NOAA chief slams contractors for satellite delays

The head of the nation's lead climatic research agency sharply criticized Northrop Grumman and Raytheon for delays in fixing problems with a key weather sensor planned for use on a satellite system that monitors worldwide environmental conditions.

Conrad Lautenbacher, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, told a meeting this week of the tri-agency executive committee for the $12.5 billion National Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite System that he was "extremely disappointed" in the pace of work by Northrop Grumman and Raytheon to resolve problems with an important weather instrument on the system.

The instrument, called the Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite, is designed to collect atmospheric data, including information on clouds and sea surface temperature.

"The contractor's lack of progress on fixing several technical issues is unacceptable and has resulted in significant delays to the original VIIRS planned delivery," Lautenbacher said

NOAA and the Defense Department are jointly developing the system in partnership with NASA.

In April 2007, the Government Accountability Office reported that the NPOESS program had experienced "significant difficulties" with the VIIRS sensor, including image quality and reliability during testing. The GAO also reported that due to an increase in costs, the number of satellites had been reduced from six to four, with the launch of the first pushed back from 2009 to 2013.

The sensor is slated to first go into orbit on a NASA test satellite called the NPOESS Preparatory Project, whose launch date has slipped from 2006 to 2010. NOAA said the current problems would further delay VIIRS, but did not say by how much.

Dave Desilets, a spokesman for Raytheon, which is developing the sensor as a subcontractor to Northrop Grumman, the prime NPOESS contractor, said the delays have been caused by a cryoradiator designed to cool the electronics to minus 315 degrees. Desilets said Raytheon has made modifications to the cryoradiator "to increase its robustness [and] to ensure it could better withstand the launch environment. We were able to optimize the design as a result of this work, and the cryoradiator has successfully passed the scheduled vibration environmental tests."

Sally Koris, a spokeswoman for Northrop Grumman, said her company is working with NOAA to insure the satellite program remains on cost and schedule, and that the spacecraft are on schedule and within budget.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.