The Obameter

Support improved weather prediction program

Will work to launch "without further delay" the Global Precipitation Measurement mission, "an international effort to improve climate, weather, and hydrological predictions through more accurate and more frequent precipitation measurements."


Updates

Key observatory was launched in 2014 and is operating smoothly

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama said he would work to launch the Global Precipitation Measurement mission, "an international effort to improve climate, weather, and hydrological predictions through more accurate and more frequent precipitation measurements."

The last time we looked at this promise -- in February 2012 -- we rated it a Compromise, because the pivotal scheduled launch had been pushed back. By now, though, the launch has taken place, and science experts say the system is working well.

As we've previously noted, scientists have a hard time studying rain, snow and ice because the amounts that fall vary widely even within small distances and because weather events can emerge and disappear quickly. That's where the Global Precipitation Measurement system comes in.

NASA has been collaborating with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency on the mission, which includes space-borne "core observatory" designed to help unify and advance measurements from a constellation of multinational research and operational satellites carrying microwave sensors. A second, smaller "Low Inclination Orbiter" had been planned, but it was canceled in the fiscal year 2012 budget.

The U.S. and Japanese space agencies launched the GPM Core Observatory satellite on Feb. 27, 2014. It carried advanced instruments to collect precipitation data that is used "to unify precipitation measurements made by an international network of partner satellites to quantify when, where, and how much it rains or snows around the world," according to NASA.

NASA bills the project as something that advances "our understanding of Earth's water and energy cycles, improves the forecasting of extreme events that cause natural disasters, and extends current capabilities of using satellite precipitation information to directly benefit society."

Marcia Smith, the founder and editor of SpacePolicyOnline.com, told PolitiFact that within the space community, the mission is considered successful. The core observatory is "working with a constellation of other international satellites, and the ones that are in orbit now seem to be working fine, so it's a success story," she said.  

While some of the fruits of the mission's data will advance uncontroversial activities, such as forecasting floods, droughts and hurricanes as well as improving agricultural intelligence, NASA counts on the data also bringing better information about the earth's water cycle and its connection to climate change. That could make the mission a target in a Donald Trump administration that has expressed skepticism about climate change.

For now, though, Obama has presided over the launch of the mission's key piece of hardware -- albeit belatedly -- and it now seems to be functioning well. We rate this a Promise Kept.

Sources:

NASA, "Global Precipitation Measurement Mission" (main web page), accessed Dec. 21, 2016

Climate Central, "A Climate Denialist Is Leading the NASA Transition," Dec. 6, 2016

Email interview with Marcia Smith, founder and editor of spacepolicyonline.com, Dec. 20, 2016

Mission still under way, but one element is scrapped, and launch date has slipped

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama said he would work to launch "without further delay" the Global Precipitation Measurement mission, "an international effort to improve climate, weather, and hydrological predictions through more accurate and more frequent precipitation measurements."

First, some background on the mission. Scientists have a hard time studying rain, snow and ice because the amounts that fall vary widely even within small distances and because weather events can emerge and disappear quickly.

"Reliable ground-based precipitation measurements are difficult to obtain over regional and global scales because most of the world is covered by water and many countries are not equipped with precision rain-measuring sensors," NASA says. "The only practical way to obtain useful regional and global scale precipitation measurements is from the vantage point of a space-based remote sensing instrument."

Thus the effort to launch Global Precipitation Mission. NASA is working with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to launch the mission, which will feature a space-borne "Core Observatory" designed to help unify and advance measurements from a constellation of multinational research and operational satellites carrying microwave sensors. According to NASA, "GPM will provide uniformly calibrated precipitation measurements globally every 2-4 hours for scientific research and societal applications. The GPM Core Observatory sensor measurements will for the first time make quantitative observations of precipitation particle size distribution, which is key to improving the accuracy of precipitation estimates by microwave radiometers and radars."

On Dec. 2, 2009, NASA officially approved key elements of the mission, allowing the project to move forward. Work on the project continues. In May 2011, the satellite was tested at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland to simulate the increased feeling of gravity"s pull on the satellite during launch. And an effort to test ground-validation capabilities for the satellite, known as the GPM Cold-season Precipitation Experiment, began on Jan. 17, 2012, and is scheduled to run through Feb. 29, 2012.

Despite the progress, though, the project has been scaled back. NASA had planned to build two spacecraft -- the "core,” and a second, smaller "Low Inclination Orbiter.” That smaller satellite was canceled in the fiscal year 2012 budget.

In addition, the timeline for launch has slipped. At the time we last checked this promise, in December 2009, the launch was planned for 2013. Since then, it slipped to 2014.

Aerospace Daily & Defense Report, citing comments by NASA Earth Science Division director Michael Freilich, said the delay stemmed from "a variety of technical issues,” including the consequences of the major Japanese earthquake in early 2011. (A more minor earthquake on the east coast of the U.S. prompted worries about Goddard"s clean-room facility, but NASA said the latter event did not cause any significant damage or delays.)

Clearly, the mission remains ongoing, but it has been scaled back. Obama had also promised that the mission, which took seven years to receive an official green light in 2009, would launch "without further delay," yet it has already been pushed back at least six months. On balance, we rate this promise a Compromise. 

Sources:

Aerospace Daily & Defense Report, "Launch Of Joint NASA-JAXA Climate Mission Could Slip Six Months,” Aug. 4, 2011 (accessed via Nexis-Lexis)

NASA, mission update page for Global Precipitation Measurement mission, accessed Jan. 31, 2012

E-mail interview with Marcia Smith, spacepolicyonline.com, Jan. 31, 2012

Work continuing on mission to measure precipitation from space

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama said he would work to launch "without further delay" the Global Precipitation Measurement mission, "an international effort to improve climate, weather, and hydrological predictions through more accurate and more frequent precipitation measurements."
 
The launch isn't planned until 2013 -- which would be in Obama's second term, if he wins one -- but we've seen some progress.
 
First, some background on the mission. Scientists have a hard time studying rain, snow and ice because the amounts that fall vary widely even within small distances, and because weather events can emerge and disappear quickly.
 
"Reliable ground-based precipitation measurements are difficult to obtain over regional and global scales because most of the world is covered by water and many countries are not equipped with precision rain-measuring sensors," NASA says. "The only practical way to obtain useful regional and global scale precipitation measurements is from the vantage point of a space-based remote sensing instrument."
 
Thus the effort to launch Global Precipitation Mission. NASA is working with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to launch the mission, which will feature a space-borne "Core Observatory" designed to help unify and advance measurements from a constellation of multinational research and operational satellites carrying microwave sensors. According to NASA, "GPM will provide uniformly calibrated precipitation measurements globally every 2-4 hours for scientific research and societal applications. The GPM Core Observatory sensor measurements will for the first time make quantitative observations of precipitation particle size distribution, which is key to improving the accuracy of precipitation estimates by microwave radiometers and radars."
 
On Dec. 2, 2009, NASA officially approved key elements of the mission, allowing the project to move forward. The review meeting was chaired by NASA's Associate Administrator Christopher Scolese.

The GPM Core Observatory is scheduled for launch in July 2013, so we can hardly call this a Promise Kept. But the Dec. 2 green-lighting is more than enough to move this promise to In the Works.

Sources:

National Aeronautics and Space Administration, home page for the Global Precipitation Measurement mission, accessed Dec. 18, 2009

National Aeronautics and Space Administration, "NASA global precipitation measurement mission passes major review" ( news release ), Dec. 8, 2009