Weather satellites failing, Inouye warns
A congressional watchdog group joined space officials and researchers in warning the Senate yesterday that cost overruns and delays could threaten the nation's weather-warning satellites.
"The scientific community is concerned that the United States is losing key satellite observing capabilities, particularly for climate research and accurate weather forecasts," said Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. "We need to be proactive in addressing these problems and employing the technologies necessary to ensure accuracy in forecasting and research. The citizens of Hawaii and other coastal states deserve no less."
Inouye's committee held hearings on the status of weather and environmental satellites, considered critical in hurricane prediction and other storm forecasts. A Government Accountability Office report released at the hearing highlighted the threat to satellites.
The vulnerability of those satellite programs was part of the backdrop behind the ousting Monday of Bill Proenza as director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Proenza, who went on leave after six months on the job, reportedly criticized his superiors for moving too slowly on replacing an aging satellite called QuikSCAT.
QuikSCAT, which measures sea surface wind speed and direction, has been in orbit since 1999, five years beyond its anticipated lifetime. And while it shows no sign of failing immediately, it is already relying on backup systems, said Michael Freilich, director of the Earth Science Division at NASA.
Polar-orbiting satellites like QuikSCAT cover every point on Earth at least once a day, and so gather information on Pacific and Atlantic storms. They differ from geosynchronous satellites parked over a certain spot above the equator.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., criticized bickering among agencies -- including the Department of Defense, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and NASA -- for cost increases and delays on QuikSCAT.
"We're dealing with a hydra-headed monster here that can't decide which way it wants to go," Nelson said at the hearing.
Cox News Service contributed to this report.