GAO-10-799 September 2010 Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites:
Improvements Needed in Continuity Planning and Involvement of Key Users

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GOES-R Is in Development, but Delays in Key Program Milestones Have Endangered Satellite Continuity

The GOES-R program has continued to make progress in the development of its major projects, but key instruments have experienced technical issues and significant work remains to be completed. Further, key program milestones, including the launch dates for the first two satellites in the series, have been further delayed. As a result, NOAA may not be able to meet its policy of having a backup satellite in orbit at all times, which could lead to a gap in satellite coverage if an existing satellite fails prematurely.

Progress Continues to Be Made on GOES-R Procurement, but Much Work Remains to Be Completed on the Flight and Ground Projects

NOAA and NASA have made progress on the procurement of its two major projects—the flight project and the ground project. The flight project includes contracts for the development of the five key instruments and spacecraft[5] while the ground project includes contracts for the development of key systems needed for the on-orbit operation of the satellites, receipt and processing of information, and distribution of satellite data products to users.

For the flight project, between September 2004 and December 2008, the GOES-R program awarded contracts for the five key instruments and spacecraft. The contractors are making progress in completing key milestones in developing these components. However, due to bid protests of the award of the spacecraft contract in December 2008, work on the contract did not begin until August 2009. As a result of these delays, NOAA later approved a 6-month delay in the launch date for the first satellite (GOES-R), from April 2015 to October 2015, and the second satellite (GOES-S), from August 2016 to February 2017. Program officials stated that the estimated program life-cycle cost estimate remains steady at $7.67 billion. Table 4 describes the development contracts for the flight project, including their contract award date, and their cost and schedule estimates.

Table 4: Description of Flight Project Development Efforts, as of June 2010
Flight project component Description Contract award date Scheduled completion date Original contract cost (excludes award fees)
Instruments        
Advanced Baseline Imager Expected to provide variable area imagery and radiometric information of the Earth's surface, atmosphere, and cloud cover. Sept. 2004 June 2012 $255 million
Space Environmental In-Situ Suite Expected to provide information on space weather to aid in the prediction of disturbances and disruptions of radio communications and navigation systems. Aug. 2006 June 2012 $51 million
Extreme Ultraviolet/X-Ray Irradiance Sensor Expected to provide real-time measurement of solar activity in the Extreme Ultraviolet and X-ray spectrum. Aug. 2007 June 2012 $55 million
Solar Ultraviolet Imager Expected to observe the sun's ultraviolet emissions and provide early detection and location of flares and coronal mass ejections. Sept. 2007 Oct. 2012 $112 million
Geostationary Lightning Mapper Expected to continuously monitor lightning activity over the United States and adjacent oceans. Dec. 2007 Sept. 2012 $58 million
Spacecraft Expected to provide the platform for instruments and communication systems. The spacecraft contract also includes development of the sixth instrument, the Magnetometer, which is expected to measure the magnitude and direction of the Earth's magnetic field. Dec. 2008 Sept. 2015 $691 million

For the ground project, a contract for one of three key subcomponents, the Core Ground System, was awarded in May 2009, and contracts for the two other subcomponents are planned to be awarded in July 2010. The Core Ground System is of critical importance because it provides for command and control and ground processing capabilities for GOES-R satellites and instruments. Table 5 describes the development contracts for the ground project, including their contract award date, and their cost and schedule estimates, while figure 4 depicts the schedule for both the overall GOES-R program as well as the flight and ground projects.

Table 5: Description of Ground Project Development Efforts, as of June 2010
Ground project component Description Contract award date Scheduled completion date Original contract cost (excludes award fees)
Core Ground System Expected to (1) provide command and control of GOES-R satellites and instruments, (2) receive and process information from the instruments and spacecraft, and (3) distribute satellite data products to users. May 2009 Sept. 2015 $615 million
GOES-R Access Subsystem Expected to provide ingestion of data and distribution for GOES-R products and data to authorized users. When completed, this subsystem will be integrated into the Core Ground System. Planned July 2010 Planned June 2016 n/a
Antennas Expected to provide six new antenna stations and modify four existing antennas to receive GOES-R data. The antenna contract is also expected to include the construction of related infrastructure, software development for control systems, and maintenance. Planned July 2010 Planned June 2016 n/a


Figure 4: Planned Schedule for GOES-R Program and Key Development Efforts, as of June 2010
Refer to the accessible text file at http://www.gao.gov/htext/d10799.html for a description of this graphic.

Back to topFlight Project—Progress Made, but Two Instruments Have Experienced
Technical Challenges

The GOES-R program has continued to make progress on the development of the spacecraft and five key instruments. After starting work on the spacecraft contract in August 2009, the contractor worked to establish the initial cost and schedule baseline and completed a key program milestone intended to demonstrate that the spacecraft concept meets mission requirements. The contractor is currently conducting preliminary design activities and plans to assess the readiness of the program to proceed with detailed design activities in January 2011. In addition, three instruments, the Extreme Ultraviolet/X-Ray Irradiance Sensor, the Solar Ultraviolet Imager, and the Space Environmental In-Situ Suite have recently completed critical design reviews. Completion of this review is intended to demonstrate that the instruments' detailed design is appropriate to support proceeding to full-scale fabrication, assembly, integration, and testing.

Two other instruments—the Advanced Baseline Imager and the Geostationary Lightning Mapper—have experienced significant technical issues, which have resulted in cost increases and schedule delays to the contractors' performance baselines. The Advanced Baseline Imager program has experienced technical issues primarily related to underestimating the design and development complexity of two components—the focal planes and telescope, which led to cost increases and delays in developing the prototype model. As a result, in September 2009, the program office rebaselined the cost and schedule targets of the Advanced Baseline Imager program.[6] This increased contract costs from the most recent estimate of $375 million to $537 million, an increase of $162 million, and delayed the completion of the prototype model from March 2010 to December 2010. Program officials reported that the rebaseline did not affect the instrument's completion date and that they have sufficient contingency reserves to address the cost overruns experienced to date, meaning that these system-specific cost overruns will not affect the overall GOES-R program's cost.[7] The program is currently testing the prototype model and plans to conduct an updated critical design review in January 2011 to validate any required design changes as a result of testing.[8]

The Geostationary Lightning Mapper experienced technical issues primarily related to underestimating the design complexity of the instrument, as well as an architecture change that significantly increased the electronics design and fabrication cost. As a result, in March 2010, the program office rebaselined the cost and schedule targets of the Geostationary Lightning Mapper program, which increased contract costs from $71 million to $157 million, an increase of about $86 million, and delayed the contract completion from June 2012 to September 2012—a 3-month delay.[9] According to GOES-R program officials, contingency funds are available to cover these changes and they will not affect the overall cost or schedule of the GOES-R program. In addition, the program replaced the development of a prototype model with an engineering development unit, which requires less rigorous development procedures and testing requirements. For example, the planned engineering development unit is not required to undergo comprehensive environmental testing to validate that the instrument will meet mission objectives in the launch and space environment. According to GOES-R program officials, this decision was made to reduce program risk because the schedule for development of the prototype model and production model would have otherwise overlapped—thus reducing the inherent benefits of a prototype model. However, the lack of a prototype model increases the risk that design issues that would have been identified during more comprehensive testing will surface in the production model, when it is too late to make changes.

The status and program-identified risk level of each of the components of the flight project is described in table 6.

Table 6: Status of Flight Project, as of June 2010
Component Status Program-identified risk level
Instruments    
Advanced Baseline Imager This instrument was rebaselined in September 2009 due to continued technical issues related to underestimating the design and development complexity of two components—the focal planes and telescope. Currently, the program is testing a prototype model, which is planned to be completed in October 2010. An updated critical design review is planned for December 2010. This instrument is to be delivered for integration on the spacecraft by June 2012. Cost: low
Schedule: medium
Technical: low
Space Environmental In-Situ Suite This instrument completed a critical design review in June 2010 and is currently conducting development and testing activities. This instrument is to be delivered for integration on the spacecraft by June 2012. Cost: low
Schedule: low
Technical: low
Extreme Ultraviolet/X-Ray Irradiance Sensor This instrument completed a critical design review in November 2009 and is currently conducting development and testing activities. This instrument is to be delivered for integration on the spacecraft by June 2012. Cost: low
Schedule: low
Technical: low
Solar Ultraviolet Imager This instrument completed a critical design review in December 2009 and is conducting development and testing activities. This instrument is to be delivered for integration on the spacecraft by October 2012. Cost: low
Schedule: low
Technical: low
Geostationary Lightning Mapper This instrument was rebaselined in March 2010 due to technical issues related to underestimating the design complexity of the instrument. Currently, the program is conducting development and testing activities. A critical design review is planned for November 2010. This instrument is to be delivered for integration on the spacecraft by September 2012. Cost: low
Schedule: medium
Technical: medium
Spacecraft Due to protests of the contract award, the start of the spacecraft contract was delayed 8 months to August 2009. Subsequently, the contractor worked to establish the initial cost and schedule baseline and completed a key program milestone intended to demonstrate that the spacecraft concept meets mission requirements. A preliminary design review for the spacecraft is planned for January 2011. The spacecraft is planned to be completed by September 2015. Cost: low
Schedule: low
Technical: low

Our analysis of contractor-provided earned value management data[10] showed that most components of the flight project were on track between May 2009 and April 2010. Specifically, contractors for three instruments—the Extreme Ultraviolet/X-Ray Irradiance Sensor, the Space Environmental In-Situ Suite, and the Solar Ultraviolet Imager—and the spacecraft are generally meeting cost and schedule targets. The other two instruments, the Advanced Baseline Imager and the Geostationary Lightning Mapper, are meeting their revised cost and schedule targets since completing their rebaselining efforts in September 2009 and March 2010, respectively.

Back to topGround Project—Development Is Under Way, but Important Work
Remains to Be Done

Development of the ground project is under way. After awarding the contract for the Core Ground System in May 2009, the contractor has been conducting system definition activities and plans to conduct a preliminary design review in February 2011 to assess the readiness of the program to proceed with detailed design activities.

However, the awards of two additional ground project contracts have been delayed and important work remains to be completed. For example, contract award for the GOES-R Access Subsystem has slipped 6 months, from January 2010 to July 2010. These delays were due, in part, to delays in releasing the request for proposals. Award of the antennas contract has also been delayed by 3 months. Both contracts are critical to ensuring that GOES-R data are received, stored, and distributed to users. The status and program-identified risk level of each of the components of the ground project is described in table 7.

Table 7: Status of Ground Project, as of June 2010
Component Status Program-identified risk level
Core Ground System After the contract award for this system in May 2009, the contractor has been conducting system definition activities and plans to conduct a preliminary design review in February 2011. A critical design review is planned for September 2011. Cost: low
Schedule: low
Technical: low
GOES-R Access Subsystem Originally planned for award in January 2010, this contract is scheduled to be awarded in July 2010—a delay of about 6 months. These delays were due, in part, to delays in releasing the request for proposals. The GOES-R Access Subsystem is planned for completion in June 2016. Cost: low
Schedule: low
Technical: low
Antennas This contract was originally planned for award in April 2010 but has been delayed to July 2010. According to program officials, these delays are due, in part, to delays in developing the system's requirements and releasing the request for proposals. GOES-R antennas are expected to be completed by June 2016. Cost: low
Schedule: low
Technical: low

Our analysis of contractor-provided earned value management data for the Core Ground System indicates that cost and schedule performance were generally on track between June 2009 and April 2010. Between these dates, the contractor for the Core Ground System completed work slightly under budget.

Back to topContinued Delays in Launch Dates Put the Continuity of Satellite Operations at Risk

Over the last few years, NOAA has delayed the satellite launch dates several times. We previously reported that, since 2006, the launch of the first satellite had been delayed from September 2012 to April 2015—a slip of more than 30 months.[11] These delays were due, in part, to delays in releasing the requests for proposals for the spacecraft and Core Ground System and additional time needed to evaluate the contract proposals. Since our last report, NOAA further delayed key GOES-R program milestones by 6 months, including the dates when the first two satellites in the series would be available for launch. These recent delays were due to bid protests of the award of the spacecraft contract in December 2008, which delayed the start of work until August 2009. In order to allow sufficient time for the 72-month development cycle required for the spacecraft, NOAA approved a 6-month delay in the launch dates for the first two satellites in the series. Table 8 identifies the delays in the satellite launch dates over time.

Table 8: Delays in Satellite Launch Dates
  As of
June 2006
As of
July 2007
As of
March 2009
As of
November 2009
First satellite launch (GOES-R) Sept. 2012 Dec. 2014 Apr. 2015 Oct. 2015
Second satellite launch (GOES–S) Apr. 2014 Apr. 2016 Aug. 2016 Feb. 2017

While NOAA's policy is to have two operational satellites and one backup satellite in orbit at all times, continued delays in the launch of the first GOES-R satellite could lead to a gap in satellite coverage. This policy proved useful in December 2008, when NOAA experienced problems with GOES-12, but was able to use GOES-13 as an operational satellite until the problems were resolved. However, beginning in April 2015, NOAA expects to have two operational satellites in orbit (GOES-14 and GOES-15), but it will not have a backup satellite in place until GOES-R is launched and completes an estimated 6-month post-launch test period—resulting in a 12-month gap during which time a backup satellite would not be available. Figure 5 below depicts this gap in backup coverage.

Figure 5: Continuity of Satellite Operations
Refer to the accessible text file at http://www.gao.gov/htext/d10799.html for a description of this graphic.

If NOAA experiences a problem with either of its operational satellites before GOES-R is in orbit and operating, it will need to rely on older satellites that are beyond their expected operational lives and therefore may not be fully functional. Any further delays in the launch of the first satellite in the GOES-R program would likely continue to increase the risk of a gap in satellite coverage.

[5]A sixth instrument, the Magnetometer, is planned to be developed as part of the spacecraft contract.

[6]This is the Advanced Baseline Imager program's third rebaseline. The program office rebaselined the cost and schedule of the program in February 2007 and rebaselined the program schedule again in March 2008. In addition, contract costs increased from $255 million to $375 million—a total increase of about $120 million—in part, because of the February 2007 rebaseline and other contract modifications.

[7]As of May 2010, the GOES-R program office reported that the flight project had contingency reserves of approximately $455 million.

[8]The first critical design review for this instrument occurred in February 2007.

[9]Contract costs increased from $58 million to $71 million—a total increase of about $13 million, as a result of contract modifications negotiated, in part, to reduce program risk.

[10]Earned value management integrates the investment scope of work with schedule and cost elements for investment planning and control. The method compares the value of work accomplished during a given period with that of work expected in the period. Differences in expectations are measured in both cost and schedule variances. The Office of Management and Budget requires agencies to use earned value management as part of their performance-based management system for any investment under development or with system improvements under way.

[11]GAO-06-993, GAO-08-18, and GAO-09-323.

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