Weather Satellites:

User Views on the Consequences of Eliminating a Civilian Polar Orbiter

RCED-86-111: Published: Mar 7, 1986. Publicly Released: Mar 7, 1986.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO examined: (1) how the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Department of Defense (DOD), and foreign countries use NOAA polar-orbiting satellites; (2) how the loss of one or both satellites would affect these users; (3) the extent to which the two NOAA geostationary weather satellites or the two DOD weather satellites could compensate the National Weather Service for the loss of the polar orbiters; and (4) the likelihood and expected duration of the loss of all polar-orbiter coverage if a one-polar-orbiter system were instituted.

GAO found that the polar orbiters are used by: (1) NOAA for weather forecasting, search and rescue operations, and other purposes; (2) NASA for climate research; (3) DOD as a supplement and backup to its own weather satellites; and (4) countries worldwide for weather forecasting and environmental data collection. Some NOAA and DOD users indicated that the elimination of one of the NOAA polar-orbiting weather satellites would harm their programs, but most users reported that they could continue their programs with one satellite. All users, however, indicated that the second satellite was important as a backup to the first, and the loss of all services would have serious consequences. According to most users, the NOAA geostationary satellites and DOD weather satellites could not adequately replace NOAA polar orbiters. GAO also found that: (1) in the past, some NOAA polar-orbiting satellites have not been successfully launched, or their launches have been delayed, and some have failed early in orbit; and (2) a repetition of these problems in a one-satellite system could result in the loss of all services for several months or longer.

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