Thursday, October 22, 2009

Satellite highs and lows

I worked on a couple of pieces published recently in The Economist on satellites (the second appeared in the Business section). I think the continued problems with America's NPOESS program are significant for us all, wherever we live. We all rely on the data from Earth observing satellites, even if that is invisible to us in our day-to-day lives. Whether it is predicting the course of hurricanes, or the effects of climate change, earth observation matters.

The White House has a big challenge on its hands. Any changes to the NPOESS programme which is currently facing a significant chance of failure will cost money. And Congress is mightily sick of being asked for more money to make NPOESS work. The solution is difficult for everyone to swallow but it is simply to put one agency in charge of the programme (in my mind preferably NOAA because it will improve the data we get), and simply swallow any extra cost. It might help if the contractors were paid on delivery as well.

Satellites in the alphabet soup

Oct 15th 2009
From The Economist print edition
America’s next generation of Earth-observation satellites is in trouble

WITHOUT satellites, both forecasting the weather and studying the climate would be a lot harder than they are. Such satellites, however, need replacing from time to time, and those used by the Americans are coming to the end of their useful lives. Unfortunately, the plan for their replacement is in chaos. Indeed, the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System, NPOESS, as the replacement system is known, has suffered so many delays and budget increases that its whole future is in doubt. If things go badly wrong, crucial data about the climate could be lost. (More)


Oct 8th 2009
The spread of satellite television bolsters a once shaky business

EARTH may have been hit hard, but the recession, it turns out, has not done much damage in space. Turnover among operators of satellites in geostationary orbit (GEO) grew by 7-8% last year, according to Northern Sky Research (NSR); analysts at Euroconsult, a rival research firm, put the figure even higher, at 11%. The three biggest firms in the business—SES, based in The Hague, Intelsat, based in Washington, DC, and Eutelsat, based in Paris—brought in combined revenues of over $6 billion. SES and Eutelsat boast profit margins of over 25%. NSR predicts that in the next decade the business of leasing satellite capacity will grow by an average of 4.3% a year. (More)