Going Blind: The Coming Satellite Crisis

Yours truly, reporting for NOVA Next:

Since the 1960 launch of TIROS, there has never been a moment when the U.S. hasn’t had a weather satellite in low Earth orbit. The latest is Suomi NPP, a next-generation satellite that was originally a testbed for advanced sensors and was only intended to last three years. Because of problems with its now-cancelled replacement, the National Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite System, or NPOESS, it’s now being asked to serve for five years. Yet even that won’t be enough. It’s likely that sometime in 2016, for the first time in over 50 years, the U.S. won’t have a polar orbiting weather satellite.

And that’s just one piece of a larger, potentially more ominous picture. We here in the U.S. are in danger of losing the majority of our Earth-observing satellites. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time.

This is my first piece for NOVA Next, that thing I’ve been working on for the past several months, and I’m really pleased I had the opportunity to cover such an important but relatively unknown story. The satellite gap will affect hundreds of millions of people, maybe more. But we’re powerless until we understand the problem. Hopefully this article helps with that.

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