On Friday Congressmen Ron Klein (D-FL) and Charlie Melancon (D-LA) introduced HR 3654, the Hurricane Satellite Modernization Act. The bill would authorize $3 billion for NASA and NOAA in fiscal years 2010 through 2027 (!!) to build and launch a series of spacecraft called the Extended Ocean Vector Winds Mission (XOVWM, an acronym that looks just about impossible to pronounce). XOVWM would replace the existing, but aging, QuikSCAT satellite that measures winds over the ocean, useful for studying hurricanes, among other applications.
Klein, in a press release associated with the bill’s introduction, cites an internal NOAA memo that states that QuikSCAT is likely to fail in “weeks or months”. “This is a serious wake-up call which reminds us we have no time to waste,” Klein said.
If this sounds familiar, it should: last year Klein and Melancon introduced similar legislation authorizing the development of XOVWM. (Compare the current bill with last year’s HR 6993 and you’ll find that they’re essentially identical, with only minor tweaks to the language and the years the funding is authorized for.) Klein said in his statement Friday that he planned to reintroduce the bill this year but “his decision to introduce the legislation today was directly spurred by the NOAA warning” about the impending failure of QuikSCAT. Last year’s bill, though, was introduced at almost the same time as this year’s: September 22, 2008 versus September 25, 2009. If it’s so important, why wait until late in the current session to do so?
There’s also the debate about just how important QuikSCAT is to hurricane forecasting. The Palm Beach Post reports that the NOAA memo states that the loss of QuikSCAT would have little effect on forecasts for storms near the US and Caribbean because of alternative means of collecting the data, although the satellite is useful for studying storms in the open ocean. Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Center, said a QuikSCAT replacement “isn’t critical” but “would be welcome”.