Weather Satellites:

Action Needed to Resolve Status of the U.S. Geostationary Satellite Program

NSIAD-91-252: Published: Jul 24, 1991. Publicly Released: Aug 7, 1991.

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Mark E. Gebicke
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) joint efforts to develop and acquire the next generation of geostationary weather satellites, GOES-Next, focusing on: (1) cost, schedule, and technical status; (2) reasons for program problems that led to cost increases and schedule delays; and (3) options available for preventing a gap in U.S. geostationary weather satellite coverage.

GAO found that: (1) since NOAA submitted the fiscal year (FY) 1991 budget, the total estimated funding requirements increased from $1.3 billion to over $1.7 billion; (2) the first scheduled launch date for GOES-Next slipped from June 1991 to October 1992, a 3-year delay since the original July 1989 launch date; (3) technical problems with GOES-Next instruments and satellite control systems continue to cause significant cost increases and schedule delays; (4) NOAA and NASA halted work on the last three GOES-Next satellites to define and resolve technical problems; (5) reasons for past and present program difficulties included design complexity, inadequate technical management, poor contractor coordination and workmanship, and inadequate program management; (6) the United States could experience a lack of geostationary satellite coverage if the GOES-7, the sole geostationary weather satellite now in operation, fails before GOES-Next or a replacement satellite is in orbit; and (7) the only alternative that addresses the current risk to U.S. weather forecast operations is the purchase of a foreign-owned satellite, which would resolve the risk of a loss or degradation of satellite coverage in 1993 or later if the GOES-Next program is further delayed or cancelled and allow time for further repairs to GOES-7 if NOAA decides to proceed with the program.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: NOAA requested a technical evaluation of the contractor's recovery plan. The assessment was completed in September 1991, after which the Secretary of Commerce restructured the program. No congressional action was needed.

    Matter: In view of the continuing technical problems in the GOES-Next Program, Congress should direct NASA and NOAA to report by the end of FY 1991 on their progress in resolving existing problems and the time frame and cost for achieving proposed solutions. FY 1992 funds for the production and testing of GOES-Next satellites should be withheld until a favorable solution is identified and reported to Congress.

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Action on this recommendation was dependent on action on the previous recommendation. After the restructuring by the Department of Commerce, no congressional action was taken.

    Matter: Congress should direct NOAA to develop a plan identifying the actions NOAA intends to take should it lose satellite coverage during the period of transition from its GOES-7 to future satellite operations. The action plan should, at a minimum, consider the near-term and long-term benefits, risks, timing, and cost of each alternative identified by GAO and NOAA.


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