House Appropriators Poised to Reject NOAA's SIDAR Plan for TSIS, Other Instruments

House Appropriators Poised to Reject NOAA's SIDAR Plan for TSIS, Other Instruments

UPDATE:   The full committee approved the bill on May 8 with no apparent changes to this portion of the bill.

ORIGINAL STORY:  The House Appropriation’s Committee’s draft report on the FY2015 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) FY2015 budget includes no funding for NOAA’s new plan for launching three instruments still looking for a ride to space after cancellation of the NPOESS program.  In the FY2015 budget request, NOAA grouped them together into the Solar Irradiance-Data-Rescue (SIDAR) mission, but the draft bill rejected the proposal.  The committee will mark up the bill later today (May 8).

SIDAR includes the Total Solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS), the Advanced Data Collection System (A-DCS), and transponders for the Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking (SARSAT) system.

In the FY2014 request, NOAA combined them into a single budget line called Polar Free Flyer (PFF) and requested $62 million.  Congress provided zero funding and told NOAA to come back with another plan.   The House appropriators do not like the new plan, either.

NOAA is responsible for operational weather forecasting for the civilian sector and works jointly with NASA on studying the Earth’s climate using satellites.  Which agency is in charge of funding which spacecraft (or series of spacecraft) and instruments to fly on those spacecraft is a complicated ballet that intensified after cancellation of the DOD-NOAA-NASA National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS).  DOD is responsible for weather satellites to support military operations.  NPOESS was intended to be a “converged” system that met all government requirements, but after years of cost overruns and schedule slips, that program was terminated in 2010 and NOAA and DOD are reverting to separate systems.

NOAA’s replacement is the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS).  The spacecraft (“buses”) being used for JPSS are smaller than those planned for NPOESS, so not all of the non-DOD instruments envisioned for NPOESS can be accommodated on JPSS.  Initially, NOAA proposed building two JPSS spacecraft plus two separate (“free-flyer”) spacecraft for the remaining sensors, including TSIS.

TSIS is a continuation of climate observations begun by NASA’s SORCE mission.  It is a “climate” — as opposed to weather — sensor and some Members of Congress argue that NOAA should stick to its weather responsibilities and climate measurements should be in NASA’s job jar.  Congress also is skeptical about NOAA’s program management capabilities in light of the NPOESS problems and initial cost growth in the JPSS program.  In an attempt to reduce program costs, last year NOAA redefined the JPSS program to exclude the free-flyers.   It then eliminated one of them and created the Polar Free Flyer budget line for the other, but, as noted, Congress provided zero funding for it.  As part of the JPSS restructuring last year, NOAA also transferred to NASA budget responsibility for three “climate sensors” including TSIS.

The CJS appropriations bill funds both NASA and NOAA (which is part of the Department of Commerce) so addresses both agencies’ responsibilities, but in separate sections of the bill.

In the draft report on the FY2015 CJS bill released yesterday, the committee notes in the NOAA section that TSIS is a continuation of a NASA mission and directs NOAA to focus on its mission, operational weather forecasting (instead of what it considers to be NASA’s climate mission).  Meanwhile, NASA has been planning to build a second TSIS instrument, TSIS-2, but in the NASA section, the committee includes no funding for TSIS-2 because NOAA lacks a strategy for launching TSIS-1.   That is to say that NOAA presented a strategy, but the committee is rejecting it.

Another of the three climate sensors NOAA transferred to NASA last year is the Clouds and Radiation Energy System (CERES).  A CERES sensor is on one satellite already in orbit (Suomi-NPP) and another is planned for JPSS-1.   A follow-on sensor, the Radiation Budget Instrument (RBI), is planned for JPSS-2, but in the draft report the committee expresses concern that RBI may pose budget and schedule risks to JPSS-2.   The committee is concerned about a potential gap between JPSS-1 and JPSS-2 and wants to know if JPSS-2 can be accelerated.  In that regard, it directs NOAA to assess whether RBI adds risk to the JPSS-2 budget or schedule.  NASA is already working on RBI and the committee cautions NASA that “a decision may ultimately be made to remove RBI” from JPSS-2.  If that happens, NASA is directed to cease work on RBI until it gives Congress an alternative plan for launching it.

The JPSS program does receive full funding ($916.5 million) in the draft bill, as do three of NOAA’s four other satellite programs:  GOES-R, $981 million; DSCOVR, $20 million; and COSMIC-2, $6.8 million.   The joint U.S.-European Jason-3 ocean altimetry satellite, however, would be cut from the requested level of $25.7 million to $15 million.

The full committee markup is at 10:00 am ET this morning.

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