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PlanetIQ's Plan: Swap US Weather Sats For Private Ones 128

Posted by timothy
from the why-not-just-use-google-earth dept.
We've mentioned over the last few years several times the funding problems that mean the U.S. government's weather satellite stable is thinner than we might prefer. A story at the Weather Underground outlines the plan of a company called PlanetIQ to fill the needs met with the current constellation of weather sats with private ones instead. From the article, describing testimony last week before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce: "PlanetIQ's solution includes launching a constellation of 12 small satellites in low-Earth orbit to collect weather data, which PlanetIQ says the federal government could access at less cost and risk than current government-funded efforts. ... [PlanetIQ Anne Hale] Miglarese added that within 28 to 34 months from the beginning of their manufacture, all 12 satellites could be in orbit. As for the cost, she says, "We estimate that for all U.S. civilian and defense needs globally for both terrestrial and space weather applications, the cost to government agencies in the U.S. will be less than $70 million per year. As the satellites collect data, PlanetIQ would sell the data to government weather services around the world as well as the U.S. Air Force. The most recently launched polar-orbiting satellite, sent into space by the U.S. in 2011, cost $1.5 billion."
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PlanetIQ's Plan: Swap US Weather Sats For Private Ones

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    But I highly doubt the military would want to rely on private infrastructure for something as important as weather.

    You'd end up paying for a commercial infrastructure AND a private one.

    • Re:Maybe I'm crazy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ByOhTek (1181381) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @10:59AM (#43280959) Journal

      Why? They get a lot of their vehicles from the private sector.

      That being said, there's a lot of apples and oranges here.

      "We estimate that for all U.S. civilian and defense needs globally for both terrestrial and space weather applications, the cost to government agencies in the U.S. will be less than $70 million per year. As the satellites collect data, PlanetIQ would sell the data to government weather services around the world as well as the U.S. Air Force. The most recently launched polar-orbiting satellite, sent into space by the U.S. in 2011, cost $1.5 billion."

      OK, what is the life expectancy of that satellite? You can't just compare a 'per year' cost of an operation to a one time cost of part of an operation - the latter is usually averaged out into the former.

      Also, there's quality and reliability concerns - if the product (satellite system) doesn't produce the quality you want (accuracy of weather mapping), it may be worth it to pay a lot more for an alternative. Also, they may be charging a certain amount per client ($70 million a year each?), but how many clients are there? It is possible, that in the long run, the total cost to all the clients could be higher, even if taxes were reduced proportional to the amount of money saved (heh, yeah, that'll happen... Wanna buy a bridge too?)

      It looks good initially, but I wonder if, for the government, or society in general, it will actually pan out to be an advantage.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by fustakrakich (1673220)

        I wonder if, for the government, or society in general, it will actually pan out to be an advantage.

        Of course not. This is just another attempted heist by the privateers, facilitated by the "crisis" that they have created.

        • Re:Maybe I'm crazy (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @11:57AM (#43281659)

          I find it a testament to our fractured society that we collectively feel "privatizing" things is good. The public loses 100% of oversight over the use, has to place 100% trust in the private entity (regardless of their track record), and becomes beholden to a private entity who can manipulate that data at will without us knowing, and the EULA that must be signed before using the "service" strips away your right to affirm that the data is even correct. And the primary reason anyone goes for it is because "someone profits"; any arguments about efficiency or cost-value or letting well-known criminals have yet MORE of our public commodities get swept under the rug with a snide "Quit being so communist!" quip. When did we become so eager to sell our collective riches for some shady MBA's "solution" to erode long term value from the public? Why does the vast majority of America so willingly work against it's best interest?

          • by Type44Q (1233630)

            I find it a testament to our fractured society that we collectively feel "privatizing" things is good. The public loses 100% of oversight over the use, has to place 100% trust in the private entity (regardless of their track record), and becomes beholden to a private entity who can manipulate that data at will without us knowing, and the EULA that must be signed before using the "service" strips away your right to affirm that the data is even correct.

            In other words, pretty much the same things that are happening to public resources as well.

            Public or private, let's face it: we're fucked.

          • Not all privatization is bad. The government is having issues performing its duties, and a private company comes and says it can launch better satellites for less than it would take for the government to put them up there. They would like the government to, instead of spending hundreds of millions launching their own, spend tens of millions buying their product.

            To me, this seems very analogous to SpaceX, which most of us here on Slashdot are fans of. NASA was having problems--both financially and in plannin

            • by geekoid (135745)

              true. the government does infrastructure and common good items extremely well.

            • If the proposal was for a private entity to build and launch the satellites and SELL them to the government, that could be a fine idea. One supposes that a private entity is already involved in building that ridiculous $1.5 billion satellite (you get only three guesses which), so really all we're doing here is opening up the bidding for real, instead of for fake, as these things often are. An alternative weather satellite builder to LockMart/Boeing/Raytheon could save enormous amounts of money, and SpaceX

          • by thoth (7907)

            Why does the vast majority of America so willingly work against it's best interest?

            This is what happens when big money realizes it can influence the political system.
            It isn't the vast majority of America doing this, it is focused lobbying.

    • by kheldan (1460303)
      I don't think you're crazy.

      I'm not for Big Government, I really don't want the government involved in my life any more than is absolutely necessary, but that said, there are some things that I think should not be privatized, and this is one of them. Weather data benefits everyone in the U.S. one way or another, and considering corporate America's running track record concerning putting people before profits, I think it would be a huge mistake to rely on some corporation for weather data. As a taxpayer I'm
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @10:48AM (#43280839)

    We can do it SO much cheaper! Of course then there are cost over runs, shoddy construction, and unmet promises. Then the whole thing ends up costing more with less reliability...

    • by JWW (79176) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @11:00AM (#43280963)

      Ummm, you've heard it from SpaceX?

      They actually are doing it cheaper....

      • by ediron2 (246908) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @11:28AM (#43281269) Journal

        SpaceX is doing 'IT' cheaper? For 'IT's that are smaller, simpler, shorter-ranged, shorter-lived, based on existing tech, etc, sure they are. SpaceX is the bees knees. But that's like saying my RC car outcorners an F1 and costs like a million times less (based on a proposal to limit team budgets to $40M/year).

        I don't say this to diss SpaceX: good research and bypassing institutionalization while fostering engineering creativity is a good thing. They're doing good work. Engineers just know there's no free lunch: Good engineering costs a lot and good fundamental research in unfamiliar physical domains (pressure, temp, chemical composition, forces) costs much more. What's more, established entities pick up constraints: safety rules, regulations, etc. As SpaceX's ambitions and constraints grow, so will their costs.

        The cliche about rocket science wasn't coined for nothin'.

        (in a moment, I'll be regretting (again) commenting to slashdot on anything involving NASA or rocket science... Slashdot never ceases to amaze me with commenters' delusions that they're qualified to bitch about other technical realms).

        • by rnturn (11092) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @12:54PM (#43282419)

          Don't forget the longer term costs involved in stationkeeping. These satellites aren't just lobbed into space and stay in their orbits without a ground-based infrastructure that monitors the satellites and makes sure they stay out the way of other birds up there. Want to bet that that gets short shrift when the shareholders want higher profits?

          This idea smacks of the transparent plan by Rick Santorum some years ago where he tried to get a law passed to make it illegal for NOAA to issues weather alerts. (The Weather Channel, Inc was in Santorum's state and, likely, a big campaign contributor.)

          If we were to follow the money, it would not surprise me one bit to find that the company testifying for this to happen has a few members of the House in their pocket. This is just another attempt by the "rentier class" to get their greedy little hands into everyone's wallet and have you pay for weather forecasts. They'd love nothing more than to have a tollbooth on everything.

          • by sjames (1099)

            And that is where the smoke and mirrors are. It will cost the GOVERNMENT 70 million a year, but what they leave out is that the government will not be free to share that data with it's citizens. By the time they collect the 70 million here, 70 million there, etc. it will cost more than the current satellite program for all Americans to have the same level of access to the weather data that we have now.

          • AccuWeather is in PA, not The Weather Channel.

          • CUR ALLOC 20195.....5804M

            Call Gregory

          • by riverat1 (1048260)

            One distinction to be made is that this constellation of 12 satellites will be in low Earth orbit (LEO) at about ~1,200 miles. The main NOAA weather satellites are in either geosynchronous orbits or in polar Sun-synchronous orbits. Because they are synchronous almost by definition require more stationkeeping to maintain their orbits than the Planet IQ satellites. The concept is interesting [planetiq.com] measuring the density of the atmosphere by calculating how much it bends the signal from a GPS satellite. Apparentl

        • by khallow (566160)

          SpaceX is doing 'IT' cheaper? For 'IT's that are smaller, simpler, shorter-ranged, shorter-lived, based on existing tech, etc, sure they are. SpaceX is the bees knees. But that's like saying my RC car outcorners an F1 and costs like a million times less (based on a proposal to limit team budgets to $40M/year).

          If the Falcon 9 is an "RC car", then what's the government's F1? All I can say is that I'd love to see the warp nacelles on that thing.

          As SpaceX's ambitions and constraints grow, so will their costs.

          Not per launch. The biggest economy of scale out there is launch frequency. And that's exactly what would improve as SpaceX's "ambitions and constraints" grow.

          • by geekoid (135745)

            "then what's the government's F1?"
            Going to the Moon? probes leaving the Solar System, long life probes on Mars, US highway system, the Internet, FDA.

            Too name a few.

            Anyways, way to miss his point.

            • by khallow (566160)

              Going to the Moon? probes leaving the Solar System, long life probes on Mars, US highway system, the Internet, FDA.

              I guess we'll just have to wait for the original poster to reply. I wouldn't consider any of these sufficiently ambitious and/or relevant to space flight to qualify, except possibly the Moon thing. And it's been forty years since anyone went to the Moon.

              Anyways, way to miss his point.

              I doubt it. All I'm hearing is a bunch of empty talk about how SpaceX supposedly is playing in the kiddie pool, while NASA is doing the real work. There's one really huge problem with that perception. NASA no longer launches rockets for a living and it's bee

      • by geekoid (135745)

        They are leveraging the knowledge(and cost) of the US space missions. Space X is another sample of how the government n can put down initial infrastructures and costs that private industry can use latter.

        Add in all the cost Space X would have had if NASA hadn't already do it.

        And of course, Space X is not doing nearly as much.

    • And, when there's a built-in monopoly with locked in dependence you better believe that price is going up.

      • by gr8_phk (621180)
        Especially for the public. Even if the government gets data cheaper, they'll charge anyone else enormous amounts of money and the data will come with restrictions.

        What these guys really want is for the government to pay to get their business going and then make a fortune. How do I know? Because otherwise they would launch the satellites themselves and start offering the data for sale. They are not doing that. Why? they want to establish their monopoly at our expense.
        • by cusco (717999)
          I'm honestly surprised that we haven't heard from the typical flood of AC libertardians promoting this sham yet. Maybe some things are just so obvious that even Rand Paul can understand them.
    • Say, do you happen to live in Montreal?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @10:48AM (#43280845)

    You'd think there are better things to do with weather sats than try and undercut NOAA/NWS with some rent-seeking satellite project.

    Also typical government contractor speak. They promise the world but will under-deliver and over-charge.

    • by i kan reed (749298) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @11:12AM (#43281109) Homepage Journal

      While I agree:

      Government satellites are already, by-and-large, built by private contractors for overpriced contracts, by rent-seeking engineering firms. GOES sattellites, for example, weren't designed and manufactured by NOAA scientists, but BOEING or Space Systems/Loral or Lockheed Martin. The difference here would only be the job of running them.

      • by jeffmeden (135043) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @11:46AM (#43281537) Homepage Journal

        While I agree:

        Government satellites are already, by-and-large, built by private contractors for overpriced contracts, by rent-seeking engineering firms. GOES sattellites, for example, weren't designed and manufactured by NOAA scientists, but BOEING or Space Systems/Loral or Lockheed Martin. The difference here would only be the job of running them.

        So, you propose we trade rent-seekers in the up-front purchase (who at least compete with each other), for rent-seekers in the long term operation (of which there is as of today, one)... Hmm...

        The only way privatizing makes sense to an economist is if there are multiple companies out there offering the same service. Trading a public entity (which can and do get audited on a regular basis) for a private one that is free to waste money at will, in the hopes that they will somehow find a way to do it cheaper, pretty much never works out. At best, they end up charging the same amount, but paying their workers/vendors less and issuing huge bonuses to the executives. Competition is key, and it's completely missing from this scenario. Get a few more bids, and it will get interesting.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @12:27PM (#43282061)

        The difference is that the data from the government owned satellites is available for public consumption free of charge (or minimal charge, for reproducing fees), while if they go with the solution that PlanetIQ is offering, this data won't be redistributable. Your favorite commercial weather sites would be hit hardest, but I think places like weather underground would be effected as well. And probably a lot of other side effects from industries that are using the satellite data that I'm not even aware of. Be very wary of PlanetIQ's motives.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        I wouldn't call the satellite contracts over priced.

        Yes, they job or running them, and that would mean whenever a CEO wanted another million added to their bonus, we would pay more. What happen when maintenance is deemed cost worthy?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Weather isn't a terribly profitable industry, unless you're the ONLY one to own it.

    Having a privately owned spy network is also a pretty handy thing to have. There's tons of money in crime.

    • by Rob Riggs (6418) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @11:57AM (#43281665) Homepage Journal

      Weather isn't a terribly profitable industry, unless you're the ONLY one to own it.

      The tactic is to create a loss leader. Drive the competition out of the market. Then reap the rewards of having a monopoly on a necessary product. Bonus points for having the government help you do it.

      All those weather maps that you get for free because the government funds that satellites? The cloud maps that are shown on TV, your WeatherBug app, etc? Not only is the government going to pay, but they are not going to be allowed to freely redistribute. Everyone now pays multiple times for the same thing that we all paid for together. They are going to collect fees from The Weather Channel, CNN, every TV channel in the world (if they still want to report on US weather), each pay an additional fee. TINSTAAFL.

      When it comes time to re-license the data, when the US has no more weather satellites, the USAF, USN, USCG, US Army, NOAA, NCAR, NWS, USDA, etc. will each have to license the weather data independently. Stock holders will rejoice. And the taxpayer gets fleeced again.

  • Like we don't have enough satellites as it is. Space junk is not something to laugh about.
  • Car Salesmen (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Gim Tom (716904) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @10:54AM (#43280899)
    Sounds like the pitch I get from car salesmen from time to time. "We loose money on every car we sell, but we make it up with our sales volume!"
    • Re:Car Salesmen (Score:4, Informative)

      by Aqualung812 (959532) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @11:11AM (#43281089)

      Sadly, there is some truth to that statement. Often, the money is made on sales incentives. If you sell 30 cars, you get an extra $10,000 from the car maker, or something along those lines.

      • by rnturn (11092)
        I find your .sig amusing only because your post was in reply to one whose author doesn't know the difference between "loose" and "lose".
    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Well, they really make up their money on the servicing of the vehicle over its lifetime.

      I've seen many things which suggest there's much more money to be made by the dealer from the maintenance than the actual sale.

      So if they sell the car at a small loss, and then make way more money via the service department .. the car essentially becomes a loss leader.

  • Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Godai (104143) * on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @10:56AM (#43280925)

    "Private capital is ready and waiting," Miglarese said last week. "But the government's culture of build-and-own-your-own satellites and the inability to commit is what's holding back these job-creating funds."

    Statements like this always confuse me. Who does Miglarese think is building the satellites now? Monkeys? How does stopping making & managing your own satellites and paying someone else to do it create jobs? That sounds an awful lot like it just moves the jobs from one place to another.

    Which isn't to say it might not be a better deal, but it feels like he just threw that in because he knows politicians go into Pavlovian slather if you mention "job creation".

    • by mjr167 (2477430)
      Because the jobs don't get moved. The people currently managing the satellites just get shuffled around and our taxes go up.
    • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Cid Highwind (9258) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @11:32AM (#43281329) Homepage

      How does stopping making & managing your own satellites and paying someone else to do it create jobs?

      Well, the data is freely redistributable now. Heck, anyone with a good antenna and some simple software can decode GOES images at home. A private satellite operator on the other hand, would have to employ hundreds, maybe thousands of sales people, lawyers, license compliance auditors, DRM programmers, etc. to secure their profits.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      How does stopping making & managing your own satellites and paying someone else to do it create jobs? That sounds an awful lot like it just moves the jobs from one place to another.

      You don't have the privatization mindset. Government jobs aren't real jobs. Yes, I've heard people say that. So, to them this creates real jobs and removes wasteful government jobs. Of course all it really does is add another middleman to skim off money, knee-jerk anti-government fans will eat it up.

    • by cusco (717999)
      C-suite executive jobs are the ones that they're most interested in creating, along with K Street lobbyists.
  • by ebno-10db (1459097) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @10:58AM (#43280939)
    Sounds good to me if the US (and other governments) can freely disseminate the information, rather than just being allowed to access it but having it otherwise remain proprietary to PlanetIQ. The article isn't clear, but this is a crucial point. I've no problem w/ private industry providing a service that governments buy, but I do have a problem w/ such crucial information becoming strictly proprietary.
    • by SirGarlon (845873) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @11:15AM (#43281135)

      It depends on whom you trust more -- a corporation or the US government.

      I trust the government about as far as I can throw it. On the other hand, I trust corporations completely. I trust them to lie, cheat, steal, dump toxic waste, then get their government cronies to bail them out while the investors laugh all the way to the bank.

      • by jeffmeden (135043)

        It depends on whom you trust more -- a corporation or the US government.

        I trust the government about as far as I can throw it. On the other hand, I trust corporations completely. I trust them to lie, cheat, steal, dump toxic waste, then get their government cronies to bail them out while the investors laugh all the way to the bank.

        You forgot the Pièce de résistance, wherein they abandon their investors with a shady bankruptcy, give all of the executives cushy bonuses, and let huge swaths of employees go without even a two week notice. Oh, and the government steps in to assure us it's "all right" and issue scathing but trivial reports on how much we have all learned from the disaster. Yep, we learned all right.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        You should trust the US government more. Overall it's been pretty honest and forthright. Trust it blindly in all cases? no.
        Look at the wikileak cables and how the US behaved. Very up and up.
        Same with the vast majority of government groups.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      From: The Offices of PlanetIQ
      To: The Governors of Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and the Director of NEMA

      We have information regarding a likely tropical storm that could potentially affect Life and Property in some or all of the areas adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico.This information is now available for only $10,000,000.00 per client.

      CIO, PlantIQ

  • by erroneus (253617) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @10:59AM (#43280945) Homepage

    On one hand, I'm all for saving those tax dollars. And I applaud that a private entity can put stuff up into space and then sell access to it to the government more cheaply than the government can do for itself.

    On the other hand, I'm naturally suspicious of the government buying services from private entities. Among these concerns are prisons, mercenaries (soldiers) and surveillance.

    Thanks to some wonderfully crafted legislation, the people are guaranteed some form of transparency thanks to the freedom of information act. This has proven to be a real pain in the ass of wheeling-dealing politicians and the people who do business with them selling our government to the highest bidders. So it seems more and more they like using private companies to do the government's dirty work. You know it's dirty when they are given "retroactive immunity" for things which we still can't confirm they did or didn't do or what, precisely, they did!

    So are they REALLY just doing weather surveillance? It's hard to believe these days. And since it's a private company instead of the government, it's hard to know where the blame goes since the agreements with private companies tend to be less than transparent.

    • by JWW (79176)

      So are they REALLY just doing weather surveillance?

      Yes, they are very much only seriously talking about weather surveillance.

      Watching people is much much harder and more expensive than watching clouds is....

  • PlantIQ's sues Sats-R-Us for patent infringement and also files DCMA takedown notices on forecasts appearing on CNN.com.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @11:04AM (#43280999)

    They won't give up. Weather is one shining example of something government does better than private industry. They've actually tried to shut down NWS before, and it was such a dumb idea that even Congress couldn't be convinced, probably because they got a sudden spate of attention from people other than their usual lunch companions.

    If we let that happen, forecasts would not improve; but ad deliver sure would.

    Just say NO to private weather. It's one case where the profit motive is not welcome.

  • Who Owns the Data? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by akpoff (683177) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @11:05AM (#43281009) Homepage

    There are two issues to address here: 1) cost and maintenance, and 2) data ownership. The first is obvious and is the crux of the CEO's pitch to Congress. The second is the one she's skirting. Sure, she acknowledges the government would "buy" the data. But for what use and with what limits? We already see corporations trying to get laws passed making them the only distributor of government-generated data (weather companies, journal publishers). With a ploy like this they make it that much more likely the public is excluded from having and using the data.

    The only way I'd encourage the government to go this route is if the law and contracts specify the data is free in every sense of the word. Otherwise this is just another government hand out to private corporations.

    If PlanetIQ think there's a real market for weather data, they should finance the whole thing with private equity. My guess is no one in the right mind will give them the capital unless they can get the government give them a monopoly.

    • Hear, hear! Mod parent up.
    • by nbauman (624611) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @02:59PM (#43283783) Homepage Journal

      Here's an example of government-generated data http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed [nih.gov]

      Pubmed is a database of essentially every medical journal article, prepared by the National Institutes of Health. A computer scientist one told me that it was the best-designed database (in terms of user searching) that he knew of. He's probably right. Pubmed is now one of the main tools of medical research and clinical practice.

      One of Al Gore's real accomplishments was to make Pubmed free online. Before then, it was sold through private contractors who, at one time, charged $1 a citation. The incremental cost of making Pubmed free was almost nothing, because the NIH library had to prepare it anyway. If they had done it as a paid-subscription service, they would have gotten maybe 10,000 subscriptions from medical school libraries, pharmaceutical companies, and malpractice lawyers. Now, there are millions of people using it around the world, including high school biology students, patients researching their disease, and everyone who writes about medicine on Wikipedia.

      An interesting contrast is Lexis and Westlaw, the proprietary services that lawyers use to look up court cases. Those services charge a fortune. I don't know what the current fees are, but they used to be around $200 a month for a lawyer in private practice (correct me if I'm wrong). Westlaw had an annoying policy of not providing service to public libraries, so it was impossible for an ordinary citizen with no legal affiliation to get access. They carried the full text of the decisions, but these were public record, and in principle owned by the taxpayers and citizens, so they were selling our own public domain information back to us. They did add a certain value -- they had a reference system like the Internet before the Internet. But a well-run government database could provide the same service to everyone free (through taxes, of course) that the private vendors sell to only to the few thousand people who can afford to pay their high fees. Now the Internet is catching up with them with Findlaw, Cornell law school, etc.

      Well-run government services can often do the job cheaper, and make information accessible to a lot more people, than private companies. Everybody pays a lot less through taxes than they would through private subscriptions.

  • by dtmos (447842) * on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @11:08AM (#43281057)

    With weather satellites in private hands, they will be used for private purposes, holding NOAA (and everyone using its weather services, i.e., everyone) hostage to a private entity. This is an incredibly bad idea.

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @11:15AM (#43281141) Homepage

    Are they going to not encrypt them and make it easy to receive the signal? Because I do that already with the Landsat birds. mini Laptop + small shortwave receiver and I can get weather radar images while I am away from the internet a lot of boats on the great lakes as well as the oceans depend on them.

    If the private birds will not broadcast an easy to receive in the clear signal that everyone can receive for free, then they are not an option.

  • Conspiracy Theory.. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bwcbwc (601780) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @11:19AM (#43281187)

    Remember a few years ago when weather.com and The Weather Channel tried to make the National Weather Service stop issuing free public satellite imagery and forecasts?

    Any chance that NOAA/NWS satellite funding was cut to achieve their objective of privatizing the weather service by less-direct means?

    Nah, our noble legislative branch would NEVER do something underhanded like THAT...

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I am a meteorologist. The reporting at the time linked the Rick Santorum sponsored bill to AccuWeather. I have never heard this attributed to weather.com/Weather Channel.

      Here is the submitted bill, which did not pass and is not law. http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c109:s786:

  • So what is the difference between this and any other subcontractor? The US government makes very little itself, the majority of projects are farmed out to various private companies to do the actual construction and sometimes even the launches.

    What it sounds like is the only real change is a private company retains control and only sells the data rather then producing a launch-able vehicle and then administering the data.
    • by femtobyte (710429)

      The biggest change is that the new private company gets to hoover several more truckloads of the public's money into their investors pockets, compared to the current system. While they talk about reducing the cost of orbiting and maintaining the satellites, they're vague about what the pricing and licensing details are for the government "buying back" the data they need --- and I'd place a pretty big bet that the data won't be distributed freely to the general public like NOAA and NWS do. Net result: govern

  • I'm no expert in the satellite industry, but I get the impression that there aren't any NOAA employees building satellites. Don't they already contract with corporations to build, launch and operate the satellites? Then how is it that PlanetIQ would be able to provide the same capabilities for less money than some other company that already has lots of experience with satellites? Is it the overhead of the government acquisition process? Reduced capabilities, longevity or reliability? (I can certainly s
    • by cusco (717999)
      I'm pretty sure that the reason that PlanetIQ will be paying less for satellites is because once NOAA and NWS satellite operations are defunded by Congress they'll be handed over for pennies on the dollar. That's been the pattern for pretty much every 'privatization' move in the last half century.
  • by kriston (7886) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @11:38AM (#43281425) Homepage Journal

    There were severe satellite gaps in the 1980s. GOES East had to be moved to a more central location to observe both coasts when GOES West failed and its replacement suffered a launch failure.

    We'll get through this.

  • by stox (131684)

    Someone thinks that "weather" sattellites are use just for weather.

    Bzzzzt! Try again.

    I am sure they are used for surveillance, too. No way the military will give that up.

    • I am sure they are used for surveillance, too. No way the military will give that up.

      You're hat's on a bit too tight.

      Guess what - the technical requirements for reading license plates from orbit and spotting cloud formations is slightly different.

      But I guess you're not a rocket scientist.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        umm.. rocket science gets it there. Imagining is done by imaging experts, not rocket scientists.

    • by idontgno (624372)

      Dude. Do you mind taking off your tinfoil beanie? You're tripping the sunglint detection algorithm and invalidating the data in the pixel you're standing in.

      No? You'll keep the hat on? Ok. Don't blame us if a tornado forms on top of you and no one warns you.

  • Why rent from the private sector when we can just own the satellites? The cost of billions in the production, divided by the lifespan of the satellites, may actually be cheaper in the long run. And then what happens when the company is bought out? Or goes belly? While I think the government is pretty inefficient, somehow I feel a bit more secure when non-weather data is being passed through government-owned satellites as opposed to privately owned satellites. In the former case, I can at least pretend to ha
  • So, could this supplement the current data record on the cheap? Then it's worth it. Would the data be property of NOAA/NESDIS and be distributed freely through known data portals? Then it's worth it. Would it be locked through a paywall and not available for researchers to actually figure out what the cost benefit of the data was? Then it's a non-starter. Data gathering itself is going to be a low-end market. The people most interested in the data (governmental organizations, academic researchers) do
  • are why you don't privatize essential infrastructure. Sure, you'll get a good deal now. But in a few years when it becomes politically unfeasible to return things to the public the company will recognize that and jack the rates way way up. That's what's happened with every single public school transportation dept that got privatized. They'll do it here too.
  • Who here honestly believes that a US government required weather satellite carries only a weather payload? Try reading a spy novel now and then, my fellow nerds.
  • Sure... and they can change what they want before they put it out.

    Y'know, like before the landsats showed that the lumber companies in the northwet of the US were clearcutting, and "replanting" by shoving seedlings in the ground and walking away, leaving, well, clearcut and a very large number of dead seedlings.

    Why would I trust weathersats from, say, Faux News? They'll just show blue skies all day....

    I WANT MY DAMN TAX DOLLARS SPENT ON THEM, NOT GIVING MILLIONS TO CORPORATE EXECS.

  • by organgtool (966989) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @01:21PM (#43282699)
    The CEO admits that her company has never launched a satellite before, but somehow she feels qualified to say that her company's "product" could meet all of the needs of NWS and all of the defense agencies for $70 million per year. How does she even know the requirements of NWS and all defense agencies, let alone know how much it would cost to support them?

    Ignoring that, do we really think it's a good idea to replace public property with private property? If this company ever goes under, our government would immediately lose weather forecasts and defense satellite feeds. And do we even want sensitive defense information in the hands of a private company?

    No, this certainly isn't tolerable for me. I'm fine with the government contracting competent companies to build, launch, and maintain these satellites, but if they're going to use our tax dollars, then the satellites themselves had better remain government property!
    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Australian ABC TV looked into the history of US private space contracting: "The High Frontier"
      Shows the historic example to the "requirements" and selling question.
      http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/content/2005/s1358430.htm [abc.net.au]
      In the past you saw US contractors getting into the right place at the right time with the right contacts ending up as:
      "makes $100,000,000 a year, buying and selling airtime on communication satellites. And in a post-September 11 world, with a new focus on national security, that busi
  • by paiute (550198) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @01:23PM (#43282723)
    Saturday will be partly-

    Please enter your Visa or MasterCard number for the rest of this forecast.
  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @01:42PM (#43282937)

    just can't happen fast enough for some people.

  • You do NOT place matters of life and death in the hands of a fucking for-profit corporation!

    Screw the soulless greedy bastards of PlanetIQ and damned be any Randian pinhead politician that would go along with such craven garbage.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    A business that actually has to pay for it's own tools to do it's job, instead of you know, leeching off the public NOAA teet then claiming 'ownership' of their forecast as if they came by the data themselves.

    I'm looking at you TWC/NBC...I'm sure you are the next corporate story in this...right behind the one about thousands of scientists begging you not to name every friggin winter storm that comes down the pike like it's some devastating hurricane you can overhype for ratings.

    But I'm sure some asshat thin

  • Even if a private firm can do it more efficiently, having public resources under public control seems more important than efficiency. Throwing a profit motive into the mix seems like a big problem to me (as it is with prisons, military operations, etc.)

    How about we pay these companies to consult on the design of a new public system. How about we pay some private firms to iron out the inefficiencies in our public processes instead of just privatizing everything?

    I just don't see how privatization of so many t

    • by geekoid (135745)

      And this ignores the fact that in pretty much every study,l the private industry isn't more efficient then the government.

      • Didn't you learn anything after generations of advertizing, 40 years of think tanks and a corporate controlled media? Private industry is always better than government, the corporations have told us so; therefore it is reality.
        You must be a communist!

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