NOAA Gets Boost for Space Weather Follow-On

NOAA Gets Boost for Space Weather Follow-On

Congressional appropriators gave NOAA a significant boost for its development of sensors to help forecast space weather events.  The final Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill includes $64 million for the Space Weather Follow-On (SWFO), more than twice the request.

NOAA asked for $25.6 million for FY2020, a reduction of $1.4 million from the previous year.  In its report on the bill, however, the Senate Appropriations committee approved $68.6 million.  The House committee added $13 million, but the final decision was much closer to the Senate’s number — $64 million.

Steve Volz, Assistant Administrator for Satellite and Information Services, NOAA. Credit: NOAA.

NOAA is responsible for operational space weather satellites that warn of coronal mass ejections (CMEs) from the Sun and solar wind that can damage satellites and ground-based infrastructure like the electric grid.

ESA’s SOHO satellite at the Sun-Earth L1 (SEL-1) Lagrange point 1.5 million kilometers (1 million miles) from Earth is the primary spacecraft today outfitted with a coronagraph that blocks the light from the Sun, enabling it to image the Sun’s corona and detect CMEs.  Launched in 1995, SOHO is long past its design life.

NOAA plans to replace SOHO’s capability by adding a Compact Coronagraph (CCOR) to the last of the four GOES-R series of geostationary weather satellites, GOES-U, scheduled for launch in 2024.  The extra $13 million in the House CJS bill was to integrate that CCOR onto GOES-U.

The final FY2019 appropriations act also directed NOAA to place a second CCOR on NASA’s Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP) that will be placed at SEL-1.

The Senate committee told NOAA this year (S. Rept. 116-127) to maintain its pace on the SEL-1 mission and begin preparations to integrate the CCOR into GOES-U.

Within the funding provided above the request, the Committee expects NOAA to maintain its expected SWFO Lagrangian Point-1 mission pace, including signing a contract for the spacecraft no later than quarter four of fiscal year 2020. NOAA shall also begin preparations to integrate a compact coronagraph on GOES-U to ensure continuation of Federal space weather sentinel and forecasting capabilities. — Senate Appropriations Committee

The final version that emerged from conference negotiations did not include any directive language about SWFO, but anything in the House and Senate versions not changed by the conference report is thereupon approved.

Steve Volz, who heads NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service (NESDIS), updated the Committee on Earth Science and Applications from Space (CESAS) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine on NOAA’s plans on December 18, 2019.

He said the NOAA payload on IMAP will also have “all the solar wind measurements, in situ magnetometer, particle beams, etc., for our forward solar forecasting.”  He added that although GOES-U and IMAP are both scheduled for launch in 2024, the GOES-U launch date may change to 2026 depending on operational need.

All in all, NOAA’s satellite Procurement, Acquisition and Construction (PAC) account seemed to fare pretty well.  NOAA proposed a restructuring of its PAC account to reflect a new “construct” for its future satellite activities based on the results of the NOAA Satellite Observing System Architecture (NSOSA) study.  The idea is to think about NOAA’s satellite activities less as individual programs like GOES and JPSS, and more in terms of whether the capabilities are in low Earth orbit (LEO) or geostationary Earth orbit (GEO).  It displayed its request in that new format, but Congress only partially approved it.  Volz told CESAS that Congress simply was not ready to appropriate in a LEO/GEO construct rather than individual programs.  The mismatch makes it difficult to ascertain where some of the changes took place.

The total for NOAA’s satellite PAC account is $1,253,445,000, compared to the $1,201,119,000 request, an increase of about $52 million.  The SWFO addition is $38.4 million of that, but it is not clear what else was added. There was a slight reduction for CDARS (from the $14.85 million request to $11.35 million).  The two major satellite programs, GOES and JPSS (renamed Polar Weather Satellites), were fully funded at the requested level.

Funding for NOAA’s satellite procurement, acquisition and construction (PAC) activities, report to accompany the FY2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act.


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