U.S. Polar-Orbiting Systems


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release
May 10, 1994




For the past three decades, the United States has operated separate civil and military polar-orbiting environmental systems which collect, process and distribute remotely-sensed meteorological, oceanographic, and space environmental data. The U.S. Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is responsible for the Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental and Satellite (POES) program. Key aspects of the POES mission include collecting atmospheric data for weather forecasting, global climate research and emergency search and rescue purposes.

The U.S. Department of Defense is responsible for the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP_. The mission of DMSP is to collect and distribute global visible and infrared cloud data and other specialized meteorological, oceanographic and solar geophysical data to provide a survivable capability in support of military operations.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), through its Earth Observing System (EOS) development efforts, provides new remote sensing and spacecraft technologies that could potentially improve satellite operational capabilities.

The National Performance Review, led by Vice President Gore, called for converging the two operational satellite programs as well as incorporating appropriate aspects of NASA's EOS in order to reduce duplication of effort and generate cost-savings. On May 5, 1994, President Clinton approved the convergence of the civil and military polar-orbiting satellite systems into a single operational program. Details of the convergence plan are provided below.

II. Goals and Principles

The goal of the converged program is to reduce the cost of acquiring and operating polar orbiting operational environmental satellites, while continuing to satisfy U.S. operational civil and national security requirements. As part of this goal, the operational program will incorporate appropriate aspects of NASA's Earth Observing System.

The converged system on-orbit architecture will consist of three low earth orbiting satellites. This is a reduction from the current four satellites (two civilian and two military). The orbits of the three satellites will evenly space throughout the day to provide sufficient data refresh. The nominal equatorial crossing times of the satellites will be 5:30, 9:30 and 1:30. This converged system can accommodate international cooperation, including the open distribution of environmental data.

The converged program will be conducted in accordance with the following principles:

  1. operational environmental data from polar-orbiting satellites are important to the achievement of U.S. economic, national security, scientific, and foreign policy goals;
  2. assured access to operational environmental data will be provided to meet civil and national security requirements and international obligations;
  3. the United States will ensure its ability to selectively deny critical environmental data to an adversary during crisis or war yet ensure the use of such data by U.S. and Allied military forces. Such data will be made available to other uses when it no longer has military utility; and
  4. the implementing actions will be accommodated within the overall resource policy guidance of the President.

III. Implementing Actions

The Department of Commerces and Defense and NASA will create an Integrated Program Office (IPO) for the converged polar-orbiting operational satellite system by October 1, 1994. The IPO will be responsible for the management, acquisition, and operation of the converged system. The IPO will be under the direction of a System Program Director who will report to a triagency Executive Committee via the Department of Commerce's Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere.

The Under Secretary-level Executive Committee will ensure that both civil and national security requirements are satisfied. The Executive Committee will also coordinate program plans, budgets, and policies and will ensure agency funding commitments are equitable and sustained.

The three agencies are developing a process for identifying, validating, and documenting requirements for the converged system. Those requirements will define the system baseline used to develop agency budgets.

The Department of Commerce, through NOAA, will have lead agency responsibility to the Executive Committee for the converged system. NOAA will have lead agency responsibility to support the IPO for satellite operations. NOAA will also have the lead for interfacing with national and international civil user communities, consistent with national security and foreign policy requirements.

The Department of Defense will have lead agency responsibility to support the IPO in major systems acquisition. NASA will have lead agency responsibility to support the IPO in facilitating the development and insertion of new cost-effective technologies to meet operational requirements.

The United States will seek to implement the converged system in a manner that encourages cooperation with foreign governments and international organizations consistent with U.S. requirements. The United States' European partners have been invited to explore incorporating METOP (meteorological operational mission) polar satellite series into the converged system. This effort underscores the importance that the United States places on environmental satellite cooperation with our European partners. The METOP is a joint undertaking of the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), the European Space Agency (ESA), and their member states.


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release
May 10, 1994


The Clinton Administration's decision to converge into a single national system the planned polar-orbiting operational environmental satellite programs of the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was announced today by Vice President Al Gore. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will also participate in the converged system.

The decision implements a recommendation contained in the National Performance Review (NPR), published last September. The savings to the American taxpayers are estimated to be up to $300 million during fiscal years 1996-1999. Additional savings are expected after 1999.

Currently, the Department of Defense and Commerce acquire and operate separate polar-orbiting environmental satellite systems which collect data needed for military and civil weather forecasting. While converging these systems has been a goal of previous Administrations, past efforts have failed to merge them into a single integrated program. Convergence is possible at this time because of clear direction provided by the President and Vice President, and recent technological advances.

In making the announcement, the Vice President said, "For the first time ever, U.S. civil and military environmental satellite programs will be joined. The President's decision will cut costs and eliminate duplication. It takes a nation's space-based environmental monitoring program into the next century. It will satisfy our critical requirements for timely environmental satellite data needed to support civil weather forecasting, global change research and military operations."

The Vice President said: "The decision to converge the satellite environmental system validates the principles that were the foundation of the NPR. Commerce, Defense and NASA have proven that highly motivated and dedicated public servants, empowered to get results, can change for the better the way government serves the people. Building on each other's unique knowledge, the agencies have forged a plan that is a model for interagency cooperation. It epitomizes the spirit and potential of reinventing government."

The President's decision requires the Departments of Defense and Commerce to converge DoD's Defense Meteorological Satellite Program and Commerce's Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite program. This will result in a single national polar-orbiting operational environmental satellite system which will provide data needed to meet U.S. civil and national security requirements, and to fulfill international obligations. NASA's Earth Observing System, and potentially other NASA programs, will provide new remote sensing and spacecraft technologies which could improve the operational capabilities of the converged system.

A single program office will be established to plan for, design, acquire and operate the next generation polar-orbiting weather satellite system. This Integrated Program Office will be staffed by DoD, Commerce and NASA representatives.

As part of the Administration's effort on international cooperation for environmental monitoring, the three agencies will jointly pursue negotiations with the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) on a European-built and operated satellite as part of the converged system.

The Vice President also announced the President's decision to continue the Landsat remote sensing and satellite program and to restructure Federal agency responsibilities for acquiring and operating the next satellite, Landsat 7. Acquisition responsibilities will transfer from DoD to NASA. The Department of Commerce will operate the satellite and its ground system in cooperation with the Department of the Interior, which will maintain the national archive of Landsat data.

This decision insures the continuity and availability of Landsat-type data. This data serves a broad range of users in the United States and abroad, including the agricultural community, global change researchers, state and local governments, commercial users, and the military. 

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