NOAA's Satellites Have Mixed Fate in Senate Appropriations Bill – UPDATE

NOAA's Satellites Have Mixed Fate in Senate Appropriations Bill – UPDATE

UPDATE, June 6, 2014:  The final version of the report is now posted on GPO’s website, but not the bill.  See link in last paragraph.

ORIGINAL STORY, June 5, 2014:  The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the FY2015 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill today including NOAA’s satellite programs.  Although the committee provided full funding for NOAA’s weather satellite programs, three other satellite programs were either transferred to NASA or zeroed. obtained a copy of the committee’s report on the bill

The crux of the committee’s actions is to ensure that NOAA focuses on its weather satellite responsibilities, especially mitigating against the possibility of a gap in coverage from its polar-orbiting system.   NOAA operates two complementary weather satellite systems, one in polar orbit that can view the entire globe and the other in geostationary orbit above the equator that focuses on tropical regions where hurricanes form.  A fact sheet explains these and NOAA’s other satellite programs, the Obama Administration’s FY2015 request and congressional action on the request.

The Senate committee fully supports NOAA’s new Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R (GOES-R) series, as well as a constellation of satellites (COSMIC-2) that can increase the accuracy of weather forecasts, but not NOAA’s other three satellite programs, or at least not with NOAA in charge.

SIDAR.  The Solar Irradiance, Data and Rescue (SIDAR) satellite is NOAA’s latest attempt at winning approval for a spacecraft to take three instruments — the Total Solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS), the Advanced Data Collection System (A-DCS), and the Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking (SARSAT) instrument — into orbit that will not fit on JPSS.  JPSS has a long history and originally involved a much larger satellite — National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) — that could accommodate many more instruments.   NPOESS was terminated and replaced by the smaller JPSS, leaving these instruments without a spacecraft to host them.  Last year NOAA requested approval for a “Polar Free Flyer,” but Congress zeroed the request and told NOAA to come up with a new strategy.  SIDAR is that new strategy, but is not faring any better.  The House also zeroed SIDAR in its version of the CJS bill.  The Senate committee told NOAA to work with NASA on determining how TSIS could be better supported by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.  It did not offer advice about the future of A-DCS or SARSAT.

DSCOVR.  The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) is another program with a long history, dating back to the Clinton Administration where it began as an initiative of Vice President Al Gore and assigned to NASA.   It evolved into a spacecraft focused on providing space weather data and, after being put into storage during the George W. Bush Administration, was resurrected by the Obama Administration as a NOAA-NASA-Air Force program, with NOAA in charge.   The Senate committee would return responsibility for developing the satellite to NASA and shift related funding from NOAA to NASA.  The amount of funding in FY2015 would be the same as the request, $21.1 million, but in NASA’s budget rather than NOAA’s.

Jason-3.   Like DSCOVR, the Senate committee would shift Jason-3, an ocean altimetry mission, and its associated funding from NOAA to NASA in line with the goal of keeping NOAA focused on weather satellites.  NASA and its French counterpart, CNES, built the first two in this series.   The measurements are now considered operational rather than research, which is why Jason-3 has been managed by NOAA so far (in cooperation with its European counterpart, EUMETSAT, and CNES).   The Senate committee would provide essentially the same level of funding for Jason-3 as the request ($25.6 million), but in NASA’s budget rather than NOAA’s.

Update, June 6:  The final version of the report (S. Rept. 113-181) is now posted on the GPO website and is accessible from the committee’s website.  The bill (S. 2437) is not posted yet.

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