It's the next generation of weather satellite, a technological marvel intended to save lives with faster, more accurate hurricane warnings and better weather intelligence for military operations
But a government investigation says the new polar satellite program is more than $3 billion over budget and as much as three years behind schedule.
Why? The report blames “poor management oversight” by government agencies.
“I mean, what the hell is going on?” asks Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Science Committee. “You’ve got to get the people together to monitor this carefully to ensure that the very top people are on top of the situation.”
The launch date of 2008, Boehlert says, has now been pushed back to 2011, perhaps even later.
Critics say that is cause for serious concern because the new satellite system is supposed to replace existing weather satellites that might not last until 2011.
“If this satellite isn’t in orbit soon, there will be gaps in our weather coverage and, in addition, the coverage we do have won’t be detailed enough,” says space analyst Loren Thompson of The Lexington Institute, a non-partisan think tank.
The head of the satellite program's lead agency concedes there have been technical difficulties but says the program is now back on track and insists that other satellites, including some soon to be launched in Europe, will ensure there's no gap in weather forecasting in the U.S.
“The American public does not need to worry about a killer hurricane coming ashore that we cannot see and we cannot predict,” says Conrad Lautenbacher of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “We have the continuity, and we will maintain it.”
But some in Congress want to know: At what cost?
“We’re being fleeced!” says Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn. “And really, this is not a systems problem, this is a personnel problem, and it’s just a shame that we had to waste all these dollars.”
It's a vital $7 billion program, now approaching $11 billion, with nowhere to go, critics say, but up.