Satellite Program Costs Rise, Output falls

A satellite program crucial to the nation's ability to forecast weather continues to have fundamental, costly acquisition problems.

The price tag for a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration program to replace aging satellites has gone up by $670 million $7.67 billion. That rise coincides with a sharp drop in the data products satellites will produce, from 81 to 34, according to a review by the Government Accountability Office.

You've undoubtedly heard something about these problems before. They're getting worse. This from GAO testimony before the subcommittee on Energy and Environment, Committee on Science and Technology:

"In September 2006, however, NOAA decided to reduce the scope and technical complexity of the GOES-R program because of expectations that total costs, which were originally estimated to be $6.2 billion, could reach $11.4 billion. Specifically, NOAA reduced the minimum number of satellites from four to two, canceled plans for developing a critical instrument--the Hyperspectral Environmental Suite (which reduced the number of planned satellite products from 81 to 68), and divided the Solar Imaging Suite into two separate acquisitions. The agency estimated that the revised program would cost $7 billion. In addition to the reductions in scope, NOAA also delayed the launch of the first satellite from September 2012 to December 2014."

It's another indication that most everywhere you look in the procurement world there are troubles.

"GAO recommended that the program take steps to improve management and
oversight and determine whether and how to recover certain capabilities that were removed
from the program."

By Robert O'Harrow |  April 27, 2009; 2:53 PM ET satellite
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The word "contractor" didn't appear in your post about the GAO report. To what extent is this typical cost growth coupled with shrinking product a result of government mismanagement and deficient oversight, as opposed to contractor malperformance? Is there any evidence of the latter? Who is the contractor(s)?

Posted by: axolotl | April 28, 2009 12:29 PM

Your article raises an inaccurate and outdated view of the next generation GOES-R geostationary satellite program.

NOAA’s geostationary satellites will continue to provide data used for daily weather forecasts and warnings. The current two satellites are operating well and we are launching one replacement this summer and another replacement in 2010. The first next generation GOES-R series satellite launches in 2015.

GOES-R is not over budget. An independent review team in 2007 recommended some program restructuring, which has happened, and the team projected a $7.67 billion budget, which will be met.

The GOES-R series of satellite will be far more capable than what’s in space now. Images will be double in clarity -- providing higher resolution, greater detail, and better data for scientists to produce better and more accurate weather forecasts.

GOES-R will provide more than 20 times the information currently available and will offer a first-ever space-based lightning detection system. GOES-R is well positioned for success and it is being managed through a strong, productive partnership with NASA.

Mary Kicza
Assistant Administrator
NOAA's Satellite and Information Service

Posted by: marykicza | April 30, 2009 1:20 PM

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