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Updated: July 8th, 2008 05:26 PM CDT

Budgets Imperil Environmental Satellites

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By Matt Crenson
AP National Writer

The space agency has said that many science programs that have had their budgets slashed or eliminated will be revived if the budgetary situation improves.

Meanwhile, the list of delayed, downsized and canceled satellites is a long one:

_NASA's Earth Observing System was conceived in the 1980s as a 15-year program that would collect comprehensive data about the planet's oceans, atmosphere and land surface. It was originally intended to send three generations of spacecraft into orbit at five-year intervals, but budget shortfalls limited the project to only one round of launches.

_Landsat, a series of satellites that have provided detailed images of the ground surface for more than 30 years, is in danger of experiencing a gap in service. Landsat 7, launched in April 1999, is scheduled to be replaced by a next-generation satellite in 2011. But if the existing satellite fails before that date and NASA has not developed a contingency plan, scientists, land managers and others who depend on Landsat images could be out of luck.

_The launch of a satellite designed to measure rainfall over the entire Earth, the Global Precipitation Measurement mission, has been pushed back to 2012. But the satellite it is designed to replace, the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, can't possibly last that long. That means there will be a period of several years when scientists have no access to the accurate global precipitation measurements that help them improve hurricane forecasts and predict the severity of droughts and flooding.

_In December, scientists working on the Hydros mission received a letter canceling their program. They were developing a satellite that would measure soil moisture and differentiate between frozen and unfrozen ground, an increasingly important distinction since melting of the Arctic permafrost has accelerated over the past several decades. The satellite also would have improved drought and flood forecasting.


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