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IG Report: NOAA Should Reevaluate Launch Plans for Geostationary Environmental Satellites

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A report from the Department of Commerce’s inspector general recommends that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration perform an analysis of alternatives or related assessments to determine whether to continue the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R program’s approach of “managing schedules toward the earliest possible launch dates.”

The IG office assessed the GOES-R program’s progress in attaining launch readiness for GOES-T, the third satellite in the GOES-R series, and found that the program “works toward the earliest achievable launch dates at potentially increased development risk,” according to an audit report published Thursday.

The GOES-T satellite was scheduled to lift off on Feb. 16, according to the IG report. In December, NASA announced that the satellite is set to launch on March 1 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

The inspector general also recommends that NOAA carry out a cost-benefit analysis of geostationary coverage availability thresholds and use schedule, costs and technical performance data to evaluate the cost effectiveness of satellite on ground and on-orbit storage options.

NOAA should also find out “the cost of operating spare satellites on orbit versus alternative options, including consideration of constellation longevity and satellite development risks, to help inform optimal acquisition and launch strategies” and record “storage option considerations early in the acquisition process to optimize satellite storage alternatives.”

The IG found that NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Services has not assessed tradeoffs of satellite ground storage and is “planning GOES launches sooner than its policy requires without analyzing the costs.”