The National Academy of Sciences is warning that the nation’s satellite fleet is in need of a serious upgrade. According to the latest report of the academy’s National Research Council (NRC), U.S. satellites are aging and many will soon reach the end of their life expectancy, even as plans to replace them have been delayed by budget cutbacks and other technical difficulties. NASA officials responded to the NRC report calling it “overly pessimistic” and pointing out that satellites frequently outlive their projected expiration dates.
Of the 22 satellites or satellite systems operated by NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), only 6 may be still in orbit by the end of this decade. New satellite missions have been scrubbed or have met with other setbacks and delays. In 2009 and 2011, there were two significant launch failures of satellites. In a similar report in 2007, the NRC had recommended 17 satellite launches for the coming 10-year period; half way into this phase, only 2 are even scheduled.
We have all grown quite accustomed to the benefits of Earth-observing satellites, whether we realize it or not. Besides GPS for navigation, there’s satellite TV (even cable TV uses satellites), Doppler radar for weather forecasting, and oh, yeah—cell phones. Although military and intelligence satellites are not at risk, those that gather scientific data and beam it down to earth 24/7 are facing a dire situation. A rapid decline in their capability will affect agriculture, forestry, geology, oceanography, and climatology, among others. Hurricane and tornado tracking depend on satellites, and without them the ability to issue advance warnings would mean far greater destruction and loss of life as a result of such storms.
Image credit: © NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz
U.S. Could Lose Aging Eyes in the Sky
This article covers the critical situation of the decline in Earth-observing satellites.
(Source: CNN, May 20, 2012)
Our View of Earth from Space Is in Danger
Read about the “dire situation” of aging U.S. satellites; includes a photo gallery with instructive captions describing the functions of the many and varied types of satellites from which we gain global info.
(Source: Wired, May 7, 2012)
How Satellites Work
Learn the nuts and bolts (and apogees, gyroscopes, accelerometers …) of satellites—how they work, what they do, even how to spot and track one yourself.
(Source: How Stuff Works; accessed May 31, 2012)
Radar, Drones Could Offset Aging Satellites during Hurricane Season
This article focuses especially on how weather forecasting and storm tracking would be affected not only by the loss of satellite capabilities but by the use of unmanned drones.
(Source: WTSP.com, May 24, 2012)
Rapid Decline in U.S. Satellites Could Be Costly
Check out this site for constantly updated news and views on the science of the Earth and the cosmos; includes photos and a link to download the original NRC report.
(Source: EarthSky, May 8, 2012)