Peak Satellite?

Tim De Chant fears the likelihood that “sometime in 2016, for the first time in over 50 years, the U.S. won’t have a polar orbiting weather satellite”:

Currently, the U.S. has 24 Earth-observing satellites in orbit. Their missions are widely varied, covering more than just weather. There are satellites that monitor tropical rainfall (key in our understanding and prediction of hurricanes), keep an eye on land-use change (important for urban development and habitat conservation), and observe the ice sheets that cover Greenland and Antarctica (an indicator of sea level rise). …

In 2007, the National Research Council issued a report on the overall status of the U.S. Earth observation system. What they found wasn’t promising.

“The extraordinary U.S. foundation of global observations is at great risk,” they wrote. Today, more than five years later, the situation hasn’t improved. Of the 15 satellite missions reviewed for that report, “I believe two of those are actually on track,” says Dennis Lettenmaier, a hydrogeologist at the University of Washington and member of the NRC committee. Budget shortfalls have jeopardized nearly every program. “Notionally, at least, there was enough money to do all those things, so it wasn’t supposed to be about there not being enough money,” he says. That changed when the economy soured. When NASA started running short on funds, it went looking for programs to cut. Satellites that were many years away from launch got the ax. “NASA basically just dropped them all,” Lettenmaier says.