A MIRROR flaw in a new $1 billion weather satellite system could delay its launch and deprive forecasters of vital storm and hurricane pictures, posing what officials said could become a national emergency, the New York Times reported Wednesday. Experts have discovered the flat mirrors on the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES-NEXT) would warp when exposed to the sun's heat, keeping the weather telescopes from properly relaying meteorological information back to earth, the Times said.
The program has been under construction since 1984, but the mirror flaw was discovered only during the last few weeks, the Times said.
Five GOES-NEXT satellites are being built by Ford Aerospace. Construction is being supervised by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which has been under fire because of an unrelated problem with a defective mirror in its $1.5 billion Hubble Space Telescope.
The nation is now covered by only one advanced weather satellite, the Times said.
The design flaw may pose a national security risk when the five-year technological life of the current advanced satellite ends in 1992, the newspaper said, citing unnamed federal officials.
Dr. Elbert Friday Jr., head of the National Weather Service, said loss of the nation's advanced satellite coverage would constitute ``a national emergency,'' with forecasters having ``significantly less capability'' to predict weather and track storms.
``We're very concerned,'' said Thomas Pike Jr., assistant administrator for satellite and information services at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the nation's weather satellites. He said it was fortunate the flaw had been detected when the technology was still on ground, and not after it was launched into space, the Times said.