The Defense Department may start as many as five new programs of record to address five space-based environmental monitoring (SBEM), or weather observing, gaps, the Air Force said Tuesday in a report to Congress.

DoD has determined three of the gaps–ocean surface vector winds (OSVW), tropical cyclone intensity (TCI) and energetic charged particles (ECP)–require programs of record, also known as materiel solutions. The Air Force will use the Weather Satellite Follow-On (WSF) program of record to address these three gaps. Aerial view of the Pentagon, Arlington, VA

The other two gaps, cloud characterization and theater weather imagery, warrant continued evaluation for materiel solutions. Non-materiel solutions are under evaluation for applicability to six of the seven remaining gaps: ionospheric density, snow depth, soil moisture, equatorial ionospheric scintillation, sea ice characterization and electric field.

To satisfy the immediate requirements for OSVW and TCI, the Air Force plans to launch a technology demonstration satellite acquired under the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) office in fiscal year 2017. The first operational satellite under the WSF program will launch in 2022 with a second projected for initial launch capability in 2027.

The WSF program will develop and flight-certify the ECP sensors and transition them to industry for cost-effective production of the units. Funding for deployment of these sensors and the associated ground processing will be provided by the individual satellite program accounts. The first ECP sensors are expected to fly on an Air Force satellite in 2021 or 2022.

The ECP sensors will be integrated into all future Air Force space systems at pre-Milestone B in the acquisition process. The ECP sensors measure energetic particle radiation conditions at the satellite to support anomaly assessment and attribution.

The Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) determined auroral characterization is adequately addressed by a network of ground-based sensors and, thus, a SEBM solution is not needed. DoD is evaluating non-materiel solutions for resolving the remaining gaps and will present conclusions to the JROC in September.

Based on current operational practices, many of the 12 prioritized gaps may continue to be partially addressed by the family of low-earth orbit (LEO) polar orbiting weather satellites and geostationary earth orbit (GEO) weather satellites. This family of systems is comprised of DoD, U.S. civil and international partner satellites. Other gaps may be mitigated by changes in tactics, techniques or procedures. DoD is exploring both alternatives, according to the report.

The JROC in September 2014 identified and prioritized 12 SBEM sensing requirements and directed DoD to develop a strategy to address them. The DoD-developed strategy relies on a combination of civil, international and military assets to meet these requirements. The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) has been the primary DoD program providing SBEM data since the 1960s. DoD will continue to operate the constellation until it reaches end of mission life, projected to be in 2021.