Hurricane satellite legislation

It would seem to be a little late in the legislative season to introduce a new bill, but earlier this week Congressmen Ron Klein (D-FL) and Charlie Melancon (D-LA) introduced the Hurricane Satellite Modernization Act. The legislation, according to a Klein press release (the bill is not yet available through Thomas), would authorize the development by NASA of a pair of spacecraft to replace QuikSCAT, a nine-year-old spacecraft that measures ocean surface winds. QuikSCAT has long exceeded its planned lifetime but there are no approved plans yet to replace it; its utility in hurricane forecasting has been debated, including a controversy last year that ultimately led to the dismissal of the head of the National Hurricane Center last summer.

According to a report in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the bill proposes that “two Constellation satellites would be rocketed into space by 2013 at a cost of about $2.8 billion.” Besides the confusing name “Constellation” (a name already reserved for NASA’s new space transportation system), the cost is surprisingly large: the original QuikSCAT satellite had a “total mission cost” of under $100 million when launched in 1999, and proposals to replace it with a single satellite have carried price tags of a few hundred million, not nearly $3 billion.

This is not the first such legislation Congressmen Klein and Melancon have authored: in 2007 they introduced the “Improved Hurricane Tracking and Forecasting Act of 2007″, HR 2531, that authorized a single QuikSCAT replacement satellite at a cost of $375 million. That bill didn’t make it out of committee. In his press release Klein said that their new bill “builds on their previous work” but doesn’t explain the increased cost nor why it’s introduced so late in the current Congress.

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