oversight

Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites: Changing Requirements, Technical Issues, and Looming Data Gaps Require Focused Attention

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2012-06-15.

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

             United States Government Accountability Office

GAO          Report to the Committee on Science,
             Space, and Technology, House of
             Representatives


June 2012
             POLAR-ORBITING
             ENVIRONMENTAL
             SATELLITES
             Changing
             Requirements,
             Technical Issues, and
             Looming Data Gaps
             Require Focused
             Attention




GAO-12-604
                                             June 2012

                                             POLAR-ORBITING ENVIRONMENTAL
                                             SATELLITES
                                             Changing Requirements, Technical Issues, and
Highlights of GAO-12-604, a report to the
                                             Looming Data Gaps Require Focused Attention
Committee on Science, Space, and
Technology, House of Representatives




Why GAO Did This Study                       What GAO Found
Environmental satellites provide critical    Following the decision to disband the National Polar-orbiting Operational
data used in forecasting weather and         Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) program in 2010, both the National
measuring variations in climate over         Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of
time. NPOESS—a program managed               Defense (DOD) made initial progress in transferring key management
by NOAA, DOD, and the National               responsibilities to their separate program offices. Specifically, NOAA established
Aeronautics and Space                        a Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) program office, documented its
Administration—was planned to                requirements, and transferred existing contracts for earth-observing sensors to
replace two existing polar-orbiting          the new program. DOD established its Defense Weather Satellite System
environmental satellite systems.
                                             program office and modified contracts accordingly. However, recent events have
However, 8 years after a development
                                             resulted in major program changes at both agencies. NOAA plans to revise its
contract for the NPOESS program was
awarded in 2002, the cost estimate
                                             program requirements to remove key elements, including sensors and ground-
had more than doubled—to about $15           based data processing systems, to keep the program within budget. Further, in
billion, launch dates had been delayed       early 2012, DOD decided to terminate its program and reassess its requirements.
by over 5 years, significant functionality   Over the past year, NOAA has made progress in developing its satellite system,
had been removed from the program,           but critical decisions and milestones lie ahead. In October 2011, the JPSS
and the program’s tri-agency                 program office successfully launched a satellite originally called the NPOESS
management structure had proven to           Preparatory Project (NPP). Data from the satellite are currently being calibrated
be ineffective. In February 2010, a
                                             and validated, and NOAA meteorologists started using selected satellite data
presidential task force decided to
                                             products in their weather forecasts in May 2012. Further, the three major
disband NPOESS and, instead, to
have NOAA and DOD undertake                  components of the JPSS program (the flight, ground, and free-flyer projects) are
separate acquisitions.                       at different stages of development. Within the flight project, development of the
                                             sensors for the first JPSS satellite is well under way; however, selected sensors
GAO was asked to evaluate (1) efforts        are experiencing technical issues. The ground project is currently in operation
to transfer responsibilities from the        supporting NPP and NOAA is planning to upgrade parts of the ground system
NPOESS program to the separate               infrastructure to increase its security and reliability. The free-flyer project,
NOAA and DOD programs, (2) NOAA’s            intended to integrate and launch key instruments that could not be
progress in developing its satellite         accommodated on the JPSS satellites, is still in a planning stage because NOAA
system, and (3) NOAA’s efforts to
                                             has not yet decided which satellites will host the instruments or when these
mitigate key project risks. To do so,
                                             satellites will launch.
GAO analyzed program management,
contract, cost, and risk data, attended      The JPSS program office has implemented elements of an effective risk
executive program reviews, and               management process; however, the program still faces significant risks. It does
interviewed agency and contractor            not yet have a cost and schedule baseline in place, the program office is not yet
officials.                                   fully staffed, and there will likely be a gap in satellite data lasting 17 to 53 months
What GAO Recommends                          from the time NPP is projected to cease operations and the first JPSS satellite
                                             begins to operate. There are also potential satellite data gaps in the DOD and
GAO is making a recommendation to            European polar satellite programs, which provide supplementary information to
NOAA to establish mitigation plans to        NOAA forecasts. The JPSS program office is managing the first two risks, but
address the risk of satellite data gaps.     NOAA has not established plans to mitigate potential satellite gaps. Until these
NOAA agreed with GAO’s                       risks are mitigated and resolved, civilian and military satellite data users may not
recommendation and noted that the            have the information they need for timely weather forecasting, thereby risking
agency is developing a report to             lives, property, and commerce.
address the risk of data gaps.


View GAO-12-604. For more information,
contact David Powner at (202) 512-9286 or
pownerd@gao.gov.

                                                                                       United States Government Accountability Office
Contents


Letter                                                                                                   1
                       Background                                                                       2
                       Polar Satellite Data and Products                                                4
                       Agencies Transferred Responsibilities to Their Respective
                         Programs, but NOAA’s Is Being Downsized, and DOD’s Has Been
                         Terminated                                                                    12
                       NPP Is in Orbit and Transmitting Data; Development of the First
                         JPSS Satellite Has Begun, but Critical Steps Remain                           16
                       JPSS Risk Management Process in Place; Key Risks Remain                         22
                       Conclusions                                                                     30
                       Recommendations for Executive Action                                            30
                       Agency Comments and Our Evaluation                                              30

Appendix I             Objectives, Scope, and Methodology                                              32



Appendix II            Comments by the Department of Commerce                                          34



Appendix III           GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments                                           36



Related GAO Products                                                                                   37



Tables
                       Table 1: Anticipated NPOESS Instruments, as of July 2002                         7
                       Table 2: A Comparison of NPOESS and the NOAA and DOD Plans
                                for Replacing NPOESS, at Different Points in Time                      10
                       Table 3: JPSS Projects and Components                                           19
                       Table 4: Status of Key Components of the Flight Project Supporting
                                the First JPSS Satellite, as of April 2012                             21
                       Table 5: Status of Key Free Flyer Components, as of April 2012                  22


Figures
                       Figure 1: Configuration of Operational Polar Satellites                          4
                       Figure 2: Stages of Satellite Data Processing                                    5



                       Page i                            GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
Figure 3: Examples of Weather Products                                                     5
Figure 4: Composite of VIIRS Images                                                       18
Figure 5: Potential Gaps in Polar Satellite Data in the Afternoon
         Orbit                                                                            26
Figure 6: The Polar Satellite Constellation                                               29




Abbreviations

ATMS              Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder
CERES             Cloud and Earth’s Radiant Energy System
CrIS              Cross-Track Infrared Sounder
DMSP              Defense Meteorological Satellite Program
DOD               Department of Defense
DWSS              Defense Weather Satellite System
IDPS              Interface Data Processing Segment
JPSS              Joint Polar Satellite System
MetOp             Meteorological Operational (satellite)
NASA              National Aeronautics and Space Administration
NOAA              National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
NPOESS            National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite
                  System
NPP               NPOESS Preparatory Project (original)/
                  National Polar-orbiting Partnership (current)
OMPS              Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite
POES              Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites
VIIRS             Visible/Infrared Imager/Radiometer Suite



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Page ii                                 GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
United States Government Accountability Office
Washington, DC 20548




                                   June 15, 2012

                                   The Honorable Ralph Hall
                                   Chairman
                                   The Honorable Eddie Bernice Johnson
                                   Ranking Member
                                   Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
                                   House of Representatives

                                   The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System
                                   (NPOESS) program was planned to be a state-of-the-art, environment-
                                   monitoring satellite system that would replace two existing polar-orbiting
                                   environmental satellite systems. Managed jointly by the Department of
                                   Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA),
                                   the Department of Defense (DOD)/U.S. Air Force, and the National
                                   Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the program was
                                   considered critical to the nation’s ability to maintain the continuity of data
                                   required for weather forecasting and global climate monitoring through
                                   the year 2026.

                                   However, in the 8 years after the development contract was awarded in
                                   2002, the NPOESS cost estimate had more than doubled—to about $15
                                   billion, launch dates had been delayed by over 5 years, significant
                                   functionality had been removed from the program, and the program’s tri-
                                   agency management structure had proven to be ineffective. Importantly,
                                   delays in launching the satellites put the program’s mission at risk. To
                                   address these challenges, a task force led by the White House’s Office of
                                   Science and Technology Policy reviewed the management and
                                   governance of the NPOESS program. In February 2010, the Director of
                                   the Office of Science and Technology Policy announced a decision to
                                   disband the NPOESS acquisition and, instead, to have NOAA and DOD
                                   undertake separate acquisitions, with NOAA responsible for satellites in
                                   the afternoon orbit and DOD responsible for satellites in the early morning
                                   orbit. After that decision, both agencies began developing plans for their
                                   separate programs, called the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and
                                   the Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS), respectively.

                                   This report responds to your request that we (1) evaluate efforts to
                                   transfer management and contract responsibilities from the NPOESS
                                   program to the separate NOAA and DOD programs, (2) assess NOAA’s
                                   progress in developing the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) and
                                   JPSS, and (3) evaluate NOAA’s efforts to mitigate key project risks.


                                   Page 1                             GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
             To evaluate efforts to transfer management and contract responsibilities
             from NPOESS programs to separate NOAA and DOD programs, we
             compared NOAA’s and DOD’s plans for establishing program
             management offices and transferring contracts to each agency’s actual
             accomplishments. We also observed NOAA’s monthly program
             management briefings and interviewed NOAA, NASA, and DOD officials
             to obtain insights into risks, issues, and transition schedules. To assess
             progress in developing the NPP and JPSS satellite systems, we
             compared NOAA’s plans for key milestones to its accomplishments and
             interviewed agency and contractor officials. We also interviewed key
             NOAA and DOD satellite data users to determine their experiences in
             working with NPP data as well as their plans for working with JPSS data.
             To evaluate NOAA’s efforts to mitigate key project risks, we compared the
             agency’s risk management process to best practices in risk management
             as identified by leading systems engineering organizations, and
             interviewed agency officials.

             We conducted this performance audit from May 2011 to June 2012 in
             accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.
             Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain
             sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our
             findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. Additional details
             on our objectives, scope, and methodology are provided in appendix I.


             Since the 1960s, the United States has operated two separate
Background   operational polar-orbiting meteorological satellite systems: the Polar-
             orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite (POES) series, which is
             managed by NOAA, and the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program
             (DMSP), which is managed by the Air Force. 1 These satellites obtain
             environmental data that are processed to provide graphical weather
             images and specialized weather products. These satellite data are also
             the predominant input to numerical weather prediction models, which are
             a primary tool for forecasting weather days in advance—including
             forecasting the path and intensity of hurricanes. The weather products
             and models are used to predict the potential impact of severe weather so
             that communities and emergency managers can help prevent and



             1
              NOAA provides command and control for both the POES and DMSP satellites after they
             are in orbit.




             Page 2                               GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
mitigate its effects. 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 relative to
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. Currently, there is one operational POES satellite and two
operational DMSP satellites that are positioned so that they cross the
equator in the early morning, midmorning, and early afternoon. In
addition, the government relies on a European satellite, called the
Meteorological Operational (MetOp) satellite, for satellite observations in
the midmorning orbit. 2 Together, the satellites ensure that, for any region
of the earth, the data provided to users are generally no more than 6
hours old. Besides the operational satellites, six older satellites are in
orbit that still collect some data and are available to provide limited
backup to the operational satellites should they degrade or fail. The last
POES satellite was launched in February 2009. The Air Force plans to
launch its two remaining DMSP satellites as needed. Figure 1 illustrates
the current operational polar satellite constellation.




2
 The European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites’ MetOp
program is a series of three polar-orbiting satellites dedicated to operational meteorology.
MetOp satellites are planned to be launched sequentially over 14 years. The first of these
satellites was launched in 2006 and is currently operational. The next two are expected to
launch in 2012 and 2017, respectively.




Page 3                                   GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
                       Figure 1: Configuration of Operational Polar Satellites




                       Polar satellites gather a broad range of data that are transformed into a
Polar Satellite Data   variety of products. Satellite sensors observe different bands of radiation
and Products           wavelengths, called channels, which are used for remotely determining
                       information about the earth’s atmosphere, land surface, oceans, and the
                       space environment. When first received, satellite data are considered raw
                       data. To make them usable, 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 channel-specific data
                       sets, called sensor data records and temperature data records. These
                       data records are then used to derive weather and climate products called
                       environmental data records. These environmental data records include a
                       wide range of atmospheric products detailing cloud coverage,
                       temperature, humidity, and ozone distribution; land surface products
                       showing snow cover, vegetation, and land use; ocean products depicting
                       sea surface temperatures, sea ice, and wave height; and
                       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



                       Page 4                                GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
                                          numerical weather models and assessments of climate trends. Figure 2 is
                                          a simplified depiction of the various stages of satellite data processing,
                                          and figure 3 depicts examples of two different weather products.

Figure 2: Stages of Satellite Data Processing




Figure 3: Examples of Weather Products




                                          Note: The figure on the left is a POES Image of Hurricane Katrina in 2005; the figure on the right is an
                                          analysis of ozone concentration produced from POES satellite data.




                                          Page 5                                        GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
The NPOESS Program:          With the expectation that combining the POES and DMSP programs
Inception, Challenges, and   would reduce duplication and result in sizable cost savings, a May 1994
Divergence                   Presidential Decision Directive required NOAA and DOD to converge the
                             two satellite programs into a single satellite program—NPOESS—capable
                             of satisfying both civilian and military requirements. 3 The converged
                             program, NPOESS, was considered critical to the nation’s ability to
                             maintain the continuity of data required for weather forecasting and global
                             climate monitoring. NPOESS satellites were expected to replace the
                             POES and DMSP satellites in the morning, midmorning, and afternoon
                             orbits when they neared the end of their expected life spans.

                             To manage this program, DOD, NOAA, and NASA formed a tri-agency
                             Integrated Program Office, with NOAA responsible for overall program
                             management for the converged system and for satellite operations, the
                             Air Force responsible for acquisition, and NASA responsible for facilitating
                             the development and incorporation of new technologies into the
                             converged system.

                             When the primary NPOESS contract was awarded in August 2002, the
                             program was estimated to cost about $7 billion through 2018. The
                             program was to include the procurement and launch of 6 satellites over
                             the life of the program, with each satellite hosting a subset of 13
                             instruments. The planned instruments included 11 environmental
                             sensors, and two systems supporting specific user services (see table 1).
                             To reduce the risk involved in developing new technologies and to
                             maintain climate data continuity, the program planned to launch the NPP
                             demonstration satellite in May 2006. 4 NPP was to demonstrate selected
                             instruments that would later be included on the NPOESS satellites. The
                             first NPOESS satellite was to be available for launch in March 2008.




                             3
                             Presidential Decision Directive NSTC-2, May 5, 1994.
                             4
                              In January 2012, the name of the satellite was changed to the Suomi National Polar-
                             orbiting Partnership satellite. The NPP acronym remained the same.




                             Page 6                                 GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
Table 1: Anticipated NPOESS Instruments, as of July 2002

Instrument                  Instrument type        Description
Advanced technology         Environmental          Measures microwave energy released and scattered by the atmosphere; to be used
microwave sounder           sensor                 in combination with the cross-track infrared sounder to produce daily global
(ATMS)                                             atmospheric temperature, humidity, and pressure profiles.
Aerosol polarimetry         Environmental          Retrieves specific aerosol (liquid droplets or solid particles suspended in the
sensor                      sensor                 atmosphere, such as sea spray, smog, and smoke) and cloud measurements.
Conical microwave           Environmental          Collects microwave images and data needed to measure rain rate, ocean surface
imager/sounder              sensor                 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        Environmental          Collects measurements of the infrared radiation emitted and scattered by the Earth
sounder (CrIS)              sensor                 and atmosphere to determine the vertical distribution of temperature, moisture, and
                                                   pressure in the atmosphere.
Data collection system      System providing       Collects environmental data from platforms around the world and delivers them to
                            services to            users worldwide.
                            selected users
Earth radiation budget      Environmental          Measures solar short-wave radiation and long-wave radiation released by the Earth
sensor                      sensor                 back into space on a worldwide scale to enhance long-term climate studies.
Global positioning system   Environmental          Measures the refraction of radio wave signals from the Global Positioning System
occultation sensor          sensor                 and Russia’s Global Navigation Satellite System to characterize the ionosphere and
                                                   information related to the vertical distribution of temperature and moisture of the
                                                   atmosphere.
Ozone mapper/ profiler      Environmental          Collects data needed to measure the amount and distribution of ozone in the
suite (OMPS)                sensor                 Earth’s atmosphere. Consists of two components (nadir and limb) that can be
                                                   provided separately.
Radar altimeter             Environmental          Measures variances in sea surface height/topography and ocean surface
                            sensor                 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- System providing      A subsystem that detects and locates aviators, mariners, and land-based users in
aided tracking system        services to           distress.
                             selected users
Space environmental         Environmental          Collects data to identify, reduce, and predict the effects of space weather on
sensor suite                sensor                 technological systems, including satellites and radio links.
Total and spectral solar    Environmental          Monitors and captures total and spectral solar irradiance data.
irradiance sensor           sensor
Visible/infrared imager     Environmental          Collects images and radiometric data used to provide information on the Earth’s
radiometer suite (VIIRS)    sensor                 clouds, atmosphere, ocean, and land surfaces.
                                            Source: GAO analysis of data from the former NPOESS Integrated Program Office.


                                            In the years after the program was initiated, NPOESS encountered
                                            significant technical challenges in sensor development, program cost
                                            growth, and schedule delays. By November 2005, we estimated that the




                                            Page 7                                                  GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
program’s cost had grown to $10 billion, and the schedule for the first
launch was delayed by almost 2 years. 5 These issues led to a 2006
decision to restructure the program, which reduced the program’s
functionality by decreasing the number of planned satellites from 6 to 4,
and the number of instruments from 13 to 9. As part of the decision,
officials decided to reduce the number of orbits from three (early morning,
midmorning, and afternoon) to two (early morning and afternoon) and to
rely solely on the European satellites for midmorning orbit data.

Even after the restructuring, however, the program continued to
encounter technical issues in developing two sensors, significant tri-
agency management challenges, schedule delays, and further cost
increases. Because the schedule delays could lead to satellite data gaps,
in March 2009, agency executives decided to use NPP as an operational
satellite. 6 Later, in August 2009, faced with costs that were expected to
reach about $15 billion and launch schedules that were delayed by over 5
years, the Executive Office of the President formed a task force, led by
the Office of Science and Technology Policy, to investigate the
management and acquisition options that would improve the NPOESS
program. As a result of this review, in February 2010, the Director of the
Office of Science and Technology Policy announced that NOAA and DOD
would no longer jointly procure the NPOESS satellite system; instead,
each agency would plan and acquire its own satellite system. 7
Specifically, NOAA would be responsible for the afternoon orbit and the
observations planned for the first and third satellites. DOD would be
responsible for the early morning orbit and the observations planned for
the second and fourth satellites. The partnership with the European
satellite agencies for the midmorning orbit was to continue as planned.
When this decision was announced, NOAA immediately began planning
for a new satellite program in the afternoon orbit—called JPSS—and
DOD began planning for a new satellite program in the morning orbit—
called DWSS.



5
 GAO, Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites: Technical Problems, Cost
Increases, and Schedule Delays Trigger Need for Difficult Trade-off Decisions,
GAO-06-249T (Washington, D.C.: Nov. 16, 2005).
6
 Using NPP as an operational satellite means that the satellite’s data will be used to
provide climate and weather products.
7
 The announcement accompanied the release of the President’s fiscal year 2011 budget
request.




Page 8                                   GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
Overview of Initial NOAA   After the decision was made to disband the NPOESS program in 2010,
and DOD Plans for          NOAA and DOD began planning for their respective satellite programs.
Replacement Satellite      For NOAA, these plans included:
Programs                   •   relying on NASA for system acquisition, engineering, and integration;

                           •   completing, launching, and supporting NPP;

                           •   acquiring and launching two satellites for the afternoon orbit, called
                               JPSS-1 and JPSS-2;

                           •   developing and integrating five sensors on the two satellites;

                           •   finding alternate host satellites for selected instruments that would not
                               be accommodated on the JPSS satellites; and

                           •   providing ground system support for NPP, JPSS, and DWSS; data
                               communications for MetOp and DMSP; and data processing for
                               NOAA’s use of microwave data from an international satellite.

                           In 2010, NOAA estimated that the life cycle costs of the JPSS program
                           would be approximately $11.9 billion for a program lasting through fiscal
                           year 2024, which included $2.9 billion in NOAA funds spent on NPOESS
                           through fiscal year 2010. 8

                           Alternatively, DOD planned that its DWSS program would be comprised
                           of two satellites, the first to be launched no earlier than 2018. Each
                           satellite was to have three sensors: a Visible/Infrared Imager/Radiometer
                           Suite, a Space Environment Monitor, and a microwave imager/sounder.
                           As of September 2011, DOD planned to conduct a thorough system
                           requirements review before finalizing DWSS functionality, cost, and
                           schedule. Table 2 compares the planned cost, schedule, and scope of the
                           three satellite programs at different points in time.




                           8
                            This figure does not include approximately $2.9 billion in sunk costs that DOD spent on
                           NPOESS through fiscal year 2010.




                           Page 9                                  GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
Table 2: A Comparison of NPOESS and the NOAA and DOD Plans for Replacing NPOESS, at Different Points in Time

                     NPOESS program before NPOESS program after                             NPOESS program prior NOAA and DOD
                     it was restructured   it was restructured                              to being disbanded    acquisition plans
Key area             (as of May 2006)      (as of June 2006)                                (as of February 2010) (as of May 2010)
Life cycle range     1995-2020                       1995-2026                              1995-2026                       JPSS: 1995-2024
                                                                                                                            DWSS: not determined
                                                                                                               a
Estimated life cycle $8.4 billion                    $12.5 billion                          $13.95+ billion                 JPSS: $11.9 billion (which
cost                                                                                                                        includes about $2.9 billion
                                                                                                                            spent through fiscal year
                                                                                                                            2010 on NPOESS)
                                                                                                                            DWSS: not determined
Number of satellites 6 (in addition to NPP)          4 (in addition to NPP)                 4 (in addition to NPP)          JPSS: 2 (in addition to NPP)
                                                                                                                            DWSS: 2
Number of orbits     3 (early morning,               2 (early morning and                   2 (early morning and            JPSS: 1 (afternoon orbit )
                     midmorning, and                 afternoon; would rely on               afternoon; would rely on        DWSS: 1 (early morning
                     afternoon)                      European satellites for                European satellites for         orbit)
                                                     midmorning orbit data)                 midmorning orbit data)
                                                                                                                            (European satellites would
                                                                                                                            provide midmorning orbit)
Launch schedule      NPP by October 2006             NPP by January 2010                    NPP no earlier than             JPSS:
                     First NPOESS (C1) by            C1 by January 2013                     September 2011                  •  NPP –no earlier than
                     November 2009                   C2 by January 2016                     C1 by March 2014                   September 2011
                     Second NPOESS (C2) by           C3 by January 2018                     C2 by May 2016                  •  JPSS-1 (C1 equivalent)
                     June 2011                                                              C3 by January 2018                 available in 2015
                                                     C4 by January 2020
                                                                                            C4 by January 2020              •  JPSS-2 (C3 equivalent)
                                                                                                                               available in 2018
                                                                                                                            DWSS: no earlier than 2018
Number of sensors    11 sensors and 2 user           NPP: 4 sensors                         NPP: 5 sensors                  NPP: 5 sensors
                     services systems                C1: 6 sensors                          C1: 7 sensors
                                                                                                          b
                                                                                                                            JPSS-1 and 2: 5 sensors
                                                                                                                                                    c

                                                     C2: 2 sensors                          C2: 2 sensors                   DWSS: 3 sensors
                                                     C3: 6 sensors                          C3: 6 sensors
                                                     C4: 2 sensors                          C4: 2 sensors
                                              Source: GAO analysis of NOAA, DOD, and task force data.

                                              a
                                               Although the program baseline was $13.95 billion in February 2010, we estimated in June 2009 that
                                              this cost could grow by about $1 billion. In addition, officials from the Executive Office of the President
                                              stated that they reviewed life-cycle cost estimates from DOD and the NPOESS program office of
                                              $15.1 billion and $16.45 billion, respectively.
                                              b
                                               In May 2008, the NPOESS Executive Committee approved an additional sensor—the Total and
                                              Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor—for the C1 satellite.
                                              c
                                                The five sensors are ATMS, the Clouds and Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES), CrIS, OMPS,
                                              and VIIRS. NOAA also committed to finding an alternative spacecraft and launch accommodation for
                                              the Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor, the Advanced Data Collection System, and the
                                              Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking system.




                                              Page 10                                                   GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
Prior GAO Work               We have issued a series of reports on the NPOESS program highlighting
Recommended Actions to       technical issues, cost growth, and key management challenges affecting
Solidify Plans and Address   the tri-agency program structure. 9 For example, in June 2009, we added
                             to our previous concerns about the tri-agency oversight of the NPOESS
Risks                        program. 10 We reported that the Executive Committee responsible for
                             providing direction to the program was ineffective because the DOD
                             acquisition executive did not attend committee meetings; the committee
                             did not track action items to closure; and many of the committee’s
                             decisions did not achieve the desired outcomes. We also reported that
                             the program’s cost estimates were expected to rise and that the launch
                             schedules were expected to be delayed. To help address these issues,
                             we made recommendations to, among other things, improve executive-
                             level oversight and develop realistic time frames for revising cost and
                             schedule baselines. Agency officials agreed with our recommendations
                             and took steps to improve executive oversight.

                             More recently, in May 2010, we reported on NOAA’s and DOD’s
                             preliminary plans for initiating new environmental satellite programs and
                             noted that agency officials had not yet made key decisions on their
                             programs’ cost, schedule, and capabilities and we highlighted key risks in
                             transitioning from NPOESS to their new programs. 11 These risks included
                             the loss of key staff and capabilities, delays in negotiating contract
                             changes and establishing new program offices, the loss of support for the
                             other agency’s requirements, and insufficient oversight of new program
                             management. We recommended that the Secretaries of Defense and
                             Commerce direct their respective NPOESS follow-on programs to
                             expedite decisions on the expected cost, schedule, and capabilities of
                             their planned programs, and to develop plans to address the key
                             transition risks we identified. As discussed later in this report, both
                             agencies subsequently made decisions about the scope of their
                             respective programs and took steps to mitigate the transition risks we



                             9
                              For a full list of our reports on polar-orbiting environmental satellites, see “Related GAO
                             Products” at the end of this report.
                             10
                               GAO, Polar-orbiting Environmental Satellites: With Costs Increasing and Data Continuity
                             at Risk, Improvements Needed in Tri-agency Decision Making, GAO-09-564 (Washington,
                             D.C.: June 17, 2009).
                             11
                               GAO, Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites: Agencies Must Act Quickly to Address
                             Risks That Jeopardize the Continuity of Weather and Climate Data, GAO-10-558
                             (Washington, D.C.: May 27, 2010).




                             Page 11                                   GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
                           identified. For example, NOAA transferred key staff from the NPOESS
                           program to the JPSS program and coordinated with the Air Force to
                           negotiate contract changes.


                           Following the decision to disband NPOESS, both NOAA and DOD were
Agencies Transferred       responsible for transferring key management responsibilities to their
Responsibilities to        respective programs. This entailed (1) establishing separate program
                           offices for their respective follow-on programs, (2) establishing
Their Respective           requirements for their respective programs, and (3) transferring contracts
Programs, but NOAA’s       from NPOESS to the new programs.
Is Being Downsized,        Both agencies made progress on these activities, but recent events have
and DOD’s Has Been         resulted in major program changes. Specifically, NOAA established its
Terminated                 JPSS program office, established program requirements, and transferred
                           most sensor contracts. However, the agency now plans to remove key
                           requirements, including selected sensors and ground systems, to keep
                           the program within budget. DOD established its DWSS program office
                           and modified its contracts accordingly before deciding in early 2012 to
                           terminate the program and reassess its requirements (as directed by
                           Congress).


NOAA Established the       After the February 2010 decision to disband NPOESS, NOAA transferred
JPSS Program and           management responsibilities to its new satellite program, defined its
Contracts for Most         requirements, and transferred contracts to the new program. Specifically,
                           NOAA established a program office to guide the development of the NPP
Components, but Plans to   and JPSS satellites. NOAA also worked with NASA to establish its
Modify Requirements to     program office to oversee the acquisition, system engineering, and
Limit Costs                integration of the satellite program. By 2011, the two agencies had
                           established separate—but colocated—JPSS program offices, each with
                           different roles and responsibilities. NOAA’s program office is responsible
                           for programmatic activities related to the satellites’ development, including
                           managing requirements, budgets, and interactions with satellite data
                           users. Alternatively, NASA’s program office is responsible for the
                           development and integration of the sensors, satellites, and ground
                           systems. In January 2012, both agencies approved a management
                           control plan that delineates the two agencies’ roles, responsibilities, and
                           executive oversight structure.

                           In September 2011, NOAA established its official requirements document
                           for the JPSS program. This document defines the components of the
                           program as well as the expected performance of the satellites and ground


                           Page 12                           GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
                              systems. Key components include NPP, the two JPSS satellites, the five
                              sensors, a distributed ground-based network of satellite data receptor
                              sites, and four ground-based data processing systems. This system is to
                              deliver 31 satellite data products within 80 minutes of observation on the
                              first satellite and within 30 minutes on the second satellite.

                              Over the 2 years since the decision to disband NPOESS, NOAA has also
                              been working to transfer and refine the contracts for four of the sensors
                              that are to be launched on the first JPSS satellite from the Air Force to
                              NASA. 12 The program completed the transfer of all of the contracts by
                              September 2011 and then began the process of updating the contracts to
                              match JPSS’ requirements. This process has been completed for three
                              sensors (CrIS, OMPS, and ATMS). Program officials expect to finalize
                              changes to the contract for the last sensor (VIIRS) in June 2012.

NOAA Plans to Modify          While NOAA and NASA have made progress in transferring management
Requirements and May Remove   and contract responsibilities from NPOESS to the JPSS program, NOAA
Program Elements to Keep      recently decided to modify its requirements in order to limit program
Costs at $12.9 Billion        costs. From January to December 2011, the agency went through a cost
                              estimating exercise for the JPSS program. This exercise included
                              identifying key program elements, documenting assumptions, performing
                              historical and parametric analysis to determine reasonable estimates for
                              the elements, seeking an independent cost estimate, and reconciling the
                              two estimates. At the end of this exercise, NOAA validated that the cost of
                              the full set of JPSS functions from fiscal year 2012 through fiscal year
                              2028 would be $11.3 billion. After adding the agency’s sunk costs of $3.3
                              billion, the program’s life cycle cost estimate totaled $14.6 billion. 13 This
                              amount is $2.7 billion higher than the $11.9 billion estimate for JPSS
                              when NPOESS was disbanded in 2010. According to NOAA officials, this
                              increase is primarily due to a 4-year extension of the program from 2024
                              to 2028, the addition of previously unbudgeted items such as the free
                              flyers, cost growth associated with transitioning contracts from DOD to
                              NOAA, and the program’s decision to slow down work on lower-priority
                              elements because of budget constraints in 2011.




                              12
                                CERES was already a NASA contract during the NPOESS program, so this contract did
                              not need to be transferred from the Air Force.
                              13
                                NOAA’s $3.3 billion sunk costs included $2.9 billion through fiscal year 2010 and about
                              $400 million in fiscal year 2011.




                              Page 13                                 GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
In working with the Office of Management and Budget to establish the
president’s fiscal year 2013 budget request, NOAA officials stated that
they agreed to fund JPSS at roughly $900 million per year through 2017,
to merge funding for two climate sensors into the JPSS budget, and to
cap the JPSS life cycle cost at $12.9 billion through 2028. Because this
cap is $1.7 billion below the expected $14.6 billion life cycle cost of the
full program, NOAA decided to remove selected elements from the
satellite program. While final decisions on what will be removed are
expected by the end of June 2012, NOAA may discontinue:

•    support for OMPS operations on JPSS-1;

•    development of two of the three planned Total and Spectral Solar
     Irradiance Sensors, the spacecraft for all three of these sensors, and
     the launch vehicle for the three sensors;

•    development of the OMPS and CERES sensors on JPSS-2;

•    plans for a network of ground-based receptor stations;

•    planned improvements in the time it takes to obtain satellite data from
     JPSS-2 (the requirement was to provide data in 30 minutes; instead,
     the requirement will remain at the JPSS-1 level of 80 minutes);

•    plans to install an Interface Data Processing Segment (IDPS) at two
     Navy locations; and

•    plans to support ground operations for DOD’s future polar satellite
     program.

NOAA anticipates modifying its official requirements documents to reflect
these changes by the end of 2012. The removal of these elements will
affect both civilian and military satellite data users. The loss of OMPS and
CERES satellite data could cause a break in the over 30-year history of
satellite data and would hinder the efforts of climatologists and
meteorologists focusing on understanding changes in the earth’s ozone
coverage and radiation budget. 14 The loss of ground-based receptor
stations means that NOAA may not be able to improve the timeliness of


14
  The radiation budget is the amount of the solar energy entering and leaving the earth’s
atmosphere.




Page 14                                 GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
                          JPSS-2 satellite data from 80 minutes to the current 30 minute
                          requirement, and as a result, weather forecasters will not be able to
                          update their weather models using the most recent satellite observations.
                          Further, the loss of the data processing systems at the two Navy locations
                          means that NOAA and the Navy will need to establish an alternative way
                          to provide data to the Navy.


DOD Established and       After the February 2010 decision to disband NPOESS, DOD transferred
Subsequently Terminated   management responsibilities to its new satellite program, started defining
Its DWSS Program          its requirements, and modified contracts to reflect the new program.
                          Specifically, in 2010, DOD established a DWSS program office and
                          started developing plans for what the satellite program would entail. The
                          DWSS program office, located at the Space and Missile Systems Center
                          in Los Angeles, California, was given responsibility for the acquisition,
                          development, integration, and launch of the DWSS satellites. Because
                          this is considered a major acquisition, it is overseen by the Defense
                          Acquisition Board and the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition,
                          Technology, and Logistics.

                          In August 2010, the agency determined that the DWSS program would
                          include two satellites and that each satellite would host three sensors. 15
                          Over the following year, the program office developed a program plan and
                          a technical description, and planned to define requirements in early 2012.
                          Further, the agency started modifying its existing contracts with the
                          NPOESS contractor to reflect the new program. By May 2011, the
                          program office had contracted for DWSS activities through the end of
                          2012.

                          These efforts, however, have been halted. In early 2012, with
                          congressional direction, DOD decided to terminate the DWSS program
                          because it still has two DMSP satellites to launch and it did not yet need
                          the DWSS satellites. 16 In January 2012, the Air Force halted work on the



                          15
                            These sensors included VIIRS, a space environment monitor, and a microwave
                          imager/sounder.
                          16
                            DOD officials stated that they plan to launch DMSP-19 in 2014 and DMSP-20 when
                          needed. If DMSP-19 lasts 6 years, there is a chance that DMSP-20 would not be launched
                          until 2020. Thus, in a best-case scenario, the follow-on satellites would not need to be
                          launched until 2026.




                          Page 15                                GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
                        program. DOD is currently identifying alternative means to fulfill its future
                        environmental satellite requirements.


                        In September 2010, shortly after NPOESS was disbanded, NOAA and
NPP Is in Orbit and     NASA established plans for both NPP and JPSS. These plans included
Transmitting Data;
                             launching NPP by the end of October 2011 and completing an early
Development of the      •
                             on-orbit check out of the NPP spacecraft and sensors (called
First JPSS Satellite         commissioning) by the end of January 2012;
Has Begun, but          •    completing all NPP calibration and validation activities 17 by October
Critical Steps Remain        2013; and

                        •    developing, testing, and launching JPSS-1 by the end of 2014 and
                             JPSS-2 by the end of 2017. 18

                        Program officials currently estimate that JPSS-1 will launch by March
                        2017 and JPSS-2 will launch by December 2022. NOAA officials
                        explained that part of the reason for the change in launch dates is that the
                        program’s budget under the 2011 continuing resolution was only one third
                        of what NOAA had anticipated. Thus, program officials decided to defer
                        development of the first JPSS satellite in order to keep NPP on track.




                        17
                          After a satellite has been launched, scientists perform an on-orbit accuracy check, called
                        calibration and validation, to verify that the sensors accurately report ground and
                        atmospheric conditions. These activities ensure that satellite data products are ready for
                        operational use.
                        18
                           NOAA officials noted that the JPSS launch dates could change as the agency finalized
                        its program planning activities.




                        Page 16                                  GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
NPP Is in Orbit; Sensor     NPP was successfully launched on October 28, 2011. After launch, NASA
Data Are Being Calibrated   began the process of activating the satellite and commissioning the
for Use                     instruments. This process ended at the beginning of March 2012, which
                            was a little over a month after the planned completion date at the end of
                            January 2012. The delay was caused by an issue on the VIIRS
                            instrument that caused the program to halt commissioning activities in
                            order to diagnose the problem. Specifically, the quality of VIIRS data in
                            certain bands was degrading much more quickly than expected. NASA
                            and the JPSS program office subsequently identified the problem as
                            contamination on VIIRS mirrors. NOAA and NASA program officials,
                            including the JPSS director and project manager, reported that this issue
                            is not expected to cause the instrument to fall below its performance
                            specifications. Figure 4 depicts an image of Earth using VIIRS data from
                            NPP.




                            Page 17                         GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
Figure 4: Composite of VIIRS Images




Program officials are working to complete NPP calibration and validation
activities by October 2013, but they acknowledge that they may
encounter delays in developing satellite products. NOAA is receiving data
from the five sensors on the NPP satellite, and has begun calibration and
validation. According to NOAA and NASA officials, during this time, the
products go through various levels of validation, including a beta stage
(products have been minimally validated, but are available to users so
that they can begin working with the data); a provisional stage (products
are not optimal, but are ready for operational evaluation by users); and a
validated stage (products are ready for operational use). The amount of
time it takes for a product to be fully validated depends on the sensor and



Page 18                               GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
                           the type of product. For example, NOAA provided a provisional ozone
                           environmental data record from the OMPS sensor in April 2012 and
                           expects to provide three beta environmental data records from the CrIS
                           sensor by October 2012. NOAA’s users began to use validated ATMS
                           products in May 2012, and NOAA expects that they will increase the
                           amount and types of data they use in the following months.


Development of JPSS Is     The major components of the JPSS program are at different stages of
Under Way; Critical        development, and important decisions and program milestones lie ahead.
Decisions and Milestones   NASA’s JPSS program office organized its responsibilities into three
                           separate projects: (1) the flight project, which includes sensors,
Are Pending                spacecraft, and launch vehicles; (2) the ground project, which includes
                           ground-based data processing and command and control systems, and
                           (3) the free-flyer project, which involves developing and launching the
                           instruments that are not going to be included on the JPSS satellites.
                           Table 3 shows the three JPSS projects and their key components.

                           Table 3: JPSS Projects and Components

                            Project          Key components and responsibilities
                            Flight           •     Sensors: ATMS, CERES, CrIS, OMPS, VIIRS
                                             •     Spacecraft
                                             •     Launch vehicle
                            Ground           •     Satellite command, control, and communications
                                             •     Interface data processing segment (IDPS)
                            Free Flyer       •     Sensor: Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor
                                             •     Subsystems: Search and Rescue Satellite-aided Tracking System and
                                                   the Advanced Data Collection System
                                             •     Spacecraft
                                             •     Launch vehicle
                           Source: NOAA’s JPSS Program Office.


                           Within the flight project, development of the sensors for the first JPSS
                           satellite is well under way; however, selected sensors are experiencing
                           technical issues and the impact of these issues had not yet been
                           determined. The ground project is currently in operation supporting NPP,
                           and NOAA is planning to upgrade selected parts of the ground systems to
                           increase security and reliability. The free-flyer project is still in a planning
                           stage because NOAA has not yet decided which satellites will host the
                           instruments or when these satellites will launch. One of these projects
                           has recently completed a major milestone and one project has its next
                           milestone approaching. Specifically, the flight project completed a


                           Page 19                                     GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
                                 separate system requirements review in April 2012, while the ground
                                 project’s system requirements review is scheduled for August 2012.

Flight Project: Development of   Because development of the sensors for JPSS-1 began during the
JPSS-1 Sensors Is Well Under     NPOESS era, NASA estimates that as of March 2012, all of the sensors
Way, but Technical Issues        have been at least 60 percent completed. However, selected sensors are
Continue to Surface              encountering technical issues and the full impact of these issues on cost
                                 and schedule has not been determined. Further, the program has not yet
                                 made a decision on which launch vehicle will be used. NASA and NOAA
                                 officials reported that the technical issues thus far are routine in nature,
                                 and that they plan to select a launch vehicle by the end of 2012. Table 4
                                 describes the current status of the components of the JPSS-1 flight
                                 project.




                                 Page 20                           GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
Table 4: Status of Key Components of the Flight Project Supporting the First JPSS Satellite, as of April 2012

Component            Status
Sensor
ATMS                 NASA estimates that this sensor is about 85 percent complete. However, the sensor is experiencing technical
                     issues in development. For example, a mixer used in support of high-frequency sensing failed during
                     development, and needs to be replaced. Program officials have not yet determined the impact of this issue on
                     the sensor’s cost and schedule.
CERES                According to NASA, this sensor has been developed, and completed environmental testing in May 2012. Pre-
                     ship review is currently planned for June 2012.
CrIS                 NASA estimates that this sensor is about 60 percent complete. The program office decided to move to a new
                             a
                     data bus because the one used on NPP is now obsolete. At present, this sensor has an 8-month schedule
                     buffer.
OMPS- Nadir          NASA estimates that OMPS-Nadir is approximately 70 percent complete. Unlike NPP, there will not be a Limb
                     component on JPSS-1.
VIIRS                NASA estimates the sensor is about 65 percent complete. The sensor has encountered a number of technical
                     and workmanship issues that need to be addressed. For example, program and contract officials reported
                     experiencing problems with the manufacturing and testing of parts by subcontractors, including a recent issue
                     with one of the sensor’s mirrors. In addition, the program office decided to move to a new data bus because the
                     one used on NPP is now obsolete. Further, the program will need to address communication issues that could
                     affect VIIRS’ ability to provide data in every orbit, but they have not identified the potential cost and schedule
                     impact of this issue.
Spacecraft           Development of the spacecraft has begun. A key milestone, the spacecraft’s critical design review, is currently
                     planned for early 2013. The spacecraft is currently on the critical path, which means that any delay in
                     development will delay the launch date of the satellite.
Launch vehicle       The launch vehicle is currently being competed and NASA officials anticipate making a selection this year.
                     However, each potential launch vehicle has different risks and costs associated with it. We recently reported
                     that multiple NASA projects have encountered challenges with their launch vehicles, including the cost and
                                                                                                      b
                     availability of the vehicles and the uncertainty of using new, unproven vehicles.
                                           Source: GAO analysis of NOAA and NASA data.

                                           a
                                            A data bus is used to allow high-speed communications and data transfer between the sensor and
                                           the spacecraft.
                                           b
                                           GAO, NASA: Assessments of Selected Large-Scale Programs, GAO-12-207SP (Washington, D.C.:
                                           Mar. 1, 2012).



Ground Project: NOAA Plans                 While NOAA ground systems for satellite command, control, and
Upgrades to Strengthen the                 communications and for data processing are currently supporting NPP
Infrastructure                             operations, the agency plans to upgrade the ground systems to improve
                                           their availability and reliability. In 2010, we reported that NPP’s ground
                                           systems had weaknesses because they were developed using outdated
                                           security requirements approved in 1998. These weaknesses were
                                           highlighted soon after NPP was launched, when the communications links
                                           providing satellite data from the satellite receiver in Svalbard, Norway, to
                                           the United States were severed. NOAA immediately established a
                                           temporary backup capability, and plans to upgrade its communications



                                           Page 21                                       GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
                                         systems to establish permanent backup capabilities by the end of 2012.
                                         In addition, NOAA plans to enhance the backup capabilities of its data
                                         processing system infrastructure by November 2015.

Free Flyer Project: Key                  The instruments in the free flyer project, including the Total and Spectral
Decisions Have Been Made;                Solar Irradiance Sensor and two user services systems (the Search and
Others Are Pending                       Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking system and an Advanced Data
                                         Collection system), are currently under development. However, in early
                                         2012, NOAA decided to consider not launching the Total and Spectral
                                         Solar Irradiance Sensor as an option for staying within its budget cap.
                                         Moreover, the agency is still considering its options for the spacecraft that
                                         will carry the other two instruments to space. For example, it is
                                         considering contracting for a spacecraft or having the instruments hosted
                                         on some other organization’s satellite. Table 5 depicts the status of the
                                         components of the free-flyer project.

Table 5: Status of Key Free Flyer Components, as of April 2012

Component                             Status
Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance   Delivery of the first of three sensors is expected in March 2013.
Sensor
Advanced Data Collection System       Delivery of this system by France’s space agency is expected in May 2013.
Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided     While one component of this system is five months behind schedule, delivery of this system,
Tracking system                       provided jointly by the France and Canadian space agencies, is scheduled for January
                                      2015.
Free Flyer-1 spacecraft               NOAA is considering the possibility of not acquiring a spacecraft for the Total and Spectral
                                      Solar Irradiance Sensor. It is considering its alternatives for a spacecraft for the two other
                                      subsystems.
Launch vehicle                        NOAA is considering the possibility of not launching the Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance
                                      Sensor. The program office has not decided on the launch vehicle for the two other
                                      subsystems.
                                         Source: GAO analysis of NOAA and NASA data.




                                         The JPSS program has a structured risk management process in place
JPSS Risk                                and is working to mitigate key program risks; however, NOAA faces key
Management Process                       risks involving the potential for satellite gaps and does not yet have
                                         mitigation plans. According to best practices advocated by leading system
in Place; Key Risks                      engineering and program management organizations, effective risk
Remain                                   management addresses four key areas: preparing for risk management,
                                         identifying and analyzing risks, mitigating risks, and providing executive




                                         Page 22                                       GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
                        oversight. 19 The JPSS program office has implemented elements of an
                        effective risk management process. Specifically, the program
                        documented its risk management strategy; identified relevant
                        stakeholders and designated responsibilities for risk management
                        activities; established and implemented standards for categorizing and
                        prioritizing risks; instituted a program to identify, track, and mitigate risks;
                        and established a process for regularly communicating risks to senior
                        NASA and NOAA management.

                        The JPSS program is working to mitigate the risks of a lack of a cost and
                        schedule baseline and program office staffing shortfalls, but NOAA has
                        not established mitigation plans to address the risk of a gap in the
                        afternoon orbit or potential satellite data gaps in the DOD and European
                        polar satellite programs, which provide supplementary information to
                        NOAA forecasts. Because it could take time to adapt grounds systems to
                        receive alternative satellites’ data, delays in establishing mitigation plans
                        could leave the agency little time to leverage its alternatives. Until NOAA
                        identifies its mitigation options, it may miss opportunities to leverage
                        alternative satellite data sources. Moreover, until NOAA establishes
                        mitigation plans for a satellite data gap, it runs the risk of not being able to
                        fulfill its mission of providing weather forecasts to protect lives, property,
                        and commerce.


NOAA Is Working to      NOAA oversaw the establishment of contracts for the JPSS-1 sensors
Mitigate Delays in      and spacecraft and NASA is managing the cost, schedule, and
Establishing Cost and   deliverables on these contracts using discrete task orders, but the
                        agencies have not established a contractual cost and schedule baseline
Schedule Baselines      that would allow them to monitor contractor deliverables within an earned
                        value management system. 20 In addition, program officials have not yet
                        established an overall program baseline that delineates the cost,
                        schedule, and content of the entire program. Under NASA’s acquisition
                        life cycle, a program baseline is due at the key decision milestone


                        19
                          See, for example, Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute,
                        Capability Maturity Model® Integration for Acquisition, Version 1.3 (CMMI-ACQ, V1.3) and
                        Project Management Institute Inc., A Guide to the Project Management Body of
                        Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Third Edition, (Newtown Square, PA: 2004).
                        20
                          Earned value management is a technique for monitoring the cost and schedule of each
                        work activity performed. It allows managers insights into the contractor’s productivity and
                        provides an early warning on cost and schedule variances.




                        Page 23                                  GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
                            scheduled to be completed by July 2013. Managing a program without a
                            baseline makes it more difficult for program officials to make informed
                            decisions and for program overseers to understand if the program is on
                            track to successfully deliver expected functionality on cost and schedule.

                            Program officials acknowledge that the lack of a baseline is a risk, and
                            they are tracking it through their risk management program. Program
                            officials explained that after transferring the contracts from the Air Force
                            to NASA, they needed to definitize the contracts to reflect JPSS program
                            requirements instead of NPOESS program requirements. The JPSS
                            program office has completed this process for three sensors (CrIS,
                            OMPS, and ATMS) and is working to complete the process for one other
                            sensor (VIIRS) by June 2012. After definitizing each contract to JPSS
                            requirements and schedules, NASA and the contractors will perform an
                            integrated baseline review before implementing an earned value
                            management system. NOAA officials reported that they are working to
                            establish contractual baselines as rapidly as practical for each of the
                            contracts.

                            Program officials also plan to establish an overall program baseline.
                            Actions planned to mitigate this risk include

                            •   establishing a stable and realistic 5-year budget profile, which was
                                completed in December 2011;

                            •   refining the program requirements to match the expected budget by
                                October 2012;

                            •   definitizing contracts to address any changes in requirements in
                                September 2012; and

                            •   establishing the overall program baseline by the end of November
                                2012.


NOAA Is Working to          NOAA and NASA have not yet fully staffed their respective JPSS program
Mitigate Risks in Program   offices. While having a knowledgeable and capable program
Staffing                    management staff is essential to any acquisition program, it is especially
                            critical given the history of management challenges on the NPOESS
                            program. However, NOAA has not yet filled 18 of the 64 positions it plans
                            for the program office, including those for a program scientist and system
                            engineers for the JPSS satellite, ground systems, and overall mission. In
                            addition, NASA has not yet filled 6 positions it plans for its ground project.



                            Page 24                           GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
                            Until these positions are filled, other staff members are supporting the
                            workload and this could delay the schedule for implementing
                            improvements in the ground systems.

                            Both agencies are actively tracking their respective program offices’
                            staffing and plans for filling vacancies. According to NOAA officials, the
                            agency is mitigating this risk by filling three of the vacant positions with
                            long-term detailees. Further, NOAA plans to fill most of the positions,
                            including that of the technical director, by July 2012. NASA has started
                            the process to fill its vacancies, and plans to fill these by the end of
                            September 2012.


NOAA Has Not Established    In September 2011, we reported that NOAA was facing a gap in satellite
Plans to Mitigate an        data continuity; the risk of that gap is higher today. When NPOESS was
Expected Gap in Satellite   first disbanded, program officials anticipated launching the JPSS satellites
                            in 2015 and 2018 (while acknowledging that these dates could change as
Data Continuity             the program’s plans were firmed up). Over the past year, as program
                            officials made critical decisions to defer work on JPSS in order to keep
                            NPP on track, the launch dates for JPSS-1 and JPSS-2 have changed.
                            Program officials currently estimate that JPSS-1 will be launched by
                            March 2017 and JPSS-2 will be launched by December 2022.

                            NOAA officials acknowledge that there is a substantial risk of a gap in
                            satellite data in the afternoon orbit, between the time when the NPP
                            satellite is expected to reach the end of its life and the time when the
                            JPSS-1 satellite is to be in orbit and operational. This gap could span
                            from 17 months to 3 years or more. In one scenario, NPP would last its
                            full expected 5-year life (to October 2016), and JPSS-1 would launch as
                            soon as possible (in March 2017) and undergo on-orbit checkout for a
                            year (until March 2018). In that case, the data gap would extend 17
                            months. In another scenario, NPP would last only 3 years as noted by
                            NASA managers concerned with the workmanship of selected NPP
                            sensors. Assuming that the JPSS-1 launch occurred in March 2017 and
                            the satellite data was certified for official use by March 2018, this gap
                            would extend for 41 months. Of course, any problems with JPSS-1
                            development could delay the launch date and extend the gap period.
                            Given the history of technical issues and delays in the development of the
                            NPP sensors and the current technical issues on the sensors, it is likely
                            that the launch of JPSS-1 will be delayed. Figure 5 depicts four possible
                            gap scenarios.




                            Page 25                            GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
Figure 5: Potential Gaps in Polar Satellite Data in the Afternoon Orbit




According to NOAA, a data gap would lead to less accurate and timely
weather prediction models used to support weather forecasting, and
advanced warning of extreme events—such as hurricanes, storm surges,
and floods—would be diminished. To illustrate this, the National Weather



Page 26                               GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
                             Service performed several case studies to demonstrate how its weather
                             forecasts would have been affected if there were no polar satellite data in
                             the afternoon orbit. For example, when the polar satellite data were not
                             used to predict the “Snowmaggedon” winter storm that hit the Mid-Atlantic
                             coast in February 2010, weather forecasts predicted a less intense storm,
                             slightly further east, and producing half of the precipitation at 3, 4, and 5
                             days before the event. Specifically, weather prediction models under-
                             forecasted the amount of snow by at least 10 inches. The agency noted
                             that this level of degradation in weather forecasts could place lives,
                             property, and critical infrastructure in danger.

                             NOAA officials have communicated publicly and often about the risk of a
                             satellite data gap; however, the agency has not established plans to
                             mitigate the gap. NOAA officials stated that the agency will continue to
                             use existing POES satellites, as well as NPP, as long as they provide
                             data and that there are no viable alternatives to the JPSS program.
                             However, it is possible that other governmental, commercial, or
                             international satellites could supplement the data. If there are viable
                             options for obtaining data from external sources, it would take time to
                             adapt NOAA systems to receive, process, and disseminate the data. Until
                             NOAA identifies these options, it may miss opportunities to leverage
                             these satellite data sources.


NOAA Has Not Established     Since its inception, NPOESS was seen as a constellation of satellites
Plans to Mitigate the Risk   providing observations in the early morning, midmorning, and afternoon
That the Polar Satellite     orbits. Having satellites in each of these orbits ensures that satellite
                             observations covering the entire globe are no more than 6 hours old,
Constellation Is Becoming    thereby allowing for more accurate weather predictions. Even after the
Increasingly Unreliable      program was restructured in 2006 and eventually terminated in 2010,
                             program officials and the administration planned to ensure coverage in
                             the early morning, midmorning, and afternoon orbits by relying on DOD
                             satellites for the early morning orbit, the European satellite program for
                             the midmorning, and NOAA’s JPSS program for the afternoon orbit.
                             However, recent events have made the future of this constellation
                             uncertain:

                             •   Early morning orbit—As discussed earlier in this report, in early
                                 fiscal year 2012, DOD terminated its DWSS program. While the
                                 agency has two more satellites to launch and is working to develop
                                 alternative plans for a follow-on satellite program, there are
                                 considerable challenges in ensuring that a new program is in place




                             Page 27                           GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
    and integrated with existing ground systems and data networks in
    time to avoid a gap in this orbit.

    DOD officials stated that they plan to launch DMSP-19 in 2014 and
    DMSP-20 when it is needed. If DMSP-19 lasts 6 years, there is a
    chance that DMSP will not be launched until 2020. Thus, in a best-
    case scenario, the follow-on satellites will not need to be launched
    until roughly 2026. However, civilian and military satellite experts have
    expressed concern that the DMSP satellites are quite old and may not
    work as intended. If they do not perform well, DOD could be facing a
    satellite data gap in the early morning orbit as early as 2014.

•   Midmorning orbit—The European satellite organization plans to
    continue to launch MetOp satellites that will provide observations in
    the midmorning orbit through October 2021. The organization is also
    working to define and gain support for the follow-on program, called
    the Eumetsat Polar System-2nd Generation program. However, in
    2011, NOAA alerted European officials that, because of the
    constrained budgetary environment, they will no longer be able to
    provide sensors for the follow-on program. Due to the uncertainty
    surrounding the program, there is a chance that the first European
    follow-on satellite will not be ready in time to replace MetOp at the end
    of its expected life. In that case, this orbit, too, would be in jeopardy.

•   Afternoon orbit—As discussed previously, there is likely to be a gap
    in satellite observations in the afternoon orbit that could last well over
    one year. While our scenarios demonstrated gaps lasting between 17
    and 53 months, NOAA program officials believe that the most likely
    scenario involves a gap lasting 18 to 24 months.

Figure 6 depicts the polar satellite constellation and the uncertain future
coverage in selected orbits.




Page 28                            GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
Figure 6: The Polar Satellite Constellation




                                              The NOAA Administrator and other senior executives acknowledge the
                                              risk of a data gap in each of the orbits of the polar satellite constellation
                                              and are working with European and DOD counterparts to coordinate their
                                              respective requirements and plans; however, they have not established
                                              plans for mitigating risks to the polar satellite constellation. As in the case
                                              of the anticipated gap in the afternoon orbit, NOAA plans to use older
                                              polar satellites to provide some of the necessary data for the other orbits.
                                              However, it is also possible that other governmental, commercial, or
                                              international satellites could supplement the data. For example, foreign
                                              nations continue to launch polar-orbiting weather satellites to acquire data
                                              such as sea surface temperatures, sea surface winds, and water vapor.
                                              Also, over the next few years, NASA plans to launch satellites that will
                                              collect information on precipitation and soil moisture. 21 If there are viable


                                              21
                                                NASA plans to launch the Global Precipitation Measurement Mission satellite by June
                                              2014 and the Soil Moisture Active and Passive satellite by January 2015.




                                              Page 29                                GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
                      options from external sources, it could take time to adapt NOAA systems
                      to receive, process, and disseminate the data to its satellite data users.
                      Until NOAA identifies these options and establishes mitigation plans, it
                      may miss opportunities to leverage alternative satellite data sources.


                      After spending about $3.3 billion on the now-defunct NPOESS program,
Conclusions           NOAA officials have established a $12.9-billion JPSS program and made
                      progress in launching NPP, establishing contracts for the first JPSS
                      satellite, and enhancing the ground systems controlling the satellites and
                      processing the satellite data. JPSS program officials are currently working
                      to calibrate NPP data so that they are useable by civilian and military
                      meteorologists and to manage the development of sensors for the first
                      JPSS satellite. In coming months, program officials face changing
                      requirements, technical issues on individual sensors, key milestones in
                      developing the JPSS satellite, and important decisions on how to
                      accommodate instruments that are not included on the JPSS satellite.

                      While the JPSS program office is working to mitigate risks associated with
                      not having a program baseline or a fully staffed program management
                      office, NOAA has not established plans to mitigate the almost certain
                      satellite data gaps in the afternoon orbit or the potential gaps in the early
                      and mid-morning orbits. These gaps will likely affect the accuracy and
                      timeliness of weather predictions and forecasts and could affect lives,
                      property, military operations, and commerce. Because it could take time
                      to adapt ground systems to receive an alternative satellite’s data, delays
                      in establishing mitigation plans could leave the agency little time to
                      leverage alternatives. Until NOAA identifies its mitigation options, it may
                      miss opportunities to leverage alternative satellite data sources.


                      Given the importance of polar-orbiting satellite data to weather forecasts,
Recommendations for   we recommend that the Secretary of Commerce direct the Administrator
Executive Action      of NOAA to establish mitigation plans for risks associated with pending
                      satellite data gaps in the afternoon orbit as well as potential gaps in the
                      early morning and midmorning orbits.


                      We sought comments on a draft of our report from the Department of
Agency Comments       Commerce, DOD, and NASA. We received written comments from the
and Our Evaluation    Secretary of Commerce, who transmitted NOAA’s comments. In its
                      comments, NOAA agreed with the report’s recommendation and noted
                      that the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service—


                      Page 30                           GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
a NOAA component agency—has performed analyses on how to mitigate
potential gaps in satellite data, but has not yet compiled this information
into a report. The agency plans to provide a report to NOAA by August
2012. The department’s comments are provided in appendix II. The
department also provided technical comments, which we incorporated as
appropriate.

While neither DOD nor NASA provided comments on the report’s findings
or recommendations, they offered technical comments, which we
incorporated as appropriate. Specifically, the Staff Action Officer for the
Space and Intelligence Office within the Office of the Under Secretary of
Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics provided technical
comments both orally and via e-mail, and a commander within the Navy’s
Oceanographer staff provided oral technical comments. In addition, the
Project Manager of the JPSS flight project—a NASA employee—provided
technical comments via e-mail.


As agreed with your office, unless you publicly announce the contents of
this report earlier, we plan no further distribution of it until 30 days from
the date of this letter. We are sending copies of this report to interested
congressional committees, the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of
Defense, the Administrator of NASA, the Director of the Office of
Management and Budget, and other interested parties. In addition, this
report will be available on the GAO Web site at http://www.gao.gov.

If you have any questions about this report, please contact me at (202)
512-9286 or at pownerd@gao.gov. Contact points for our Offices of
Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found on the last page
of this report. GAO staff who made major contributions to this report are
listed in appendix III.




David A. Powner
Director, Information Technology Management Issues




Page 31                            GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
              Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
              Methodology



Methodology

              Our objectives were to (1) evaluate efforts to transfer management and
              contract responsibilities from the National Polar-orbiting Operational
              Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) program to the separate
              satellite programs being established at the National Oceanic and
              Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Department of Defense (DOD),
              (2) assess NOAA’s progress in developing the NPOESS Preparatory
              Project (NPP) satellite and the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), and
              (3) evaluate NOAA’s efforts to mitigate key project risks.

              To evaluate efforts to transfer responsibilities from NPOESS to the
              separate NOAA and DOD programs, we compared the agencies’ plans
              for establishing program management offices, developing program
              requirements, and transferring contracts to each agency’s actual
              accomplishments. We analyzed key program documents, including
              acquisition decision memorandums, requirements documents, and the
              management control plan. We observed NOAA’s monthly program
              management briefings and obtained detailed briefings on efforts to
              establish a program cost estimate, NOAA’s fiscal year 2013 budget for
              JPSS, and decisions to remove selected program elements. To assess
              the reliability of the program’s cost estimate, we compared agency
              documentation of the program office estimate and the independent cost
              estimate, and interviewed program officials and cost estimators to
              understand key aspects of and differences between the estimates. We
              determined that the estimates were sufficient for our purposes of
              providing summary data. We interviewed program officials from NOAA,
              DOD, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), to
              obtain information on transition schedules, progress, program
              requirements, and challenges.

              To assess NOAA’s progress in developing the NPP and JPSS satellite
              systems, we compared NOAA’s plans for key milestones to its actual
              accomplishments. We reviewed monthly progress reports, draft program
              schedules, and the NPP operational readiness review package. We
              observed NOAA’s monthly program management briefings to determine
              the status of key components. We interviewed both agency and
              contractor officials, including officials at Ball Aerospace, Inc. and
              Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems, Inc. We also interviewed key
              NOAA satellite data users, including officials involved in weather
              forecasting and numerical weather prediction, to identify their experiences
              in working with NPP data as well as their plans for working with JPSS
              data.




              Page 32                              GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology




To evaluate NOAA’s efforts to mitigate key project risks, we compared the
agency’s risk management process to best practices in risk management
as identified by the Software Engineering Institute. We reviewed NOAA’s
program risk lists on a monthly basis to obtain insights into management
issues and actions. We interviewed agency and contractor officials to
evaluate actions to address each transition risk. In addition, we
interviewed NOAA satellite data users to determine the impact of any
changes in requirements.

We performed our work at NASA, NOAA, and DOD offices in the
Washington, D.C., area and at contractor facilities in Los Angeles,
California; Aurora, Colorado; and Boulder, Colorado. We conducted this
performance audit from May 2011 to June 2012 in accordance with
generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards
require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate
evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions
based on our audit objectives. We believe that the evidence obtained
provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on
our audit objectives.




Page 33                              GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
Appendix II: Comments by the Department of
              Appendix II: Comments by the Department of
              Commerce



Commerce




              Page 34                                GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
Appendix II: Comments by the Department of
Commerce




Page 35                                GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
Appendix III: GAO Contact and Staff
                            Appendix III: GAO Contact and
                            Staff Acknowledgments



Acknowledgments

                  David A. Powner (202) 512-9286 or pownerd@gao.gov
GAO Contact
                  In addition to the contact named above, Colleen Phillips (Assistant
Staff             Director), Kathleen Lovett Epperson, Kate Feild, Nancy Glover, Franklin
Acknowledgments   Jackson, and Fatima Jahan made key contributions to this report.




                  Page 36                             GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
Related GAO Products
                        Related GAO Products




             NASA: Assessments of Selected Large-Scale Projects. GAO-12-207SP.
             (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 1, 2012).

             Polar Satellites: Agencies Need to Address Potential Gaps in Weather
             and Climate Data Coverage. GAO-11-945T. (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 23,
             2011).

             Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites: Agencies Must Act Quickly to
             Address Risks That Jeopardize the Continuity of Weather and Climate
             Data. GAO-10-558. (Washington, D.C.: May 27, 2010).

             Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites: With Costs Increasing and Data
             Continuity at Risk, Improvements Needed in Tri-agency Decision Making.
             GAO-09-772T. (Washington, D.C.: June 17, 2009).

             Polar-orbiting Environmental Satellites: With Costs Increasing and Data
             Continuity at Risk, Improvements Needed in Tri-agency Decision Making.
             GAO-09-564 (Washington, D.C.: June 17, 2009).

             Environmental Satellites: Polar-orbiting Satellite Acquisition Faces
             Delays; Decisions Needed on Whether and How to Ensure Climate Data
             Continuity. GAO-08-899T. (Washington, D.C.: June 19, 2008).

             Environmental Satellites: Polar-orbiting Satellite Acquisition Faces
             Delays; Decisions Needed on Whether and How to Ensure Climate Data
             Continuity. GAO-08-518. (Washington, D.C.: May 16, 2008).

             Environmental Satellite Acquisitions: Progress and Challenges.
             GAO-07-1099T. (Washington, D.C.: July 11, 2007).

             Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites: Restructuring Is
             Under Way, but Challenges and Risks Remain. GAO-07-910T.
             (Washington, D.C.: June 7, 2007).

             Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites: Restructuring Is
             Under Way, but Technical Challenges and Risks Remain. GAO-07-498.
             (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 27, 2007).

             Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites: Cost Increases
             Trigger Review and Place Program’s Direction on Hold. GAO-06-573T.
             (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 30, 2006).




             Page 37                           GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
                      Related GAO Products




           Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites: Technical Problems,
           Cost Increases, and Schedule Delays Trigger Need for Difficult Trade-off
           Decisions. GAO-06-249T. (Washington, D.C.: Nov. 16, 2005).

           Polar-orbiting Environmental Satellites: Information on Program Cost and
           Schedule Changes. GAO-04-1054. (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 30, 2004).

           Polar-orbiting Environmental Satellites: Project Risks Could Affect
           Weather Data Needed by Civilian and Military Users. GAO-03-987T.
           (Washington, D.C.: July 15, 2003).

           Polar-orbiting Environmental Satellites: Status, Plans, and Future Data
           Management Challenges. GAO-02-684T. (Washington, D.C.: July 24,
           2002).




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           Page 38                           GAO-12-604 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites
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