U.S. Air Force Officials Urge Continued Funding of NPOESS Work

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SAN FRANCISCO — U.S. Air Force officials told a Senate panel that companies should continue to receive funding to develop sensors and design the spacecraft for the canceled National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) until the Defense Department completes a thorough review of requirements for its future weather satellites.

Gary Payton, Air Force deputy undersecretary for space programs, said funding set aside in the 2010 and 2011 budgets should continue to be spent on the tri-agency program, which was halted by a White House order in February. “We need to continue that work for NASA’s utility and the Air Force’s utility,” Payton said March 10 during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee. “The sensors that the Air Force will need are probably very similar to the sensors under construction right now.”

In addition, the Air Force in coordination with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Security Council have identified the immediate steps that should be taken as the military defines its own weather satellite mission. Those near-term steps include harvesting the sensor technologies and intellectual property related to NPOESS and working with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to re-evaluate the military requirements. “The Air Force will then include those requirements in the design of a successor spacecraft,” Payton said.

During the Senate hearing, U.S. Navy Vice Adm. David Dorsett, director of naval intelligence, also informed the panel of another delay in the U.S. Navy’s next-generation Mobile User Objective System (MOUS). “Last year you were informed that MOUS was going to be delayed by about 11 months,” Dorsett told the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee. “Our estimate at this point is that the first satellite is expected to be launched in September of 2011 with an on-orbit capability of December 2011. That’s about a 10 month delay from what you were briefed previously.”

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