Senate Appropriators Add Money for NOAA Polar-Orbiting Weather Satellites

Senate Appropriators Add Money for NOAA Polar-Orbiting Weather Satellites

In its actions on the FY2019 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill today, a Senate subcommittee added funding for NOAA’s next three polar-orbiting weather satellites. It also fully funded NOAA’s development of new geostationary weather satellites.  The full Senate Appropriations Committee will mark up the bill on Thursday morning.

The Senate Appropriations CJS subcommittee approved $62.995 billion for all the departments and agencies under its jurisdiction today, including the Department of Commerce, of which NOAA is a part.

The committee has not released the bill or explanatory statement, but two summaries were released by committee Republicans and Democrats.  The summaries are very general and only the Democrats’ summary offers any specifics on how NOAA’s satellite programs fared.  The text in its entirety is as follows:

Weather Satellites.  This bill provides $928 million to continue construction of NOAA’s three new Polar Weather Satellites, an increase of $50 million above the request.  Polar satellites provide 85 percent of the data used to forecast the weather, and are a vital component of Americans’ personal, property, and economic security.  One-third of U.S. GDP is affected by climate and weather, including farmers trying to protect livestock and crops, cities relying on energy from wind turbines and solar panels, and air travelers trying to get home safely and on time. Last year, the United States experienced 16 separate weather and climate disasters that cost more than $1 billion dollars each, tying the single year record.  These storms would have cost far more and posed even greater threats to human safety without sufficient warning.  The bill also provides $408 billion [sic] for NOAA’s GOES weather satellites. —  Senate Appropriations Committee Minority News Release

NOAA’s new polar-orbiting weather satellites are the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS).  A set of four spacecraft, NOAA divided them into two different budget categories:  JPSS for the first two (JPSS-1 and JPSS-2), and Polar Follow On (PFO) for the second two (JPSS-3 and JPSS-4).

JPSS-1 was launched last year and is now designated NOAA-20.  JPSS-2 is scheduled for launch in the first quarter of FY2022.  JPSS-3 and JPSS-4 are still in development, with projected launched dates in FY2026 and FY2031.

In the FY2019 budget request, the Trump Administration proposed merging the JPSS and PFO accounts and reducing the combined funding for JPSS-2, -3 and -4.  They would get a total of $878 million, which NOAA’s budget documentation states is a $230.7 million net decrease.  (For more on the Trump Administration request and action by the House Appropriations Committee, see’s fact sheet on NOAA’s FY2019 Budget Request for Satellites on our Fact Sheets page.)  Nonetheless, the budget document said the launch readiness dates for JPSS-3 and -4 would not be affected.

The summary statement from the Senate committee Democrats does not reveal if they agreed to merge the JPSS and PFO accounts, but the amount of money was increased by $50 million.

The subcommittee also approved the requested amount for NOAA’s geostationary weather satellites.  That is another set of four spacecraft, two of which are already in orbit.  Colloquially they are referred to as the GOES-R series because that was the designation of the first.  Once the satellites are in orbit, they are assigned numbers.  GOES-R itself was launched in 2016 and is now GOES-16.  GOES-S was launched in March 2018 and is now GOES-17.  NOAA is currently troubleshooting problems with that satellite’s primary instrument, the Advanced Baseline Imager.  GOES-T and GOES-U are scheduled for launch in 2020 and 2024, respectively.

NOAA also is responsible for other operational environmental satellites, but the summaries released today did not mention them.  More information should be available after Thursday’s full committee markup.

Note:  The quote from the committee states that $408 billion was provided for GOES, but it is $408 million.  Since it is a quote, we have not changed it, but added “[sic]” and this note to explain it is million not billion.


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