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.