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Our Weather Satellites Are Dying

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the think-of-it-as-future-space-junk dept.

Earth 193

Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times reports that some experts say it is almost certain that the U.S. will soon face a year or more without crucial weather satellites that provide invaluable data for predicting storm tracks. This is because the existing polar satellites are nearing or beyond their life expectancies, and the launching of the next replacement, known as JPSS-1, has slipped until early 2017. Polar satellites provide 84 percent of the data used in the main American computer model tracking the course of Hurricane Sandy, which at first was expected to amble away harmlessly, but now appears poised to strike the mid-Atlantic states. The mismanagement of the $13 billion program to build the next generation weather satellites was recently described as a 'national embarrassment' by a top official of the Commerce Department. A launch mishap or early on-orbit failure of JPSS 1 could lead to a data gap of more than 5 years. The second JPSS satellite — JPSS 2 — is not scheduled for launch until 2022. 'There is no more critical strategic issue for our weather satellite programs than the risk of gaps in satellite coverage,' writes Jane Lubchenco, the under-secretary responsible for the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency. 'This dysfunctional program that had become a national embarrassment due to chronic management problems.' As a aside, I know from personal experience that this isn't the first time NOAA has been in this situation. 'In 1992 NOAA's GOES weather satellites were at the end of their useful lives and could have failed at any time,' I wrote as a project manager for AlliedSignal at that time. 'So NOAA made an agreement with the government of Germany to borrow a Meteosat Weather Satellite as a backup and drift it over from Europe to provide weather coverage for the US's Eastern seaboard in the event of an early GOES failure.'"

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Your one party system has failed you (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41789775)

I hope you major party partisan bitches reap what you have sown. It serves you assholes right.
 
Down with the one party system!

Re:Your one party system has failed you (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41789821)

I'm quite certain this is coming from a pinko liberal asshat who is pissed off that the government isn't giving him unlimited money anymore to crank out 'crucial' satellites and research grants for 'global warming catastrophe' now that the guys with the big-boy pants are in charge. The world will do just fine knowing that a hurricane is on the way but not knowing the pressure to the nearest hundredth of a millibar or whether Shitsplat, Nebraska is currently has an above average or just slightly above average of precipitation in 2014 being above the 75 year average. There is point where something is useful, and then a point of diminishing returns where additional investments just are not justified and should be used elsewhere.

Re:Your one party system has failed you (1, Interesting)

MightyMartian (840721) | about 2 years ago | (#41789843)

Ah yes. A fine representative from the Grand Old Sociopath Party.

Re:Your one party system has failed you (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41789913)

No different than the babbling of the DemoCraps. Those partisan bitches want to dip their hands into my pockets so that we can fatten up the poor on HoHos and 40s and later turn around and pay for their by pass surgeries and their heart attacks while these poor fucks never produce anything but the shit that comes out of their fattened asses.

Re:Your one party system has failed you (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41791483)

Your politics aren't even interesting. When Romney guts wherever you or your family works and you all lose your jobs you may appreciate having the health benefits Obama wants to give you. Unless you live in MA and already enjoy what Romney gave you.

Re:Your one party system has failed you (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41789939)

Clearly this is all Obama's fault, as is everything else that's wrong in this country.

If only he'd thrown more money at this instead of silly environmental planning!

Re:Your one party system has failed you (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41790093)

Nice strawman. I agree that the first post was bullshit but these satellites are needed and aren't an example of excessive government spending. The excellent storm forecasts we've had over the past decade came about due to these satellites. Lives and property have been saved. When there is a satellite gap, people who are used to knowing if a hurricane or a derecho is going to hit them 3 days in advance will be surprised when they have almost no notice. People who are used to knowing if the next winter storm is going to be an icestorm will be surprised when they get 2 inches of ice instead of 2 ft of snow.

Re:Your one party system has failed you (3, Insightful)

jhoegl (638955) | about 2 years ago | (#41790261)

I agree... we should let corporations tell us when weather is bad.
Because paying for information to be told a tornado is coming is a good idea.
Paying to be told a hurricane is coming is a good idea.
Preventing loss of life should be secondary to profits.
Also, none of that is bribing to save lives, its just good business.

If only we were less short sighted than profits and more caring about people. But fuck it, PROFITS!

Tornado Warning brought to you by Red Bull (4, Funny)

PNutts (199112) | about 2 years ago | (#41791521)

"Tornados also give you wings!" Cut to 30 second commercial.

Re:Your one party system has failed you (2)

Areyoukiddingme (1289470) | about 2 years ago | (#41791629)

Technically we did collectively pay to be told a hurricane is coming. The current satellites were paid for with taxes and we paid taxes. Continuing operation of the satellite (which does require constant regular human intervention, because oddly enough, maintaining an orbit isn't automatic) is also paid for with taxes, and that is an ongoing expense. So yes, sarcasm aside, paying to be told a hurricane is coming IS a good idea and we ARE paying for it, all the time, and we should and indeed must continue paying for it.

Your great wagonloads of sarcasm are appropriate for the concept that it would be a good idea to introduce a profit motive into that situation, but I think it bears repeating that we are in fact paying--we are paying with taxes, and this is one of the reasons why government is good and taxes are necessary; it's how we successfully keep the profit motive out of things which are deadly dangerous when operated for profit.

(I leave the application of the concept to healthcare as an exercise for the reader.)

Oh good grief. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41789931)

I hope you major party partisan bitches reap what you have sown. It serves you assholes right.

Down with the one party system!

cue the "Kif sigh" from Futurama.

FTFA:

The project is run by the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, and NASA.

There's your problem. NASA and the NOAA ?!?! Putting it ALL under the NOAA, where it belongs, would clear up a lot of shit. And then there's this horseshit ...

In response, top Commerce and NOAA officials on Sept. 18 ordered what they called an urgent restructuring — just the latest overhaul of the troubled program. They streamlined the management, said they would fill major vacancies quickly and demanded immediate reports on how the agency planned to cope with the gap.

OMFG! This will have absolutely no effect - whatsoever. All they did was fire some mid-levels - peons who have no real say and it was really for show - but the real problems are still working there (Hint: they're are the ones at the top.).

What needs to be done is for the military and industry (industry clients - NOT the suppliers) to get their bitches in the Senate to restructure this whole thing from the top down.

Re:Your one party system has failed you (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41790673)

Well they have a difficult job to do planning and engineering the next generation to get the carbon footprint of the launch down to zero, make sure that only minerals from non-somthing-or-other Countries are used, make sure all the associated engineers and staff were hired under proper E.E.O. guidelines, and a whole bunch of other things. Its just a hard job with the tight budgets of only a few billion and these underpaid bureaucrats.

Re:Your one party system has failed you (1)

X0563511 (793323) | about 2 years ago | (#41791665)

You say it like "us assholes" want it the way it is.

Subcontract (2)

dimethylxanthine (946092) | about 2 years ago | (#41789787)

Why not lease or buy the data from the Russians & the Chinese while we're getting the new ones into orbit... Cheaper and would get the job, or at least some of it, done. 2c

Re:Subcontract (2)

maxwell demon (590494) | about 2 years ago | (#41789817)

Probably because the measurement data from Russia or China would not be too useful. Note the following bit from the summary (emphasis by me): "So NOAA made an agreement with the government of Germany to borrow a Meteosat Weather Satellite as a backup and drift it over from Europe to provide weather coverage for the US's Eastern seaboard in the event of an early GOES failure."

Wx Predicting... not all that good anyway (0, Troll)

fyngyrz (762201) | about 2 years ago | (#41790231)

The weather forecast for today, here? Wrong. Quite often is, even just one day out. Heck, a couple days ago they were saying 0% chance of snow yesterday... and it snowed all evening and night. This, in an area that gets, on average, about 10 inches of moisture total.

The forecast track for Sandy? And the amount of rain coming? And the actual wind impacts? Really quite uncertain -- and we certainly know where these things are (as opposed to where they're going to go) from non-satellite sources when they're closer to home. So we know they're near or here or maybe they're going to go somewhere -- and that's about all we know anyway.

I'm not saying it isn't a good idea to have satellites and to try to learn to predict the weather from them and every other source possible, of course it is, but I *am* saying that should we lack them for five years, I'm not going to see a significant difference in my quality of life, because weather prediction basically sucks in its current state.

It seems to me it's far more important to have doppler radar of high quality and close spacing so we know when severe weather is immanent.

So by all means launch the new sats, and hopefully it'll go well, but I can't see it as it significant WRT weather and me if it doesn't.

Now, if they actually could give reliable predictions... that'd be something else, because I'd be losing something of value. But we're just not there yet.

Re:Subcontract (3, Interesting)

lennier1 (264730) | about 2 years ago | (#41789819)

They probably still have a shitload of high-resolution equipment above the US anyway. Might as well get some money out of it.

Re:Subcontract (2, Funny)

NotQuiteReal (608241) | about 2 years ago | (#41789891)

Because the data would be in funny characters and the units would be in metric units and Americans would not understand it.

Re:Subcontract (1, Interesting)

couchslug (175151) | about 2 years ago | (#41789941)

Better yet, sub it all out to Germany. We need data, not to own satellites.

Re:Subcontract (4, Funny)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about 2 years ago | (#41790129)

If you really want to save money have China build the satellites. They might even launch them in geosynchronous orbit over the US for free.

Slashdot.... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41790073)

Is Dying. Does anyone know of any other site that are similar too what slashdot was 5-years ago?

NBC / weather channel / comcast has deep pocket (4, Insightful)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 2 years ago | (#41789795)

NBC / weather channel / comcast has deep pockets may they can pay for one.

Re:NBC / weather channel / comcast has deep pocket (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41789853)

NBC / weather channel / comcast has deep pockets may they can pay for one.

Why would they? When they can get the government to do it. What the American government really seems to do is funnel tax payers money into companies.

Re:NBC / weather channel / comcast has deep pocket (4, Insightful)

hey! (33014) | about 2 years ago | (#41790343)

Why would they? When they can get the government to do it.

Why would they launch their own satellites if the government did NOT do it for them? Look, they've done well repackaging the text data you've always been able to get from NOAA. They take the raw imagery, doll it up and spin it around in various eye-watering, stomach-churning ways. They're in the data presentation business, not the data production business.

Sure, being the only organization that can fill in the data gap would be a competitive advantage, but that requires investment, and in general the investment in substance by information-media has dropped through the floor. News outfits cutting back on things like foreign bureaues and local reporters and shifting their content to opinion; and you expect them to pick up the 655 million dollars it takes to field the JPSS-1 and the 12.6 *billion* of the entire program?

What the American government really seems to do is funnel tax payers money into companies.

Well, sure. If you're going to have a space program, it's either funnel taxpayers' money into companies or into programs staffed by government workers. The question shouldn't be where the money ends up, it should be value for money. A decade of accurate storm tracking is easily worth 12 billion bucks to America as a whole; it's just not worth 12 billion to any single private entity.

Re:NBC / weather channel / comcast has deep pocket (0)

khallow (566160) | about 2 years ago | (#41790591)

Sure, being the only organization that can fill in the data gap would be a competitive advantage, but that requires investment

What data gap? The story indicates that the US would rent a German satellite. Huh, I better stop coming to Slashdot for investment advice.

News outfits cutting back on things like foreign bureaues and local reporters and shifting their content to opinion; and you expect them to pick up the 655 million dollars it takes to field the JPSS-1 and the 12.6 *billion* of the entire program?

Why would it take that news outfit $12 billion? Just because it costs government a lot, doesn't mean that it should cost a private entity the same.

Keep in mind that most government programs start with the requirement that the kitchen sink needs to be in there, and then change it from there. That's a recipe for at least an order of magnitude of cost growth IMHO.

A private organization would more or less spend on the parts that are most valuable, not burn money on anything that looked remotely interesting or of at least slight value.

Re:NBC / weather channel / comcast has deep pocket (4, Insightful)

Rockoon (1252108) | about 2 years ago | (#41791589)

Why would it take that news outfit $12 billion? Just because it costs government a lot, doesn't mean that it should cost a private entity the same.

I would hope that if it costs $13 billion for some weather satellites, that nobody is foolish enough to pay it. Well, of course the government was that foolish.. but hey.

This works out to a years income for 288,888 people at the median ($45K) level. No, not the taxes they pay.. THEIR ENTIRE INCOME.

Or, with that kind of money you can order the production a whopping 260,000 commercial drones at $50,000 per unit. You can *lose* 71 commercial drones per day for 10 years and still not match the cost of these new weather satellites.

I am amazed at how often the cost that these projects consume doesnt greatly offend peoples senses. $10 billion costs $77 per household. Money like that adds up quickly.. a couple hundred projects like that and you've got the american government in a nutshell.

Re:NBC / weather channel / comcast has deep pocket (0)

letherial (1302031) | about 2 years ago | (#41790593)

Don't bother with logic, the right wingers have no logic anymore. I say let them have there cuts, I hope he is on the east coast and suddenly wakes up to a hurricane taking out his home. It will be the 1800's all over again...good times. They can have there falling bridges, pot hole riddled streets, lead filled paint, disease riddled food and no weather satellites, I assume they wont complain as long as the rich have there tax cuts and a at least one war to justify the extra spending on the military. Me, ill be moving to Canada.

Re:NBC / weather channel / comcast has deep pocket (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41791171)

See ya!

Re:NBC / weather channel / comcast has deep pocket (2)

khallow (566160) | about 2 years ago | (#41790653)

Sure, being the only organization that can fill in the data gap would be a competitive advantage, but that requires investment

My bad. The satellite renting that I mentioned in my previous reply was for a 90s program not for the coming gap. I'll just say though that even if you know the gap is going to be there, it's still not much of a competitive advantage since it only lasts for five years. If you're thinking about launching weather satellites (of the sort that'll have the "data gap") anyway, then that could help pay for some of your expenses. But I doubt anyone will start thinking about it just to take advantage of a short gap.

Re:NBC / weather channel / comcast has deep pocket (1)

hey! (33014) | about 2 years ago | (#41791527)

No problem. I read TFA too and I figured you'd just misread it. You're right about the shortness of the gap, but I took the poster's intent as being that the government shouldn't provide weather data at all, leaving that to the private sector. I was addressing that scenario (the government gets out of the weather data business) rather than the gap scenario.

Re:NBC / weather channel / comcast has deep pocket (5, Insightful)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 2 years ago | (#41789901)

Yeah, and put all the data behind a paywall... Not a good idea.

Re:NBC / weather channel / comcast has deep pocket (2)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about 2 years ago | (#41790873)

Sounds like a great idea. I'd pay 10 cents a day for a good weather service, especially one without management problems like the governments' weather program. SpaceX might make this tech affordable now. Maybe this gap will provide the impetus needed to get a better weather prediction system going.

Re:NBC / weather channel / comcast has deep pocket (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41790345)

Will weather forecasters go the way of the Dodo (or Big Bird)?

The networks could just Photoshop some Jupiter or Mars images and say something about solar flares heating the stratosphere, and any weird weather is pretty well covered.

Some radio stations keep a library of generic weather forecasts on hand, and between how it looks outside and how it was the day before, just pop in one that seems to fit. Most of the year that works fine.

I've seen CNN use video from a DIFFERENT fire when reporting on those, so use of stock reports for weather isn't far-fetched at all.

Re:NBC / weather channel / comcast has deep pocket (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41790555)

Why? Dying people in foreign countries means big bucks to the MSM and all those 'people in foreign countries are dyeing' ... charities. If people are not dyeing why would anyone watch? Who cares about successful countries? Who gives them money? They must dye to garner the big bucks...for the charities and the MSM.

Dye, I said it and I meant it exactly as said.
Anon because corpratdot has a thing about pissing off the MSM aka themselves.

Not believable... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41789801)

Yeah, this coming from someone who has never forecast a day of weather in her life, and doesn't know what the National Weather Service does in the first place...

The Federal Acquisitions System is Broken (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41789807)

There are so many "checks and balances" in the system, and so much risk aversion, that the system can not perform. No program manager is ever rewarded for taking a risk, or succeeding, so the best ones are the ones who can redirect blame and reduce risk. Same with the contracting and finance people, and to no small extent, the government engineers. Worse, those who are competent flee the government, leaving us with a population that's not good or representative of their fields at large. I wasn't given the option to enter it (military orders) but I'm leaving as soon as I can, because it's a dead end, morally, emotionally and professionally.

Re:The Federal Acquisitions System is Broken (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41790127)

I worked as an engineer on government programs just long enough to understand that engineering for government projects is 100% about covering your ass and 0% about developing cutting edge technology.

For a given government project, the probability of total failure is near 100%, so that means that there will be lots of blame tumbling down the mountain, that will eventually come to rest at the bottom. A successful engineer on a government project is one who can remain standing after all of that blame has come to rest.

Re:The Federal Acquisitions System is Broken (5, Interesting)

spd_rcr (537511) | about 2 years ago | (#41790245)

We had a guest speaker at an ASME meeting a month and a half ago talking about this very issue, Dr. Bonnie Dunbar. She was speaking about her talks with congress about the importance of replacing these weather satellites and the response she got from the representatives was "why do we need satellites, can't we just get our weather from the internet".
A republic only works if you send your best and brightest off to handle the day-to-day decisions.Representatives that got their job via a popularity contest are usually no more fit make technical decisions than guys and gals who won the homecoming king & queen positions. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xrrj9Wc2L84 [youtube.com]

Re:The Federal Acquisitions System is Broken (1)

Dyinobal (1427207) | about 2 years ago | (#41790357)

ugg that makes me feel sick. Anyone else feel sick?

Re:The Federal Acquisitions System is Broken (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41790443)

Nope, he seems to be making the right points. May be the R before his name is what is bothering you.

Re:The Federal Acquisitions System is Broken (3, Interesting)

swillden (191260) | about 2 years ago | (#41791097)

why do we need satellites, can't we just get our weather from the internet

Obviously ridiculous, but I do have to point out that at least for weather data from populated areas, the Internet is potentially a very useful tool. Scattering large numbers of inexpensive, land-based, Internet-connected weather stations could be done for a tiny fraction of the cost of a satellite launch. I'd be thrilled to install one at my house, for example.

Of course, those sorts of stations wouldn't provide coverage of un-populated areas, water-covered areas, etc., and wouldn't provide the same sort of information, so they're not a replacement. Seems like they would be useful, though.

Re:The Federal Acquisitions System is Broken (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41791489)

Since the cheapest reliable, accurate and internet enabled sensor suite is about $1500 (I just bought 125 rainwise portaloggers for a company I work for ) exactly who will pay for these sensors? Who will do the quality control? who does the repairs when one goes bad. Please tell me you will provide the networking and support for free? I mean everything on the internet is free right? Oh by the way how do I get those surface based sensors to give me the pressure/temperature/winds/humidity every 100mb off the surface up 125,000 feet AGL?

best and brightest (3, Insightful)

nurb432 (527695) | about 2 years ago | (#41791885)

Or at least ones that know their limitations and have good advisors to turn to when they hit those limits so they can make informed decisions.

Not eveyone knows everything.

Next generation? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41789837)

Why do we need "next generation" satellites? Why not build more of the same, which apparently have worked adequately for quite a while?

Re:Next generation? (1)

Frosty Piss (770223) | about 2 years ago | (#41789851)

Why do we need "next generation" satellites? Why not build more of the same, which apparently have worked adequately for quite a while?

Not "sexy".

Re:Next generation? (1)

anon mouse-cow-aard (443646) | about 2 years ago | (#41790165)

You're on slashdot, you know technology evolves. The tech on satellites is essentially CMOS cameras and computers to manage sending the data to ground stations. Satellite lifetime: 20 years from design to end of life... "Current" satellite designs are 20 years old. Launch costs are relatively the same. So the choice is to spend a tens (or hundreds) of millions of dollars to put up a platform, and operate for fifteen years or so [boeing.com] . So do you put one up with technology that will be forty years old by the end of it's service life? It's going to be the same money whether it is 40 year old tech or twenty year old tech. Do you have a twenty year old CCD camera? Overall, Is that likely good value for money?

Re:Next generation? (1)

slashping (2674483) | about 2 years ago | (#41790279)

Why not take the same design, but incrementally replace old tech by newer tech ? The first priority should be to launch on the scheduled date. While you have a chance, improve the technology, but don't let the launch date slip because you're waiting for even better designs.

Serious Answer (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41790305)

Two reasons: 1st is that it's not that simple. Systems engineering is actually very complex and difficult. That's the technical reason most large computer projects and all large DoD projects fail. Incremental change is a good approach, but by replacing a substantial amount of the old tech (bus and sensor) you're basically re-designing the satellite, re-qualifying the system, and eating most of the expense and a large fraction of the risk that would come from starting from scratch, and you might not actually meet the current requirements.

Second: Given incompetent program management in an acquisition system that's designed to prevent any risk, the program will most certainly fail.

Re:Serious Answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41790675)

That's the technical reason most large computer projects and all large DoD projects fail.

Bullshit. Most of those projects fail for the exact reason suggested by the GP: "systems engineers" are all too often the sort of people who insist on starting from a blank sheet of paper when the old design was still 90% viable.

Re:Serious Answer (1)

slashping (2674483) | about 2 years ago | (#41790721)

Then don't replace a substantial amount of the old tech, but only a little bit. Let's say a satellite lasts 20 years, and it takes 5 years to make some modifications. As soon as you launch one, you start the next 5 year design, and when it's done, you launch it. After 20 years, you have 4 different satellites in orbit, with the first one being 20 years in service, and just starting to fail. If, for some reason, the design is delayed a few years, you can still depend on the other ones.

Re:Serious Answer (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about 2 years ago | (#41791585)

I agree with you, but the problem is that the first usable satellites were all launched at roughly the same time - so you are stuck on a 20-year cycle. Having all satellites flying from the same generation probably makes support less complicated as well.

For what it's worth, my company has been incrementally improving the same platform since the early 90s, and it has been a pretty successful strategy. Every time some hot-shot manager flies in and tries to change things too much, he falls on his face and is gone in short order.

I will say that it has led to a very odd beast. Most stuff still sits on a very slow VME bus. This bus isn't really up to modern standards of communication, so now they are slowly adding ethernet to all the boards so they can all be daisy chained in some sort of serial over ethernet system. Eventually, they won't need the VME bus anymore, but in the meantime the system is a bit more expensive and complicated than it needs to be, and doesn't really resemble anything that you would create from scratch. Perhaps satellites, with their weight and power restrictions, wouldn't tolerate this sort of transitional design phase?

Re:Serious Answer (1)

Areyoukiddingme (1289470) | about 2 years ago | (#41791725)

Good idea, but expensive. As has been pointed out elsewhere in the thread, historically, the launch has been so overwhelmingly expensive that there has been a tendency to overengineer every satellite into a Ferrari in an effort to do only one launch instead of 4. And, knowing you only get one launch, you get paranoid about trying to make that Ferrari be as reliable as a... very reliable brand of car. So you end up with two opposing forces, which tear the program to bits. You can't build a reliable Ferrari without spending boatloads of money--far more than even a Ferrari normally costs. And even after you've spent all that money, you still may end up with, well, a Ferrari. Which are damned unreliable. So it doesn't actually take very much bureaucratic ass-covering before the whole thing snowballs into failure. The whole process is designed to fail.

Elon Musk is changing things. Radically. Suddenly, thanks to SpaceX, launch costs have fallen by an order of magnitude. Suddenly, the cost floor has radically dropped. Suddenly, trying again is actually reasonable. When you can try ten times before you've spent as much money as the previous single attempt, the whole process must become radically different.

The current program to build a replacement weather satellite predates the successes of SpaceX, so the program was conducted according to the old regime (where Boeing and Lockheed got to take turns screwing the government with its pants on). The old regime is now old fashioned. It's too late to avoid failure in the current program, but it changes everything. Or should.

Maybe the next attempt can now succeed.

Re:Serious Answer (1)

slashping (2674483) | about 2 years ago | (#41791879)

Are launch costs that high ? I think there are several options in the $10 million/ton range. I'm not an expert on weather satellites, but I assume you can make a decent one that weighs less than 5 tons, putting it in the $50 million range for launch costs. One launch every 5 years, equals $10 million per year, which is a tiny amount by any standard. You could even launch a couple. Don't worry about launching a Ferrari. Just use something simple and reliable.

Re:Next generation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41791691)

Piggy-back WHORE, see what it got you? ZERO mod points! Nuthin' !!!

Re:Next generation? (1)

Areyoukiddingme (1289470) | about 2 years ago | (#41791835)

Ah, but launch costs are NOT relatively the same. SpaceX launches cost an order of magnitude less than ULA launches. (For obvious reasons. ULA when it was created was an illegal monopoly that should never have been allowed to form in the first place.) It's now possible to do ten launches for the old price of a single launch. If the new design is trapped in a bureaucratic morasse, build a duplicate of the old design and put it on a SpaceX Falcon 9 for cheap while you figure out the new design properly.

Of course, as has been pointed out elsewhere in the thread, the real problem is the company building the satellite has suffered severe brain drain. The original brains that knew how to build the existing satellite are long gone, and the new guys have never done it. This has been the problem with a great many things in the space program. If you only do something once every generation, you are essentially starting from scratch every single time. No one involved has any prior experience in the job they are doing.

So building a duplicate of the old design is only barely more likely to succeed than a new design, simply because fabrication of either one is new to the people doing it. Assuming the old design is even available anymore. Corporations are very bad at preserving documentation for twenty years, and space corporations have been disastrously worse, actively destroying documentation. And of course, since the existing satellite was a one-off, or at best a member of a very tiny family, inevitably, many things were left out of the documentation, because people just did them, knowing they would never have to do it again, and forgot to write down what they did. Undoubtedly something critical has been left out, even if the documentation still exists.

So you're right, but for the wrong reasons.

Re:Next generation? (5, Funny)

LaminatorX (410794) | about 2 years ago | (#41789895)

The new weather satalites will access The Cloud to speed deployment and reduce support costs.

Re:Next generation? (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 2 years ago | (#41790003)

Idiot! There aren't any clouds in space!

Space Cloudz (4, Funny)

fyngyrz (762201) | about 2 years ago | (#41790339)

Idiot! There aren't any clouds in space!

The Magellanic cloud hereby invites you to a party. Also attending will be the Oort cloud, the Milky Way gas clouds, a molecular cloud from Andromeda, and an alcohol cloud of considerable refinement*. CHON will be served. Entertainment will be provided by black holes stripping electrons.

*Only those from planets understood to be older than 6000 years may attend.

Re:Space Cloudz (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41790559)

"Only those from planets understood to be older than 6000 years may attend."

Silly boy, don't you know that there are no planets older than 6000 years? (/sarcasm)

Re:Next generation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41790715)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nebula

Re:Next generation? (5, Interesting)

cvtan (752695) | about 2 years ago | (#41789947)

I'll bet any amount that the people that designed and built the old satellites are not around anymore. "Next generation" is industry speak for "We have to start all over again.". Of course, I have no facts to back this up.

Re:Next generation? (3, Interesting)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 2 years ago | (#41790027)

Perhaps not but the US Department of Defense seems to toss up satellites with cameras on a regular basis. I'm at a bit of a loss to understand why this is so hard. The basic sensing suite should be well established by now. Satellite technology is well established. Certainly there is room for research - better sensors, more communications and whatnot but getting a garden variety weather satellite out just ought not to be so hard.

Maybe give it to the pros (DOD) or JPL or maybe even Elon Musk. Further, I have to believe with all the money we've spent on military satellites, they don't have spare weather sats sitting in a warehouse someone....

Re:Next generation? (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 2 years ago | (#41790077)

I wish, sincerely wish that Slashdot could manage an edit function....

Anyway, what I really wanted to point out was that observation that the US likes to mix up production and research programs. The DOD is a poster child for this (even if they're better at sat tech then NOAA). Want a new fighter? Sure, spec it out so that have the technology doesn't exist yet then get all twizzled that it doesn't get built on time or on budget. Better of making a less sexy fighter (and more of them) with current tech and keeping up the skunk works or whatever for the whizzy stuff.

Christ, the major US bomber (the B-52) is older than I am. LIkewise one of the primary cargo planes (the C-130). Somehow, even though we 'just' have 15 year old F-16's and 18's as the primary fighter we're not involved in dog fights on a weekly basis.

I suspect the same thing is happening with the weather satellites.

Keep it Simple, Stupid. More is better. Murphy hates redundancy.

Re:Next generation? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41790225)

No, they're not, but the engineers today are just as capable. The issue is money.

I work in space science, there are a lot of extremely smart people working on Earth obs and the technology that is available today is leagues ahead of what we used in the past in terms of data resolution and other things - instruments are also a heck of a lot smaller now. So, with respect, you're talking out of your ass.

Weather satellites have pretty much one function, they take data like wind speeds, cloud heights etc, and relay that to a base station. Then organisations take this data and use big hefty algorithms that have been Frankenstein'd over the years to try and work out what's happening next. There is little to no processing on board the birds because you need a room of computers to run the fluid simulations. As a result all that needs upgrading is the sensor precision, data rate and so on.

Re:Next generation? (1)

slashping (2674483) | about 2 years ago | (#41791647)

I don't even think the issue is money, or at least not lack of it. They had a $12 billion budget. Compare that to the $2.5 billion they spent on the Mars Curiosity mission, which is much more complicated than a weather satellite. They should have given them a $500 million budget instead, and then it would have much bigger chance of success. The bigger the budget, the higher the risk of making it too complex.

Re:Next generation? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41790747)

The companies that made the advanced multispectral imagers for US weather satellites have been doing plenty of business selling them to other countries for their satellites (Japan's Himawari, for example). It helps when you don't have half your country's politicians trying to actively deny that a global weather phenomena exists.

Re:Next generation? (1)

quetwo (1203948) | about 2 years ago | (#41790139)

Mostly so we can better predict weather events down to street-level and beyond. Newer equipment will help us predict for tornadic activity, predict for those really nasty snow storms everybody keeps complaining about, etc.

Re:Next generation? (4, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | about 2 years ago | (#41790199)

Why do we need "next generation" satellites? Why not build more of the same, which apparently have worked adequately for quite a while?

Car Analogy Warning: When fuel is your biggest cost, the price difference between launching a Model-T into orbit isn't really that relevant compared to launching a ferrari.

There's also the whole "technology improving" thing.
Imagine the current state of science if we were only using microscopes that "have worked adequately for quite a while" [tqn.com]
Heck, feel free to compare and contrast a 1999 cell phone with one made in 2010.

Re:Next generation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41790775)

Just to clear up any potential confusion here, in the case of the satellite, it's the rocket, not the fuel, that costs the most. I have a feeling the parent got this, but it didn't come through in the analogy. The price of the Oxygen and Hydrogen(or RP1) to get something into orbit isn't actually very high.

Of course, the analogy doesn't stop there, because it would cost considerably more to either build a new Model-T from scratch, since there is no production line, or to find an existing, working Model-T and pry it from the hands of its owner than it originally cost to build them. Maybe not as much as a Ferrari, but still a considerable heap of change. The same, of course, is true with old satellite tech, with the exception that it would take a very, very eccentric collector to keep an old, still working weather satellite in his garage.

Re:Next generation? (1)

slashping (2674483) | about 2 years ago | (#41791721)

No need to save the exact same 20-year old design and copy it. People launch satellites on a regular basis, and most of them are not too expensive. Apparently, there's quite a bit of knowledge on how to make a reasonably priced, earth orbiting satellite that can do basic housekeeping, and maintain a up/down data link to ground stations. To make it a weather satellite, just slap some useful instruments on it, and call it good.

Re:Next generation? (1)

blind biker (1066130) | about 2 years ago | (#41791379)

The day a large american city is devastated by a tornado, and an evacuation was not organized in time because of no weather satellite, you'll wish there was a "Model-T" of a weather satellite sent into orbit.

Don't take it personally, but I think you can take your car analogy and shove it.

Re:Next generation? (3, Interesting)

Rockoon (1252108) | about 2 years ago | (#41791749)

Feel free to compare NASA's budget 2 decades ago with todays budget. Its about the same. Somehow the technology in the space sector has gotten more expensive over time, unlike the cell phones that you are talking about.

The space shuttle only cost $1.7 billion per craft and only $450 million per launch.. thats the fucking space shuttle!! Now a few weather satellites cost $13 billion to make and deploy? These is corporations gorging themselves at the trough of runaway government deficits.

Arm it with lasers aimed at Ayrab countries (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41789977)

That will get it funded and running in no time.

Slashdot is dying (1, Redundant)

chill (34294) | about 2 years ago | (#41790013)

22 comments in and not one reference to whether or not Netcraft has confirmed the satellites are dying.

Slashdot is definitely slipping.

Re:Slashdot is dying (1)

forkazoo (138186) | about 2 years ago | (#41790433)

If it helps, Netcraft has confirmed the death of Netcraft confirmations.

We the people of germany. (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41790017)

are on the one side glad to support our allies on our axis, but must decline the shipment of data that might harm the religious feelings of many american citizens.

Weather is made by god, man shall not try to understand gods ways, because this would make man a god. Thus weather shall not be understood by the god fearing american people that replace a theory like evolution or the big bang theory by simpler means; creative design and the not so "creative beginning".

A just kidding, take as much data as you need, because if you fear for your life you also sell your soul, aren't you ?

Re:We the people of germany. (4, Funny)

vikingpower (768921) | about 2 years ago | (#41790119)

Usually I don't reply to ACs. This is an exception. As an Austrian resident ( and an atheist pig, to top it off ) I can not but wholeheartedly concur. Where are my mod points ??

Re:We the people of germany. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41790241)

Usually I don't reply to ACs.

You shouldn't have bothered. Your post was utterly pointless. I agree with the GP, too, but you've added absolute zero to the discussion. Please keep not replying to ACs... thanks.

Re:We the people of germany. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41790481)

I concur. I dont usually reply to ACs, as an AC. But this time I have made an exception, and posted as an AC.

Re:We the people of germany. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41790669)

I usually don't reply to ACs, as an AC or not, but I had to reply to this AC who replied to the other AC to say that I think replying to ACs is all right as long as you don't reply to ACs who post about replying to ACs. If you must reply to an AC who posts about replying to ACs, at least do so as an AC. Thanks.

Re:We the people of germany. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41790719)

Shut the hell up and go back to humping your kangaroos, or whatever. We Americans have everything under control.

Re:We the people of germany. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41791123)

Sarah, actually "Austrians" in contrast to "Australians", only hug big hills, and red bulls of course !

Re:We the people of germany. (5, Funny)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about 2 years ago | (#41791373)

Although German engineers excel at terrestrial technology, like BMW and Porsche, their space technology has not been nurtured. After the war, the Russians took their German scientists, to build their Russian space program, and the US took their German scientists, to build their US space program. Anyone who was left over in Germany was like the nerdy kid to get picked last for a team in school sports.

In fact, the last German weather satellite was a total failure. It was called Satelliten Chefkoch Hauptleitungsabzweigklemme Überwachungstechnik Leitungsschutzschalter Teleauskunft Zeitverschiebung, or SCHULTZ for short. When queried about the weather, it simply replied:

"I see NOTHING . . . NOTHING!"

Anthropomorphism (2)

Dan East (318230) | about 2 years ago | (#41790023)

Yes, but are they scared or sad that they are dying?

Re:Anthropomorphism (1)

Idbar (1034346) | about 2 years ago | (#41790135)

Honestly, the supporting argument gives me the impression that it's sadness, but hidden in fear. Seems to me that better, newer satellites won't help without proper models. The summary makes me think that the importance of the satellites is not as critical as improving weather modeling.

Weather control satellite? (4, Funny)

GiantRobotMonster (1159813) | about 2 years ago | (#41790067)

A proper weather satellite would control the weather, rather than simply observe it.
Then I could write my name in snow, across an entire continent.
Muhahahaha.

This is what you get... (2, Insightful)

vikingpower (768921) | about 2 years ago | (#41790107)

...when you over-spend on military interventions and bullying the world, and under-spend on useful tech.

Re:This is what you get... (3, Insightful)

couchslug (175151) | about 2 years ago | (#41790283)

"...when you over-spend on military interventions and bullying the world, and under-spend on useful tech."

Where do you think SATELLITE technology and the ability to LAUNCH them came from? The Peaceful Space Tech Fairie?

Serious question (4, Funny)

sunami (751539) | about 2 years ago | (#41790141)

Why are we building meteorological satellites when we have the Weather Channel?

AGW (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41790301)

Its a fact. We need to stop collecting data that might disprove it.

Europe's fancy new weather satellite (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41790315)

Europe just launched a brandy new fancy weather satellite. I wonder if there is a little bit of envy going on here. Things are great when we just got brand new stuff but then time goes by and then other people get newer stuff and then our stuff isn't so cool anymore.

We're flooded with weather satellites! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41790485)

We have a complete set of functional weather satellites at the ready. The military has their own even more sophisticated constellation that can provide equivalent information, if its information is "blurred" a bit. Think GPS as a more extreme analog where there aren't any civilian satellites at all. Why does the military run its own weather program? It routes flights, navigates seas, secures facilities and does a lot of off-roading to schedule and needs to prepare for expected challenges, just like you do when you commute to work and back home, and while you're on vacation.

That's why... (1)

redwraith94 (1311731) | about 2 years ago | (#41790575)

"chronic management problems". Maybe that's what all the bullets are for?

Weather satellites, or the lack thereof. (1)

fox171171 (1425329) | about 2 years ago | (#41790985)

Our weather satellites are dying, Senator. We must do something quickly to stop the loss of long term forecasts.

Mesa day startin pretty okee-day with a brisky morning munchy, then BOOM! Gettin very scared and runnin from that lightning, and POW! Mesa here! Mesa gettin' very very scared! Flashy lightning not insa forecast!

So NOAA made an agreement with the government of Germany to borrow a Meteosat Weather Satellite as a backup
Are you sure about this? Trusting our fate to a satellite we hardly know?

The mismanagement of the $13 billion program to build the next generation weather satellites was recently described as a 'national embarrassment'
“American politics. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”

“These forecasts — too accurate for Farmer's Almanacs. Only weather satellites are so precise.”

“If this is a weather station, where is the meteorologist? — Commander, tear this place apart until you’ve found those satellite plans.”

In America ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41790987)

...bridges, roads, highways and satellites crumble away because nobody wants to pay their fucking taxes.

Film at 11.

Re:In America ... (1)

AJWM (19027) | about 2 years ago | (#41791755)

Close. Plenty of people pay their taxes, whether they want to or not.

The problem is that politicians would then rather spend those taxes on something new and shiny than on maintaining the existing infrastructure. New and shiny gets votes, repair jobs don't.

Damn socialist satellites (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41791037)

See? More evidence that the government should get out of the satellite weather monitoring business and let private industry take care of it.

[lawl]

Merge NOAA and NASA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41791261)

Huge overlap in many of their respective missions.

After merging them, fund them. They account for a drop in the bucket of the entire budget so to speak.

Perhaps weather data isn't a priority to some(??) (4, Interesting)

digitalaudiorock (1130835) | about 2 years ago | (#41791433)

I'll probably get some troll points for this, but after watching the recent Frontline titled Climate of Doubt [pbs.org] , I wonder if there aren't some pretty powerful forces out there that just plain don't want weather/climate data all that much. The interviews in that show seem to indicate that the big money behind that effort (which over the last four years has somehow convinced half of the U.S. population that man made climate change is a myth, while science has gone in the opposite direction), is way more about Ayn Randian ideology than science.

All pretty scary if you ask me...like we're getting closer and closer to witch burning every day...

Re:Perhaps weather data isn't a priority to some(? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41791861)

Or we are too busy spending $1 Trillion a year on welfare. When you entire reelection strategy consists of giving out money to the majority of people while taking it from the minority, you don't have money for things like weather satelites or manned space missions.

It has nothing to do with people wanting less data. In fact "deniers" tried for over a decade to get more data from the CRU in England before Phil Jones deleted so no one else could peer review his research. If anything "deniers" are the ones trying to actually get and share more data because they tend to be interested in facts and truth, not smoke and mirrors backed by denied FOI requests.

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