computer weather prediction
models generating all national three- to five-day weather forecasts);
measurements of the Antarctic ozone levels; long-term environmental
measurements used to support global climate change studies; sea
surface temperature measurements; and global cloud-cover images.
Polar satellites also provide other valuable support missions, such
as monitoring emergency distress beacons to aid search and rescue
missions and worldwide data collection to support a variety of
activities, such as endangered species monitoring.
However, at present, the nation maintains two polar-orbiting
meteorological satellite systems: (l) the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Polar-orbiting Operational
Environmental Satellite (POES), for civil forecasting and research
purposes; and (2) the Department of Defense (DOD) Defense
Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) for national security
In addition to these programs, the National Aeronautic and Space
Administration (NASA) has initiated a climate research program called
Mission to Planet Earth (MTPE). A key portion of this effort is the
Earth Observing System (EOS), a series of six different satellites
measuring various parameters critical to understanding global climate
change. One of these satellites is called the EOS-PM (PM indicating
that the satellite passes over the equator in the afternoon). The
climate monitoring instruments on EOS-PM are basically more modern
versions of the meteorological instruments currently flying on the
NOAA weather satellites. In essence, the nation will have three
different satellite systems with very similar capabilities.
Over the past 20 years, the POES and DMSP programs have made numerous
attempts to converge to the greatest extent possible.(2) The programs
have similar spacecraft, use a common launch vehicle, share products
derived from the data, provide complementary environmental data to
the nation, and work closely together on research and development
efforts. In all, the programs achieved substantial commonality, but
national security concerns have precluded full convergence.(3)
DOD has stated it would manage a converged system, but a single
program run by DOD was and still is unacceptable given international
concern over the militarization of space.(4) Today, however, with the
end of the Cold War, the issues which have precluded complete
convergence seem to have diminished in importance.(5) With both
programs planning a new satellite design, the time is appropriate to
consolidate their efforts.
The EOS-PM climate research satellite is being designed with the idea
that many of the instruments can be used by NOAA within the POES
program. This continues a historical NOAA-NASA relationship wherein
NASA develops new technology and demonstrates prototype hardware, and
NOAA buys identical units for continued operational support.(6)
However, current plans involve flying EOS-PM for 15 years, during
which time POES also will have operational satellites.(7) Over most
of this period, both programs would be flying duplicate instruments.
The nation would be more efficiently served if NASA would develop and
fly the prototypes once and then transfer the systems to NOAA's
operational program for future flights.
Convergence studies began in 1972 and have continued ever since.(8)
NOAA recently performed an internal study of the opportunities
available through convergence of the programs.(9) Recently, initial
talks have begun among the three agencies with the goal of performing
another study of convergence opportunities among the three
programs.(10) What is needed, however, is a clear decision to create
a single, civilian polar satellite program.
Currently, the NOAA POES program, the DOD DMSP program, and the NASA
EOS-PM program all are in various stages of developing new spacecraft
and instruments. In the next 10 years, the estimated total cost for
these three efforts exceeds $6 billion in development, production,
and operations costs. However, many policy makers feel that the
nation cannot afford to develop three separate satellite systems with
such similar missions.
For example, Congressman George Brown of California has stated that a
converged system seems more achievable than in the past. He therefore
has directed NOAA to work with DOD and NASA to "jointly study and
assess the possible benefits and mechanisms for merging all or parts
of the three programs." (11) Senator James Exon of Nebraska was more
direct in his letters to DOD and Commerce: "The nation cannot afford
to maintain and modernize two satellite weather constellations." (12)
Recently, at the National Space Outlook Conference, Air Force General
Charles Horner, Commander United States Space Command, stated: "How
you do convergence is really the question, not if you do
A single operational polar satellite program could meet the needs of
all users by incorporating key DOD requirements into the NOAA POES
program. Furthermore, the synergy achieved through DOD and NOAA
cooperation could allow both agencies to meet critical operational
requirements (such as collecting oceanographic and global
tropospheric wind data) which neither agency has been able to afford
alone. The converged operational program could save additional costs
by using the NASA EOS program's state-of-the-art spacecraft and
instruments instead of forcing NOAA to design and build its own. The
result would be a single development program (compared to the three
planned today) and minimal overlap between NASA's climate research
and the NOAA-DOD converged operational meteorological missions.
The difficulty will be to successfully incorporate DOD requirements
into the program. Based upon historical studies, key areas requiring
consideration are data deniability, orbit selection, international
cooperation, and adequate oversight to ensure DOD concerns are
adequately met.(14) The following summarizes how each of these can be
Data deniability. The satellite must broadcast data free to everyone
but also have the capability to deny data to specific adversaries.
New technology, such as that used to deny cable-TV pay channels to
non-subscribers, makes this task easier.
Orbit selection. Currently, the DOD desires the capability to change
its satellite orbits depending on mission requirements. Past studies
have identified a three-satellite constellation as sufficient for
meeting all orbit needs.(15) Allowing DOD to influence orbits
selection should alleviate their concerns.
International cooperation. A NOAA-led system could easily maintain
and even improve international cooperation in environmental data
exchange. However, since NOAA plans to use foreign satellites as part
of the converged program, DOD may be reluctant to rely upon foreign
satellites for important data. This concern could be alleviated by
maintaining one or more ground spare U.S. satellites at all times
that could be launched if a foreign-controlled satellite ever became
Oversight. DOD will require some mechanisms to ensure their
requirements continue to be met. Possible implementation details
could involve including DOD user and acquisition experts in the NOAA
program offices and operations facilities, allowing DOD to fund and
manage DOD-unique parts of the program, and establishing an
interagency oversight group to which the program would have to report
periodically to ensure that all agency requirements were adequately
met. Such oversight mechanisms should not be difficult to achieve.
The driving force behind this effort is clearly the desire to reduce
Further cost reduction could be achieved through greater
international participation. According to Dr. Ray A. Williamson of
the Office of Technology Assessment: "Greater international
coordination and collaboration on sensors and systems . . . will
eventually be needed in order to reap the greatest benefit from the
world-wide investment in remote sensing." (16)
NOAA is already working on such arrangements in its POES program by
asking the Europeans to assume a greater role. An agreement in
principle has been reached between NOAA and the European Organization
for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) whereby
EUMETSAT will purchase, launch, and operate one of the two current
POES missions beginning in the year 2000. This will save the U.S.
more than $100 million for each launch of one of these satellites.
Such cooperation with the Europeans is an important component of
cost-efficient operations and is the first step to a truly
international environmental satellite observing system.
Legislation should be enacted to establish a single environmental
polar satellite program under the direction of NOAA.
Congress should enact legislation to establish a single environmental
polar satellite under the direction of NOAA. The legislation should
direct NOAA, NASA, and DOD to undertake activities to establish this
effort within their existing programs.
The proposed changes would allow for a more efficient, less-costly
global satellite observation program. A strong, efficient U.S. polar
environmental monitoring program would be the foundation for a
cooperative international system. The Europeans already plan to
increase funding for an element of this system. With a solid, unified
U.S. national program in place, other countries may align their
programs to complement the basic system. The result will be
additional environmental data collected at minimal cost to the
nation. The convergence concept provides a feasible and cost-
effective opportunity to accurately monitor and predict the impact of
the environment on the world's societies.
The greatest difficulty in the proposal will be to ensure that a
single, national program under civilian leadership will be responsive
to national security needs. However, these concerns can be met much
more easily now than they could have in the past.
Cost savings over ten years would total about $l.3 billion. This is
based on a three-staellite system (with European participation)
relying on NASA to develop new hardware.
Budget Authority (BA) and Outlays (Dollars in Millions)
1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 Total
BA 0.0 0.0 -75.0 -75.0 -75.0 -75.0 -300.0
Outlays 0.0 0.0 -50.0 -70.0 -75.0 -75.0 -270.0
in FTEs 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
1. See Hussey, John W., "Economic Benefits of Operational
Environmental Satellites," reprinted from A. Schnap (ed.), Monitoring
Earth's Ocean, Land, and Atmosphere from Space-Sensors, Systems, and
Applications, Vol. 97 of Progress in Astronautics series (Washington,
D.C.: American Institute of Astronautics and Aeronautics, 1985).
2. See Blersch, Donald, DMSP/POES Convergence Materials Handbook,
STDN-91-18. 2nd ed. (Arlington, VA: Analytic Services Inc., October
3. See U.S. Department of Commerce, Comparison of the Defense
Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) and the NOAA Polar-orbiting
Operational Environmental Satellite (POES) Program, Envirosat-2000
Report (Washington, D.C., October 1985).
4. See U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA), International Implications of Converging the
DOD and DOD Polar Orbiting Meteorological Satellite Systems
(Washington, D.C., 1987).
5. See Blersch, Donald, DMSP/POES Convergence: A Post Cold War
Assessment (A Re-Examination of Traditional Concerns in a Changing
Environment) (Arlington, VA: Analytic Services, Inc., June 1993).
6. See U.S. Department of Commerce and National Aeronautic and Space
Administration, "Basic Agreement between U.S. Department of Commerce
and the National Aeronautics and Astronautics Association Concerning
Operational Environmental Satellite Systems of the Department of
7. See National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 1993 Earth
Observing System Reference Handbook (Washington, D.C., March 1993).
8. See Blersch, DMSP/POES Convergence Materials Handbook.
9. See U.S. Department of Commerce, "Report of the Working Group on
NOAA Polar Satellite Convergence Opportunities," (Washington, D.C.,
June 1993). (Draft.)
10. See U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration, National Aeronautical and Space Administration,
"Terms of Reference for Joint Defense Meteorological Satellite
Program (DMSP), Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite
(POE S) and Earth Observing System (EOS) Program Assessment," June
11. See Letter from George E. Brown, Jr., Chairman of the House
Committee on Science, Space and Technology, to Dr. D. James Baker,
NOAA Administrator, February 22, 1993.
12. See Letters from Senator James Exon to Secretary of Commerce
Ron Brown and Deputy Secretary of Defense William Perry, June 2,
13. "Horner Supports Converged System," Space News (June 27,
1993), p. 4.
14. Blersch, DMSP/POES Convergence Handbook, p. II-2.
15. See U.S. General Accounting Office, Economies Available to
Converging Government Meteorological Satellites (Washington, D.C.:
U.S. General Accounting Office, 1986).
16. U.S. Congress, House Committee on Science, Space and
Technology, Subcommittee on Space, testimony by Dr. Ray A.
Williamson, Office of Technology Assessment, May 6, 1993.