A key hurricane satellite, called QuikSCAT, could fail at anytime according to the NOAA’s Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher. Launched June 19 of 1999 (http://winds.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/quikscat/index.cfm) with a 2-3 year mission life, the satellite is 5-6 years past its projected life span and running on a backup transmitter. According to NASA’s JPL June 5, 2006 status review, “scatterometer antenna bearings” are the highest mission risk at that time. Given the age of the satellite, none of this is surprising.
QuikSCAT allows surface wind measurement over the oceans and the loss of this satellite could negatively impact hurricane path predictions up to 10% to 16% depending on the time frame of the prediction. The satellite was originally scheduled to be replaced in 2009 – great planning there – but officials have said it is currently scheduled to be replaced in 2016, with, get this, a satellite who’s “data will not be particularly helpful for hurricanes” according to Rick Knabb, NHC senior hurricane specialist.
It is refreshing to have honest and forthcoming specialists like Rick Knabb at the National Hurricane Center. One does wonder though, who is planning these replacements.