A private company could fill the void in weather satellites

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  • Weather Service Director%3Imminent gap in weather data creates risk
  • the satellite gap could last up to 53 months%2C starting as early as 2014
  • Aging satellites could be replaced by private satellites

Over the next few years, some of the United States’ aging weather satellites are expected to deteriorate or fail, potentially leaving a gap in the data forecasters use to predict the weather.

But now a private company — PlanetIQ, based in Bethesda, Maryland — is offering to fill that gap: PlanetIQ’s solution includes launching a constellation of 12 small satellites into low Earth orbit to collect weather data, to which PlanetIQ said the federal government could accede. at lower cost and lower risk than current government-funded efforts.

Anne Hale Miglarese, CEO of PlanetIQ, presented the matter to the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies last Thursday. She said that using PlanetIQ’s proposal:

  • Improve weather forecast accuracy and warning times.
  • Mitigate the risk of detrimental gaps in satellite data.
  • Relieve pressure on existing government satellite programs that are over budget and behind schedule.

Miglarese added that within 28 to 34 months of starting production, all 12 satellites could be in orbit. Regarding cost, she said, “we estimate that for all US civil and defense requirements worldwide for ground and space weather applications, the cost to US government agencies will be less than $70 million per year”.

As the satellites collect the data, PlanetIQ would sell the data to government weather services around the world as well as the US Air Force.

The most recently launched polar-orbiting satellite, sent into space by the government in 2011, cost $1.5 billion.

What does the federal government think of the private satellite option?

“We welcome all reliable data that helps the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service meet the demands of its mission, while being cost effective and properly reflected in our budget,” the National Weather spokesperson wrote. Service Chris Vaccaro in an email.

The impending coverage gap worries the federal government: The US Government Accountability Office recently placed this potential data gap on its “high risk” list, estimating that the gap could last 17 to 53 months or more and start in 2014.

According to the GAO report, government satellite programs have “a troubled legacy of cost increases, missed milestones, technical issues, and management challenges that have resulted in reduced functionality and delays to launch dates.” planned. As a result, the continuity of satellite data is at risk.”

“Without observations from the satellites that orbit our planet from pole to pole, we now know that the computer model that predicted Hurricane Sandy would hit the northeastern United States five days in advance would rather have shown that the storm remained at sea,” Miglarese said.

She added that satellites have “revolutionized our ability to observe the three-dimensional atmosphere day and night. Today, more than 90% of observational data that goes into weather models comes from satellites, and satellite data is one of the most one-day weather forecasts are as good as a three-day forecast ago. 20 years.”

Indeed, satellites remain the “backbone” of the global observing system, according to new National Weather Service director Louis Uccellini, who said last week he was “concerned” about the possible looming gap in satellite coverage. Lack of data would reduce the weather service’s ability to predict the severity of major weather events beyond three days, NOAA spokesman John Ewald said in 2011.

PlanetIQ, which was formed last year, has never launched a satellite. However, Miglarese states that “our strategic investors Moog, Moog Broad Reach Engineering and Millennium Engineering and Integration have designed and manufactured hundreds of space programs, with great success.

“Private capital is ready and waiting,” Miglarese said last week. “But the government’s culture of building and owning its own satellites and the inability to engage is what is holding these job-creating funds back.”

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