On February 1, 2010, the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) announced that NOAA and the Air Force would no longer continue to jointly procure the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). In a press release, the OSTP stated that the major challenge of NPOESS was jointly executing the program between three agencies of different size with divergent objectives and different acquisition procedures. Thus ended an inter-agency effort whose origins date back to 1960.
As originally conceived, the NPOESS program was intended to provide the next generation of low earth orbiting (LEO) weather satellites to replace the Department of Commerce's (DOC) Polar Operational Environmental Satellite (POES) and the Department of Defense's (DoD) Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP). After numerous attempts between 1972 and 1992, convergence was finally enabled by strong support from Congress, a National Performance Review report (from the Reinventing Government initiative led by Vice President Gore), and the urging of the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB). On May 1994, convergence of POES and DMSP was initiated by Presidential Decision Directive (PDD/NSTC-2). NASA was included to provide new remote sensing and spacecraft technologies that could improve the capabilities of the operational system. The NPOESS Integrated Program Office (IPO) was formally established in October 1994.
Over the years, the program faced significant technical and programmatic challenges. Between 2002 and 2005, funding cuts combined with major cost growth and schedule delays (primarily associated with the principal imaging instrument), led to a mandatory Nunn-McCurdy review and certification of the program. As part of the this process, the program was restructured and six instruments were demanifested. The problems during and following this time frame collectively led to multiple slips in the planned launch of the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP). NPP served as both risk reduction for NPOESS, and as a mission to provide continuity between the end-of-life for the Earth Observing System's Aqua and Terra missions and the first NPOESS satellite. The recent divergence decision has resulted in a return to the past with separate, but coordinated LEO weather satellite programs being pursued by the DoD and DOC.
In order to capture insights from the NPOESS program for the benefit of the nation's civil and military acquisition communities, the acting Program Executive Officer (PEO) for environmental satellites initiated a study in February 2010. This presentation briefly reviews the results of the study using a narrative of the NPOESS program to frame and discuss lessons that may benefit future space programs.