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The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) program was planned to be a state-of-the-art, environment-monitoring satellite system that would replace two existing polar-orbiting environmental satellite systems — the Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite program and the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program. Managed jointly by the Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Department of Defense (DOD)/U.S. Air Force, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the program was considered critical to the nation's ability to maintain the continuity of data required for weather forecasting and global climate monitoring through the year 2026.
NPOESS satellites were expected to replace the POES and DMSP satellites in the morning, midmorning, and afternoon orbits when they neared the end of their expected life spans. To manage this program, DOD, NOAA, and NASA formed a tri-agency Integrated Program Office, with NOAA responsible for overall program management for the converged system and for satellite operations, the U.S. Air Force responsible for acquisition, and NASA responsible for facilitating the development and incorporation of new technologies into the converged system.
However, in the eight years after the development contract was awarded in 2002, the NPOESS cost estimate had more than doubled — to about $15 billion, launch dates had been delayed by over five years, significant functionality had been removed from the program, and the program's tri-agency management structure had proven to be ineffective. Importantly, delays in launching the satellites put the program's mission at risk.
To address these challenges, a task force led by the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy reviewed the management and governance of the NPOESS program. In February 2010, the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy announced a decision to disband the NPOESS acquisition and, instead, to have NOAA and DOD undertake separate acquisitions, with NOAA responsible for satellites in the afternoon orbit and DOD responsible for satellites in the early morning orbit. After that decision, both agencies began developing plans for their separate programs, called the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS), respectively.