oversight

Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites: Project Risks Could Affect Weather Data Needed by Civilian and Military Users

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-07-15.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                          United States General Accounting Office

GAO                       Testimony
                          Before the Subcommittee on
                          Environment, Technology, and Standards,
                          Committee on Science,
                          House of Representatives
For Release on Delivery
Expected at 2 p.m. EDT
Tuesday, July 15, 2003    POLAR-ORBITING
                          ENVIRONMENTAL
                          SATELLITES
                          Project Risks Could Affect
                          Weather Data Needed by
                          Civilian and Military Users
                          Statement of David A. Powner,
                          Acting Director, Information Technology Management
                          Issues




GAO-03-987T
                                                July 15, 2003


                                                POLAR-ORBITING ENVIRONMENTAL
                                                SATELLITES

Highlights of GAO-03-987T, a testimony          Project Risks Could Affect Weather Data
before the Subcommittee on Environment,
Technology, and Standards, Committee            Needed by Civilian and Military Users
on Science, House of Representatives




Polar-orbiting environmental                    The NPOESS program faces key programmatic and technical risks that may
satellites provide data and imagery             affect the successful and timely deployment of the system. The original plan
that are used by weather                        for NPOESS was that it would be available to serve as a backup to the March
forecasters, climatologists, and the            2008 launch of the final satellite in one of the two current satellite
military to map and monitor                     programs—the Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite (POES)
changes in weather, climate, the
ocean, and the environment. The
                                                system. However, changing funding streams and revised schedules have
current polar satellite program is a            delayed the expected launch date of the first NPOESS satellite by 21 months.
complex infrastructure that                     Thus, the first NPOESS satellite will not be ready in time to back up the final
includes two satellite systems,                 POES satellite, resulting in a potential gap in satellite coverage should that
supporting ground stations, and                 satellite fail. Specifically, if the final POES launch fails and if existing
four central data processing                    satellites are unable to continue operations beyond their expected lifespans,
centers. In the future, the National            the continuity of weather data needed for weather forecasts and climate
Polar-orbiting Operational                      monitoring will be put at risk. Moreover, concerns with the development of
Environmental Satellite System                  key NPOESS components, including critical sensors and the data processing
(NPOESS) is to merge the two                    system, may cause additional delays in the satellite launch date.
current satellite systems into a
single state-of-the-art environment
monitoring satellite system. This
                                                The program office is working to address the changes in funding levels and
new $7 billion satellite system is              schedule, and to make plans for addressing specific risks. Further, it is
considered critical to the United               working to develop a new cost and schedule baseline for the NPOESS
States’ ability to maintain the                 program by August 2003.
continuity of data required for
weather forecasting and global                  Timeline of Delay in Launch Availability
climate monitoring through the
year 2018. In its testimony GAO
was asked, among other topics, to
discuss risks to the success of the
NPOESS deployment.




www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-03-987T.

To view the full product, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above.
For more information, contact David Powner
at (202) 512-9286 or pownerd@gao.gov.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

We appreciate the opportunity to join in today’s hearing to discuss our
work on the planned National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental
Satellite System (NPOESS). At your request, we will provide an overview
of our nation’s current polar-orbiting environmental satellite program and
the planned NPOESS program. We will also discuss key risks to the
successful and timely deployment of NPOESS.

In brief, today’s polar-orbiting environmental satellite program is a
complex infrastructure encompassing two satellite systems, supporting
ground stations, and four central data processing centers that provide
general weather information and specialized environmental products to a
variety of users, including weather forecasters, military strategists, and the
public. NPOESS is planned to merge the two satellite systems into a single
state-of-the-art environment monitoring satellite system. This new satellite
system, currently estimated to cost about $7 billion, is considered critical
to the United States’ ability to maintain the continuity of data required for
weather forecasting and global climate monitoring through the year 2018.

However, the NPOESS program faces key programmatic and technical
risks that may affect the successful and timely deployment of the system.
Specifically, changing funding streams and revised schedules have delayed
the expected launch date of the first NPOESS satellite by 21 months. Thus,
the first NPOESS satellite will not be ready in time to back up the final
POES satellite, resulting in a potential gap in satellite coverage should that
satellite fail. Specifically, if the final POES launch fails and if existing
satellites are unable to continue operations beyond their expected
lifespans, the continuity of weather data needed for weather forecasts and
climate monitoring will be put at risk. In addition, concerns with the
development of key NPOESS components, including critical sensors and
the data processing system, could cause additional delays in the satellite
launch date.

The program office is working to address the changes in funding levels
and schedule, and to make plans for addressing specific risks. Further, it is
working to develop a new cost and schedule baseline for the NPOESS
program by August 2003.




Page 1                                                            GAO-03-987T
                 This statement builds on work we have done on environmental satellite
                 programs over the last several years.1 An overview of the approach we
                 used to perform this work—our objectives, scope, and methodology—is
                 provided in appendix I.


                 Since the 1960s, the United States has operated two separate operational
Existing Polar   polar-orbiting meteorological satellite systems. These systems are known
Satellite        as the Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites (POES),
                 managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s
Infrastructure   (NOAA) National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service
                 (NESDIS), and the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP),
                 managed by the Department of Defense (DOD). These satellites obtain
                 environmental data that are processed to provide graphical weather
                 images and specialized weather products, and that are the predominant
                 input to numerical weather prediction models—all used by weather
                 forecasters, the military, and the public. Polar satellites also provide data
                 used to monitor environmental phenomena, such as ozone depletion and
                 drought conditions, as well as data sets that are used by researchers for a
                 variety of studies, such as climate monitoring.

                 Unlike geostationary satellites, which maintain a fixed position above the
                 earth, polar-orbiting satellites constantly circle the earth in an almost
                 north-south orbit, providing global coverage of conditions that affect the
                 weather and climate. Each satellite makes about 14 orbits a day. As the
                 earth rotates beneath it, each satellite views the entire earth’s surface
                 twice a day. Today, there are two operational POES satellites and two
                 operational DMSP satellites that are positioned so that they can observe
                 the earth in early morning, mid-morning, and early afternoon polar orbits.
                 Together, they ensure that for any region of the earth, the data provided to
                 users are generally no more than 6 hours old. Figure 1 illustrates the
                 current operational polar satellite configuration. Besides the four
                 operational satellites, there are five older satellites in orbit that still collect
                 some data and are available to provide some limited backup to the
                 operational satellites should they degrade or fail. In the future, both NOAA



                 1
                  U.S. General Accounting Office, Polar-orbiting Environmental Satellites: Status, Plans,
                 and Future Data Management Challenges, GAO-02-684T (Washington, D.C.: July 24, 2002);
                 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: National Weather Service
                 Modernization and Weather Satellite Program, GAO/T-AIMD-00-86 (Washington, D.C.:
                 Mar. 29, 2000); and Weather Satellites: Planning for the Geostationary Satellite Program
                 Needs More Attention, GAO-AIMD-97-37 (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 13, 1997).



                 Page 2                                                                    GAO-03-987T
and DOD plan to continue to launch additional POES and DMSP satellites
every few years, with final launches scheduled for 2008 and 2010,
respectively.

Figure 1: Configuration of Operational Polar Satellites




Each of the polar satellites carries a suite of sensors designed to detect
environmental data either reflected or emitted from the earth, the
atmosphere, and space. The satellites store these data and then transmit
the data to NOAA and Air Force ground stations when the satellites pass
overhead. The ground stations then relay the data via communications
satellites to the appropriate meteorological centers for processing.

Under a shared processing agreement among the four processing
centers—NESDIS,2 the Air Force Weather Agency, Navy’s Fleet Numerical


2
 Within NOAA, NESDIS processes the satellite data, and the National Centers for
Environmental Prediction (NCEP), a component of NOAA’s National Weather Service, runs
the models. For simplicity, we refer to the combined NESDIS/NCEP processing center as
the NESDIS processing center.


Page 3                                                                 GAO-03-987T
Meteorology and Oceanography Center, and the Naval Oceanographic
Office—different centers are responsible for producing and distributing
different environmental data sets, specialized weather and oceanographic
products, and weather prediction model outputs via a shared network.
Each of the four processing centers is also responsible for distributing the
data to its respective users. For the DOD centers, the users include
regional meteorology and oceanography centers as well as meteorology
and oceanography staff on military bases. NESDIS forwards the data to
NOAA’s National Weather Service for distribution and use by forecasters.
The processing centers also use the Internet to distribute data to the
general public. NESDIS is responsible for the long-term archiving of data
and derived products from POES and DMSP.

In addition to the infrastructure supporting satellite data processing noted
above, properly equipped field terminals that are within a direct line of
sight of the satellites can receive real-time data directly from the polar-
orbiting satellites. There are an estimated 150 such field terminals
operated by the U.S. government, many by DOD. Field terminals can be
taken into areas with little or no data communications infrastructure—
such as on a battlefield or ship—and enable the receipt of weather data
directly from the polar-orbiting satellites. These terminals have their own
software and processing capability to decode and display a subset of the
satellite data to the user. Figure 2 depicts a generic data relay pattern from
the polar-orbiting satellites to the data processing centers and field
terminals.




Page 4                                                            GAO-03-987T
                        Figure 2: Generic Data Relay Pattern for the Polar Meteorological Satellite System




Polar Satellite Data,   Polar satellites gather a broad range of data that are transformed into a
Products, and Uses      variety of products for many different uses. When first received, satellite
                        data are considered raw data.3 To make them usable, the processing
                        centers format the data so that they are time-sequenced and include earth
                        location and calibration information. After formatting, these data are
                        called raw data records. The centers further process these raw data
                        records into data sets, called sensor data records and temperature data
                        records. These data records are then used to derive weather products
                        called environmental data records (EDR). EDRs range from atmospheric
                        products detailing cloud coverage, temperature, humidity, and ozone
                        distribution; to land surface products showing snow cover, vegetation, and
                        land use; to ocean products depicting sea surface temperatures, sea ice,


                        3
                         NOAA uses different nomenclature for its data processing stages: raw data are known as
                        level 0 data; raw data records are known as level 1a data; sensor data records and
                        temperature data records are known as level 1b data; and environmental data records are
                        known as level 2 data.



                        Page 5                                                                     GAO-03-987T
and wave height; to characterizations of the space environment.
Combinations of these data records (raw, sensor, temperature, and
environmental data records) are also used to derive more sophisticated
products, including outputs from numerical weather models and
assessments of climate trends. Figure 3 is a simplified depiction of the
various stages of data processing.

Figure 3: Satellite Data Processing Steps




EDRs can be either images or quantitative data products. Image EDRs
provide graphical depictions of the weather and are used to observe
meteorological and oceanographic phenomena to track operationally
significant events (such as tropical storms, volcanic ash,4 and icebergs),
and to provide quality assurance for weather prediction models.

The following figures demonstrate polar-orbiting satellite images. Figure 4
is an image from a DMSP satellite showing an infrared picture taken over
the west Atlantic Ocean. Figure 5 is a POES image of Hurricane Floyd,
which struck the southern Atlantic coastline in 1999. Figure 6 is a polar-
satellite image used to detect volcanic ash clouds, in particular the ash
cloud resulting from the eruption of Mount Etna in 2001. Figure 7 shows
the location of icebergs near Antarctica in February 2002.




4
Volcanic ash presents a hazard to aviation because of its potential to damage engines.



Page 6                                                                      GAO-03-987T
Figure 4: DMSP Image of the West Atlantic Ocean




Source: Navy Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center.




Page 7                                                              GAO-03-987T
Figure 5: POES Image of Hurricane Floyd in 1999




Source: NOAA.


Figure 6: POES Image of Volcanic Ash Cloud from Mt. Etna, Sicily, in 2001




Source: NOAA.




Page 8                                                                GAO-03-987T
Figure 7: DMSP Image of Icebergs Near Antarctica




Source: Naval/National Ice Center.


Quantitative EDRs are specialized weather products that can be used to
assess the environment and climate or to derive other products. These
EDRs can also be depicted graphically. Figures 8 and 9 are graphic
depictions of quantitative data on sea surface temperature and ozone
measurements, respectively. An example of a product that was derived
from EDRs is provided in figure 10. This product shows how long a person
could survive in the ocean—information used in military as well as search
and rescue operations—and was based on sea surface temperature EDRs
from polar-orbiting satellites.



Page 9                                                       GAO-03-987T
Figure 8: Analysis of Sea Surface Temperatures from POES Satellite Data




Source: NOAA/NESDIS.




Page 10                                                             GAO-03-987T
Figure 9: Analysis of Ozone Concentration from POES Satellite Data




Source: NESDIS.




Page 11                                                              GAO-03-987T
Figure 10: Analysis of Water Survivability off the Atlantic Seaboard, January 2002




Source: Naval Oceanographic Office.

Note: Contour lines with blocked numbers depict survival time, in hours, without a survival suit..


Another use of quantitative satellite data is in numerical weather
prediction models. Based predominantly on observations from polar-
orbiting satellites and supplemented by data from other sources such as
geostationary satellites, radar, weather balloons, and surface observing
systems, numerical weather prediction models are used in producing


Page 12                                                                                 GAO-03-987T
                                          hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly forecasts of atmospheric, land, and
                                          ocean conditions. These models require quantitative satellite data to
                                          update their analysis of weather and to produce new forecasts. Table 1
                                          provides examples of models run by the processing centers. Figure 11
                                          depicts the output of one common model.

Table 1: Common Numerical Weather Prediction Models Used by Processing Centers

 Model                                              Purpose                              Processing center
 Global Forecast System                             Global weather forecasts             NESDIS/NCEP
 Eta Model                                          Regional weather forecasts           NESDIS/NCEP
 Mesoscale Model 5                                  Regional forecasts                   Air Force Weather Agency
 Advect Cloud Model                                 Global cloud forecast and analysis   Air Force Weather Agency
 Navy Operational Global Atmospheric Prediction     Global weather forecasts             Navy Fleet Numerical Meteorology and
 System                                                                                  Oceanography Center
 Coupled Oceanographic and Atmospheric              Regional weather forecasts           Navy Fleet Numerical Meteorology and
 Mesoscale Prediction System                                                             Oceanography Center
 Wave Model                                         Regional oceanographic forecasts     Naval Oceanographic Office
Source: NOAA and DOD.




                                          Page 13                                                                 GAO-03-987T
Figure 11: Model Output Depicting a 6-Hour Precipitation Forecast




Source: NOAA/NCEP.


All this information—satellite data, imagery, derived products, and model
output—is used in mapping and monitoring changes in weather, climate,
the ocean, and the environment. These data and products are provided to
weather forecasters for use in issuing weather forecasts and warnings to
the public and to support our nation’s aviation, agriculture, and maritime
communities. Also, weather data and products are used by climatologists
and meteorologists to monitor the environment. Within the military, these
data and products allow military planners and tactical users to focus on
anticipating and exploiting atmospheric and space environmental
conditions. For example, Air Force Weather Agency officials told us that
accurate wind and temperature forecasts are critical to any decision to
launch an aircraft that will need mid-flight refueling. In addition to these
operational uses of satellite data, there is also a substantial need for polar
satellite data for research. According to experts in climate research, the
research community requires long-term, consistent sets of satellite data
collected sequentially, usually at fixed intervals of time, in order to study
many critical climate processes. Examples of research topics include long-
term trends in temperature, precipitation, and snow cover.


Page 14                                                             GAO-03-987T
                       Given the expectation that merging the POES and DMSP programs would
The National Polar-    reduce duplication and result in sizable cost savings, a May 1994
orbiting Operational   Presidential Decision Directive required NOAA and DOD to converge the
                       two satellite programs into a single satellite program capable of satisfying
Environmental          both civilian and military requirements. The converged program is called
Satellite System       the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System
                       (NPOESS), and it is considered critical to the United States’ ability to
                       maintain the continuity of data required for weather forecasting and global
                       climate monitoring. To manage this program, DOD, NOAA, and the
                       National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have formed a tri-
                       agency Integrated Program Office, located within NOAA.

                       Within the program office, each agency has the lead on certain activities.
                       NOAA has overall responsibility for the converged system, as well as
                       satellite operations; DOD has the lead on the acquisition; and NASA has
                       primary responsibility for facilitating the development and incorporation
                       of new technologies into the converged system. NOAA and DOD share the
                       costs of funding NPOESS, while NASA funds specific technology projects
                       and studies.


NPOESS Overview        NPOESS is a major system acquisition estimated to cost almost $7 billion
                       over the 24-year period from the inception of the program in 1995 through
                       2018.5 The program is to provide satellite development, satellite launch and
                       operation, and integrated data processing. These deliverables are grouped
                       into four main categories: (1) the launch segment, which includes the
                       launch vehicle and supporting equipment, (2) the space segment, which
                       includes the satellites and sensors, (3) the interface data processing
                       segment, which includes the data processing system to be located at the
                       four processing centers, and (4) the command, control, and
                       communications segment, which includes the equipment and services
                       needed to track and control satellites.

                       Program acquisition plans call for the procurement and launch of six
                       NPOESS satellites over the life of the program and the integration of 14
                       instruments, comprising 12 environmental sensors and 2 subsystems.
                       Together, the sensors are to receive and transmit data on atmospheric,
                       cloud cover, environmental, climate, oceanographic, and solar-geophysical



                       5
                        The fiscal year 2004 President’s budget identified the $6.96 billion estimate in base year
                       dollars.



                       Page 15                                                                         GAO-03-987T
                                             observations. The subsystems are to support nonenvironmental search
                                             and rescue efforts and environmental data collection activities. According
                                             to the Integrated Program Office, 8 of the 14 planned NPOESS instruments
                                             involve new technology development, whereas 6 others are based on
                                             existing technologies. The planned instruments and the state of
                                             technology on each are listed in table 2.

Table 2: Expected NPOESS Instruments

                                                                                                                        State of
 Instrument name             Description                                                                                technology
 Advanced technology         This sensor is to measure microwave energy released and scattered by the                   New
 microwave sounder           atmosphere, and is to be used with infrared sounding data from NPOESS’ cross-
                             track infrared sounder to produce daily global atmospheric temperature, humidity,
                             and pressure profiles.
 Aerosol polarimetry sensor This sensor is to retrieve specific aerosol (liquid droplets or solid particles             New
                             suspended in the atmosphere, such as sea spray, smog, and smoke) and cloud
                             measurements.
 Conical microwave           This sensor is to collect microwave images and data needed to measure rain rate,           New
 imager/sounder              ocean surface wind speed and direction, amount of water in the clouds, and soil
                             moisture, as well as temperature and humidity at different atmospheric levels.
 Cross-track infrared        This sensor is to collect measurements of the earth’s radiation to determine the           New
 sounder                     vertical distribution of temperature, moisture, and pressure in the atmosphere.
 Data collection system      This system collects environmental data from platforms around the world and                Existing
                             delivers them to users worldwide.
 Earth radiation budget      This sensor measures solar short-wave radiation and long-wave radiation released           Existing
 sensor                      by the earth back into space on a worldwide scale to enhance long-term climate
                             studies.
 Global Positioning System This sensor is to measure the refraction of radio wave signals from the Global               New
 occultation sensor          Positioning System and Russia’s Global Navigation Satellite System to characterize
                             the ionosphere.
 Ozone mapper/profiler       This sensor is to collect data needed to measure the amount and distribution of            New
 suite                       ozone in the earth’s atmosphere.
 Radar altimeter             This sensor measures variances in sea surface height/topography and ocean                  Existing
                             surface roughness, which are used to determine sea surface height, significant wave
                             height, and ocean surface wind speed and to provide critical inputs to ocean
                             forecasting and climate prediction models.
 Search and rescue satellite This system detects and locates aviators, mariners, and land-based users in                Existing
 aided tracking system       distress.
 Space environmental         This suite of sensors is to collect data to identify, reduce, and predict the effects of   New
 sensor suite                space weather on technological systems, including satellites and radio links.
 Survivability sensor        This sensor monitors for attacks on the satellite and notifies other instruments in        Existing
                             case of an attack.
 Total solar irradiance      This sensor monitors and captures total and spectral solar irradiance data.                Existing
 sensor
 Visible/infrared imager     This sensor is to collect images and radiometric data used to provide information on       New
 radiometer suite            the earth’s clouds, atmosphere, ocean, and land surfaces.
Source: Integrated Program Office.

                                             Unlike the current polar satellite program, in which the four centers use
                                             different approaches to process raw data into the environmental data


                                             Page 16                                                                        GAO-03-987T
                       records that they are responsible for, the NPOESS integrated data
                       processing systemto be located at the four centers—is expected to
                       provide a standard system to produce these data sets and products. The
                       four processing centers will continue to use these data sets to produce
                       other derived products, as well as for input to their numerical prediction
                       models.

                       NPOESS is planned to produce 55 EDRs, including atmospheric vertical
                       temperature profile, sea surface temperature, cloud base height, ocean
                       wave characteristics, and ozone profile. Some of these EDRs are
                       comparable to existing products, whereas others are new. The user
                       community designated six of these data products—supported by four
                       sensors6—as key EDRs, and noted that failure to provide them would
                       cause the system to be reevaluated or the program to be terminated.

Acquisition Strategy   The NPOESS acquisition program consists of three key phases: the
                       concept and technology development phase, which lasted from roughly
                       1995 to early 1997; the program definition and risk reduction phase, which
                       began in early 1997 and ended in August 2002; and the engineering and
                       manufacturing development and production phase, which began in August
                       2002 and is expected to continue through the life of the program. The
                       concept and technology development phase began with the decision to
                       converge the POES and DMSP satellites and included early planning for
                       the NPOESS acquisition. This phase included the successful convergence
                       of the command and control of existing DMSP and POES satellites at
                       NOAA’s satellite operations center.

                       The program definition and risk reduction phase involved both system-
                       level and sensor-level initiatives. At the system level, the program office
                       awarded contracts to two competing prime contractors to prepare for
                       NPOESS system performance responsibility. These contractors developed
                       unique approaches to meeting requirements, designing system
                       architectures, and developing initiatives to reduce sensor development
                       and integration risks. These contractors competed for the development
                       and production contract. At the sensor level, the program office awarded




                       6
                        The four sensors supporting key EDRs are (1) the advanced technology microwave
                       sounder, (2) the conical microwave imager/sounder, (3) the cross-track infrared sounder,
                       and (4) the visible/infrared imager radiometer suite.



                       Page 17                                                                     GAO-03-987T
                            contracts to develop five sensors.7 This phase ended when the
                            development and production contract was awarded. At that point, the
                            winning contractor was expected to assume overall responsibility for
                            managing continued sensor development.

                            The final phase, engineering and manufacturing development and
                            production, began when the development and production contract was
                            awarded to TRW in August 2002. At that time, TRW assumed system
                            performance responsibility for the overall program. This responsibility
                            includes all aspects of design, development, integration, assembly, test and
                            evaluation, operations, and on-orbit support. Shortly after the contract
                            was awarded, Northrop Grumman Space Technology purchased TRW and
                            became the prime contractor on the NPOESS project.


Risk Reduction Activities   In May 1997, the Integrated Program Office assessed the technical,
Are Underway                schedule, and cost risks of key elements of the NPOESS program,
                            including (1) overall system integration, (2) the launch segment, (3) the
                            space segment, (4) the interface data processing segment, and (5) the
                            command, control, and communications segment. As a result of this
                            assessment, the program office determined that three elements had high
                            risk components: the interface data processing segment, the space
                            segment, and the overall system integration. Specifically, the interface data
                            processing segment and overall system integration were assessed as high
                            risk in all three areas (technical, cost, and schedule), whereas the space
                            segment was assessed to be high risk in the technical and cost areas, and
                            moderate risk in the schedule area. The launch segment and the command,
                            control, and communications segment were determined to present low or
                            moderate risks. The program office expected to reduce its high risk
                            components to low and moderate risks by the time the development and
                            production contract was awarded, and to have all risk levels reduced to
                            low before the first launch. Table 3 displays the results of the 1997 risk
                            assessment as well as the program office’s estimated risk levels by August
                            2002 and by first launch.




                            7
                             The five sensors include (1) the conical microwave imager/sounder, (2) the cross-track
                            infrared sounder, (3) the Global Positioning System occultation sensor, (4) the ozone
                            mapper/profiler suite, and (5) the visible/infrared imager radiometer suite.



                            Page 18                                                                     GAO-03-987T
Table 3: Actual Risk Levels in 1997, at Contract Award in August 2002, and Projected Risk Level by First Launch




                                         In order to meet its goals of reducing program risks, the program office
                                         developed and implemented multiple risk reduction initiatives. One risk
                                         reduction initiative specifically targeted the space segment risks by
                                         initiating the development of key sensor technologies in advance of the
                                         satellite system itself. Because environmental sensors have historically
                                         taken 8 years to develop, the program office began developing six of the
                                         eight sensors with more advanced technologies early. In the late 1990s, the
                                         program office awarded contracts for the development, analysis,
                                         simulation, and prototype fabrication of five of these sensors.8 In addition,
                                         NASA awarded a contract for the early development of one other sensor.9
                                         Responsibility for delivering these sensors was transferred from the




                                         8
                                          The five program office-initiated sensors include (1) the conical microwave
                                         imager/sounder, (2) the cross-track infrared sounder, (3) the Global Positioning System
                                         occultation sensor, (4) the ozone mapper/profiler suite, and (5) the visible/infrared imager
                                         radiometer suite.
                                         9
                                          NASA contracted for the advanced technology microwave sounder sensor.



                                         Page 19                                                                        GAO-03-987T
                   program office to the prime contractor when the NPOESS contract was
                   awarded in August 2002.10

                   Another major risk reduction initiative expected to address risks in three
                   of the four segments with identified risks is called the NPOESS
                   Preparatory Project (NPP).11 NPP is a planned demonstration satellite to
                   be launched in 2006, several years before the first NPOESS satellite launch
                   in 2009. It is scheduled to host three of the four critical NPOESS sensors
                   (the visible/infrared imager radiometer suite, the cross-track infrared
                   sounder, and the advanced technology microwave sounder), as well as
                   two other noncritical sensors. Further, NPP will provide the program
                   office and the processing centers an early opportunity to work with the
                   sensors, ground control, and data processing systems. Specifically, this
                   satellite is expected to demonstrate about half of the NPOESS EDRs and
                   about 93 percent of its data processing load.

                   Since our statement last year,12 the Integrated Program Office has made
                   further progress on NPOESS. Specifically, it awarded the contract for the
                   overall program and is monitoring and managing contract deliverables,
                   including products that will be tested on NPP. The program office is also
                   continuing to work on various other risk reduction activities, including
                   learning from experiences with sensors on existing platforms, including
                   NASA research satellites, the WINDSAT/Coriolis weather satellite, and the
                   NPOESS airborne sounding testbed.


                   While the program office has made progress both on the acquisition and
NPOESS Faces Key   risk reduction activities, the NPOESS program faces key programmatic
Programmatic and   and technical risks that may affect the successful and timely deployment
                   of the system. Specifically, changing funding streams and revised
Technical Risks    schedules have delayed the expected launch date of the first NPOESS
                   satellite, and concerns with the development of key sensors and the data
                   processing system may cause additional delays in the satellite launch date.
                   These planned and potential schedule delays could affect the continuity of
                   weather data. Addressing these risks may result in increased costs for the


                   10
                     In the case of the advanced technology microwave sounder sensor, NASA is responsible
                   for developing the initial sensor while the NPOESS prime contractor is responsible for
                   subsequent production of these sensors.
                   11
                    NPP will not address risks in the launch segment.
                   12
                    GAO-02-684T.



                   Page 20                                                                   GAO-03-987T
                        overall program. In attempting to address these risks, the program office is
                        working to develop a new cost and schedule baseline for the NPOESS
                        program, which it hopes to complete by August 2003.


NPOESS Funding and      When the NPOESS development contract was awarded, program office
Schedule Are Changing   officials identified an anticipated schedule and funding stream for the
                        program. The schedule for launching the satellites was driven by a
                        requirement that the satellites be available to back up the final POES and
                        DMSP satellites should anything go wrong during these satellites’ planned
                        launches. In general, program officials anticipate that roughly 1 out of
                        every 10 satellites will fail either during launch or during early operations
                        after launch.

                        Key program milestones included (1) launching NPP by May 2006 in order
                        to allow time to learn from that risk reduction effort, (2) having the first
                        NPOESS satellite available to back up the final POES satellite launch in
                        March 2008, and (3) having the second NPOESS satellite available to back
                        up the final DMSP satellite launch in October 2009. If the NPOESS
                        satellites were not needed to back up the final predecessor satellites, their
                        anticipated launch dates would have been April 2009 and June 2011,
                        respectively.

                        However, a DOD program official reported that between 2001 and 2002,
                        the agency experienced delays in launching a DMSP satellite, causing
                        delays in the expected launch dates of another DMSP satellite. In late 2002,
                        DOD shifted the expected launch date for the final DMSP satellite from
                        2009 to 2010. As a result, DOD reduced funding for NPOESS by about $65
                        million between fiscal years 2004 and 2007. According to NPOESS
                        program officials, because NOAA is required to provide no more funding
                        than DOD does, this change triggered a corresponding reduction in
                        funding by NOAA for those years. As a result of the reduced funding,
                        program office officials were forced to make difficult decisions about what
                        to focus on first. The program office decided to keep NPP as close to its
                        original schedule as possible because of its importance to the eventual
                        NPOESS development, and to shift some of the NPOESS deliverables to
                        later years. This shift will affect the NPOESS deployment schedule.
                        Table 4 compares the program office’s current estimates for key
                        milestones, given current funding levels.




                        Page 21                                                          GAO-03-987T
Table 4: Comparison of Key Milestones Related to the NPOESS Program

                                                         As of August
                                                         2002 contract
    Milestone                                            award                     As of July 2003
    NPP launch                                           May 2006                  October 2006
    Final POES launch                                    March 2008                March 2008
    First NPOESS satellite available for launch          March 2008                December 2009
    First NPOESS satellite planned for launch            April 2009                November 2009a
    Final DMSP launch                                    October 2009              May 2010
    Second NPOESS satellite available for                October 2009              April 2011
    launch
    Second NPOESS satellite planned for launch            June 2011                June 2011
Source: Integrated Program Office, DOD, and GAO.
a
 A program official reported that if the first NPOESS satellite is not needed to back up the final POES
launch in March 2008, the contractor will prepare the satellite to be launched in a different orbit with a
different suite of sensors. These factors will allow the launch to take place earlier than if the satellite
were to be used as a backup to the final POES launch.


As a result of the changes in funding between 2003 and 2007, project office
officials estimate that the first NPOESS satellite will be available for
launch 21 months after it is needed to back up the final POES satellite.
This means that should the final POES launch fail in March 2008, there
would be no backup satellite ready for launch. Unless the existing
operational satellite is able to continue operations beyond its expected
lifespan, there could be a gap in satellite coverage. Figure 12 depicts the
schedule delay.




Page 22                                                                                   GAO-03-987T
Figure 12: Timeline of Delay in Launch Availability




We have reported on concerns about gaps in satellite coverage in the past.
In the early 1990s, the development of the second generation of NOAA’s
geostationary satellites experienced severe technical problems, cost
overruns, and schedule delays, resulting in a 5-year schedule slip in the
launch of the first satellite; this schedule slip left NOAA in danger of
temporarily losing geostationary satellite data coverage—although no gap
in coverage actually occurred.13 In 2000, we reported that geostationary
satellite data coverage was again at risk because of a delay in a satellite
launch due to a problem with the engine of its launch vehicle.14 At that
time, existing satellites were able to maintain coverage until the new
satellite was launched over a year later—although one satellite had
exceeded its expected lifespan and was using several backup systems in
cases where primary systems had failed. DOD experienced the loss of
DMSP satellite coverage in the 1970s, which led to increased recognition




13
 GAO/AIMD-97-37.
14
 GAO/T-AIMD-00-86.


Page 23                                                        GAO-03-987T
                           of the importance of polar-orbiting satellites and of the impact of the loss
                           of satellite data.


Key Sensor Development     In addition to the schedule issues facing the NPOESS program, concerns
Efforts Are Experiencing   have arisen regarding key components. Although the program office
Cost Increases, Schedule   reduced some of the risks inherent in developing new technologies by
                           initiating the development of these sensors early, individual sensor
Delays, and Performance    development efforts have experienced cost increases, schedule delays, and
Shortfalls                 performance shortfalls. The cost estimates for all four critical sensors (the
                           ones that are to support the most critical NPOESS EDRs) have increased,
                           due in part to including items that were not included in the original
                           estimates, and in part to addressing technical issues.15 These increases
                           range from approximately $60 million to $200 million. Further, while all
                           the sensors are still expected to be completed within schedule, many have
                           slipped to the end of their schedule buffers—meaning that no additional
                           time is available should other problems arise. Details on the status and
                           changes in cost and schedule of four critical sensors are provided in
                           table 5. The timely development of three of these sensors (the
                           visible/infrared imager radiometer suite, the cross-track infrared sounder,
                           and the advanced technology microwave sounder) is especially critical,
                           because these sensors are to be demonstrated on the NPP satellite,
                           currently scheduled for launch in October 2006.




                           15
                             Program officials noted that the more recent cost estimates include items that were not
                           included in the original estimates, such as system engineering, integration, and testing;
                           overhead costs; on-orbit support; and additional units of one of the sensors, as well as
                           costs to address technical issues.



                           Page 24                                                                      GAO-03-987T
Table 5: Comparison of Costs and Schedules of Four Critical Sensorsa

                                                                                                 Comparison of schedule estimates
                                Comparison of cost estimates
                                    (millions of dollars)                        Critical design review                         First unit delivery
                                                                           Contract     Current                         Contract
 Critical sensors               Original           Current       Change    award        date         Change             award       Current      Change
 Advanced                         $78.6            $137.8         $59.2    Dec 2001     May 2002     5 months           Oct 2004 Dec 2004        2 months
 technology
 microwave
           b
 sounder
 Cross-track                        $74.1           $275.3        $201.2   Jan 2003        Aug 2003       7 months      Feb 2005      Oct 2005       8 months
 infrared sounder
 Visible/infrared                  $297.6          $426.75       $129.15   Mar 2002        Mar 2002       0 months      Dec 2004      Nov 2005       11 months
 imager radiometer
 suite
 Conical microwave                 $298.0           $384.5         $86.5   Apr 2004        Nov 2005       19 months Apr 2006          Apr 2008       24 months
 imager/sounder
Source: Integrated Program Office and NASA data.
                                                             a
                                                              Program officials noted that the recent estimates include items such as system integration and
                                                             testing that were not included in the original estimates.
                                                             b
                                                              NASA is incurring all costs for the development of the advanced technology microwave sounder
                                                             instrument, which is to fly on NPP. The program office expects to fund the other advanced technology
                                                             microwave sounder instruments at a cost of $206.6 million.


                                                             Critical sensors are also falling short of achieving the required levels of
                                                             performance. As part of a review in early 2003, the program officials
                                                             determined that all four critical sensors were at medium to high risk of
                                                             shortfalls in performance. Program officials recently reported that since
                                                             the time of that review, the concerns that led to those risk designations
                                                             have been addressed, which contributed to the schedule delays and cost
                                                             increases noted above. We have not evaluated the closure of these risk
                                                             items. However, program officials acknowledge that there are still
                                                             performance issues on two critical sensors which they are working to
                                                             address. Specifically, officials reported that they are working to fix a
                                                             problem with radio frequency interference on the conical microwave
                                                             imager/sounder. Also, the program office is working with NASA to fix
                                                             problems with electrostatic discharge procedures and misalignment of key
                                                             components on the advanced technology microwave sounder. Further, the
                                                             program office will likely continue to identify additional performance
                                                             issues as the sensors are developed and tested. Officials anticipate that
                                                             there could be cost increases and schedule delays associated with
                                                             addressing performance issues.

                                                             Program officials reported that these and other sensor problems are not
                                                             unexpected; previous experience with such problems was what motivated


                                                             Page 25                                                                              GAO-03-987T
                            them to begin developing the sensors early. However, officials
                            acknowledge that continued problems could affect the sensors’ delivery
                            dates and potentially delay the NPP launch. Any delay in that launch date
                            could affect the overall NPOESS program because the success of the
                            program depends on learning lessons in data processing and system
                            integration from the NPP satellite.


Level of Effort and Time    The interface data processing system is a ground-based system that is to
Needed to Develop the       process the sensors’ data so that they are usable by the data processing
Interface Data Processing   centers and the broader community of environmental data users. The
                            development of this system is critical for both NPP and NPOESS. When
System for NPP and          used with NPP, the data processing system is expected to produce 26 of
NPOESS Is Not Known         the 55 EDRs that NPOESS will provide, processing approximately 93
                            percent of the planned volume of NPOESS data. Further, the central
                            processing centers will be able to work with these EDRs to begin
                            developing their own specialized products with NPP data. These activities
                            will allow system users to work through any problems well in advance of
                            when the NPOESS data are needed. We reported last year that the volumes
                            of data that NPOESS will provide present immense challenges to the
                            centers’ infrastructures and to their scientific capability to use these
                            additional data effectively in weather products and models.16 We also
                            noted that the centers need time to incorporate these new data into their
                            products and models. Using the data processing system in conjunction
                            with NPP will allow them to begin to do so.

                            While the data processing segment is currently on schedule, program
                            officials acknowledge the potential for future schedule delays.
                            Specifically, an initial version of the data processing system is on track to
                            be delivered at the end of July, and a later version is being planned.
                            However, the data processing system faces potential risks that could affect
                            the availability of NPP and in turn NPOESS. Specifically, program officials
                            reported that there is a risk that the roughly 32 months allocated for
                            developing the remaining software and delivering, installing, and verifying
                            the system at two central processing centers will not be sufficient. A
                            significant portion of the data processing system software involves
                            converting scientific algorithms for operational use, but program officials
                            noted that there is still uncertainty in how much time and effort it will take
                            to complete this conversion. Any significant delays could cause the


                            16
                             GAO-02-684T.



                            Page 26                                                          GAO-03-987T
                           potential coverage gap between the launches of the final POES and first
                           NPOESS satellites to grow even larger.


NPOESS Program Office Is   Program officials are working to address the changes in funding levels and
Working to Address Risks   schedule, and to make plans for addressing specific sensor and data
                           processing system risks. They acknowledge that delays in the program and
                           efforts to address risks on key components could increase the overall cost
                           of the program, which could result on the loss of some or all of the
                           promised cost savings from converging the two separate satellite systems.
                           However, estimates on these cost increases are still being determined. The
                           program office is working to develop a new cost and schedule baseline
                           based on the fiscal year 2004 President’s budget for the NPOESS program.
                           Officials noted that this rebaselining effort will involve a major contract
                           renegotiation. Program officials reported that they hope to complete the
                           new program baseline by August 2003.

                           In summary, today’s polar-orbiting weather satellite program is essential to
                           a variety of civilian and military operations, ranging from weather
                           warnings and forecasts to specialized weather products. NPOESS is
                           expected to merge today’s two separate satellite systems into a single
                           state-of-the-art weather and environmental monitoring satellite system to
                           support all military and civilian users, as well as the public. This new
                           satellite system is considered critical to the United States’ ability to
                           maintain the continuity of data required for weather forecasting and global
                           climate monitoring through the year 2018, and the first satellite was
                           expected to be ready to act as a backup should the launch of the final
                           satellites in the predecessor POES and DMSP programs fail.

                           The NPOESS program office has made progress over the last years in
                           trying to reduce project risks by developing critical sensors early and by
                           planning the NPOESS Preparatory Project to demonstrate key sensors and
                           the data processing system well before the first NPOESS launch. However,
                           the NPOESS program faces key programmatic and technical risks that may
                           affect the successful and timely deployment of the system. Specifically,
                           changing funding streams and revised schedules have delayed the
                           expected launch date of the first NPOESS satellite, and concerns with the
                           development of key sensors and the data processing system may cause
                           additional delays in the satellite launch date. These factors could affect the
                           continuity of weather data needed for weather forecasts and climate
                           monitoring.




                           Page 27                                                          GAO-03-987T
                   This concludes my statement. I would be pleased to respond to any
                   questions that you or other members of the Subcommittee may have at
                   this time.


                   If you have any questions regarding this testimony, please contact David
Contact and        Powner at (202) 512-9286 or by E-mail at pownerd@gao.gov. Individuals
Acknowledgements   making key contributions to this testimony include Barbara Collier, John
                   Dale, Ramnik Dhaliwal, Colleen Phillips, and Cynthia Scott.




                   Page 28                                                       GAO-03-987T
Appendix I. Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology

              Our objectives were to provide an overview of our nation’s current polar-
              orbiting weather satellite program and the planned National Polar-orbiting
              Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) program and to
              identify key risks to the successful and timely deployment of NPOESS.

              To provide an overview of the nation’s current and future polar-orbiting
              weather satellite system programs, we relied on prior GAO reviews of the
              satellite programs of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
              Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Defense (DOD). We
              reviewed documents from NOAA, DOD, and the National Aeronautics and
              Space Administration (NASA) that describe the purpose and origin of the
              polar satellite program and the status of the NPOESS program. We also
              interviewed Integrated Program Office and NASA officials to determine
              the program’s background, status, and plans.

              To identify key risks to the successful and timely deployment of NPOESS,
              we assessed the NPOESS acquisition status and program risk reduction
              efforts to understand how the program office plans to manage the
              acquisition and mitigate the risks to successful NPOESS implementation.
              We reviewed descriptions of the NPOESS sensors and interviewed
              officials at the Integrated Program Office, NASA, and DOD to determine
              the status of key sensors, program segments, and risk reduction activities.
              We also reviewed documents and interviewed program office officials on
              plans to address NPOESS challenges.

              NOAA, DOD, and NASA officials generally agreed with the facts as
              presented in this statement and provided some technical corrections,
              which we have incorporated. We performed our work at the NPOESS
              Integrated Program Office, NASA headquarters, and DOD offices, all
              located in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. Our work was
              performed between April and July 2003 in accordance with generally
              accepted government auditing standards.




(310445)
              Page 29                                                         GAO-03-987T
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