Reasons for Lack of Replacement for Failed Weather Satellite

RCED-84-198: Published: Aug 31, 1984. Publicly Released: Oct 1, 1984.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO conducted an investigation into the reasons why the United States does not have a satellite to replace a weather satellite that failed. In addition, it reviewed National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) policies, plans, and procurement procedures concerning the weather satellite program.

GAO found that NOAA and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) share the responsibility for the development and maintenance of two geostationary operational environmental satellites (GOES). On July 9, 1984, the GOES that provided coverage of the eastern United States failed after 3 years of operation. A replacement GOES is scheduled to be available in 1986; one is not currently available because NASA and NOAA technical experts projected that the GOES would have a 5-year life span. By moving the operational GOES to a central location, GOES coverage is provided for the continental United States but not for the eastern Atlantic or western Pacific oceans. GAO found that increased contractor costs and budgetary constraints precluded NOAA from purchasing a backup satellite. In 1982, the Office of Management and Budget approved a NOAA procurement plan to purchase two GOES from the same contractor who produced the first two. While a two-satellite system may not be available in this decade, NOAA procurement plans will increase the likelihood of continuous two-satellite coverage by the 1990's. NOAA plans to contract to buy three satellites and has an option to buy two additional satellites to provide more backup in case of satellite failures than has been the case in the past. The budget is currently being reviewed by the Department of Commerce.

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