Saturday, June 16, 2007

The satellite is failing! The satellite is failing!

Chicken Little he ain't, but he's being told to shut up anyway:

MIAMI — The director of the National Hurricane Center, who has been outspoken in warning about an aging satellite used for hurricane forecasting, was chastised today by a superior for his comments.

Bill Proenza has been talking about the QuikScat satellite since taking office in January. The satellite was launched in 1999 and designed to last two to three years but is now showing signs of its age. Certain hurricane forecasts could be up to 16 percent less accurate if it fails, Proenza has said. That could lead to wider areas placed under hurricane watches and warnings. A satellite with technology meant to replace QuikScat would not fly until 2016, seven years later than planned, The Associated Press reported this week.

On Friday, Proenza was given a 3-page letter from the acting head of the Weather Service, Mary Glackin. Proenza’s recent statements “may have caused some unnecessary confusion about NOAA’s ability to accurately predict tropical storms,” Glackin wrote.

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Update 6/18: Excellent overview of the history of QuikScat and an attempt to head off political biases clouding up the issue by the Combat Philosopher:
QuikScat was launched in 1999, as an emergency replacement for the NASA Scatterometer (NSCAT) instrument on Japan’s Midori satellite (previously known as the Advanced Earth Observation Satellite (ADEOS)). This satellite failed, about nine months after launch. QuikScat was supposed to be a 'quick and dirty' stop gap measure, with a limited intended life span, of at most two or three years.

In the words of an insider,

"It [QuikScat] was built in 13 months (hence the Quik) from spares from the one already in process, modified to fit on a commercially available satellite bus (Ball BCP2000) and launched on a surplus obsolete TitanII the AirForce had sitting around....

The instrument was designed as part of an effort to collect 10 years or more of continuous data as part of an overall "understand the interactions of air and sea" program. So JPL developed a ground data system oriented towards that need (hosted at PODAAC). As it happens, we also had a real time feed of the data to NOAA (think of a "tee" early in the data pipeline), which, it turns out, has been very useful in the forecast business (back in 1999 and earlier, when this was all being done, people weren't sure it would be useful.. certainly not to the point of kicking in large sums of money to that end..). It took several years for the forecast community to start heavily using QS data (they were justifiably nervous about depending on an experimental satellite that was never intended to run this long...)"

So, when this satellite was put up, it was at best a short term hack. Furthermore, at the time, the usefulness of the data was not fully appreciated. When these facts are combined with the length of time usually required for a satellite deployment (normally around 8 years, or so), in conjunction with cost, it is really not too surprising that there is no replacement for QuikScat, as yet.


Steve Bates said...

It's always about appearances with these mofo's... never mind that real people in real coastal and near-coastal cities and towns, people and cities absolutely essential to the American economy (not to mention that we prefer staying alive), are made more vulnerable by the budget cuts that delay replacement of this satellite. Proenza learned the rules of life under King Bush: do the right thing, and you WILL be punished for it.

If Poppy and Bar find themselves unexpectedly trapped in a powerful hurricane that hits their hometown of Houston (which just happens to be my hometown as well), I hope they reflect on that decision many decades ago not to use a condom the night they begat the Shrub. They certainly could have saved everyone a lot of trouble.

ellroon said...

Well, we had Poppy bursting into tears a year or so ago when he tried to talk about the wonderfulness of Jeb and how all that was ruined by Georgie....

But I do hope they see up close and uncomfortably how badly their son has hurt the United States and how really really pissed we are....